The concert was held in Nickel City, a brilliant move on their part. Nickel City is the best arcade I've ever been to, with a huge range of games from classic Centipede up through Time Crisis 3, all set to accept nickels. (Pac Man is free, X-Men is a nickel, Tekken Tag is three nickels, Dance Dance Revolution is ten nickels [still half the cost of DDR anywhere else]). It was the perfect place to celebrate video game culture.
And really, isn't that something? It blows my mind that there really is a video game culture. But there absolutely is, coming from the shared set of experiences we have, touchstones of reference in the same way other communities have Super Bowl III or Watergate. It's so exciting to see this art form coalescing and becoming self-aware, with second-generation game designers coming into their own and criticism beginning to evolve from shilling to true analysis. I'm glad to be living in a time when not only can games like "ICO" and "Shadow of the Colossus" get made, but also be appreciated and at least mildly successful. People are now interested in the art of gaming and the ways our society is reflected in the games we make.
In a way, this concert was about the move in the other direction, taking something created in a game and giving it back into society. These very talented men from Sacramento weren't doing note-for-note transcriptions; what they would do is take a song, have one guitar play the melody, and the rest of the band (guitar, bass, drums) elaborate on that melody. It was a pretty amazing experience, and I imagine pretty fulfilling for them as well. Much like Mozart would take an existing tune and make it his own, The Advantage created something wholly original while still wholly recognizable.
There were two opening bands. The first, "FACO," was a pleasant looking kid who strummed an acoustic guitar while screaming rap lyrics into the mike. He got lots of pity applause, and mercifully had a short set. The second was an incredibly high-energy rock/metal band with a surprisingly charismatic lead singer. In between the sets people would stream back over to the arcade and get in a few rounds of whatever they wanted.
I got back to the room a few minutes before The Advantage took the stage, though I didn't realize that at first. Having never seen them before, I idly thought that the long-haired guy who was setting up equipment must be a roadie. Soon he sat down at the drums and began experimentally whacking them. One by one the others casually made their way through the crowd and started tuning their instruments; all this time the house music was still playing loudly. They gradually segued from tuning to playing, in a loud rush of pure noise with lots of plucking that, yes, sounded a bit like bleeps and boops. The sound grew overwhelming, and as they crescendoed they transitioned to the theme from Super Mario III.
I enjoyed the show immensely, but it also drove home just how tenuous a connection I have with this generation of console entertainment. I recognized about two thirds of the songs, but could only identify the corresponding game for about a quarter of them. This makes perfect sense, of course, as I think we only had about five games during the time we had a Nintendo (SMB1, Dragon Warrior 1, Spiritual Warfare, Legend of Zelda, probably one or two more I don't recall), but most of my friends had Nintendos with larger libraries and I would frequently persuade them to play while I watched. Regardless, even when I didn't recognize the source material, the quality of the playing was absolutely enjoyable on its own.
The audience really got into it, and regularly shouted out all sorts of suggestions. The very first one was "DUCK HUNT!", and over a dozen titles were loudly suggested over the hour-long set. The Advantage stayed quiet and stuck to their set list; some did eventually get played, but it didn't seem that they acknowledged the requests any more than a touring rock band would respond to "FREE-BIRD!"
Their set winded down much as it started, with the organized sound of the theme to Contra giving way to dischordant tones, clicks and clacks, as their sounds grew apart and fuzzed. Then, without warning, they launched into the powerful opener of "Smells like Teen Spirit." The audience was appreciative yet wary. When they got to the part where Cobain's guitar reaches for darkly twinkling stars, though, their guitars led the way into the Legend of Zelda music. The crowd went wild. It shouldn't have worked, but absolutely did.
The Advantage seemed very nice, polite, quiet, and talented. Here's the sum total of their stage chatter, spread out among the band mates over the duration of the concert:
- Thanks for coming. We're The Advantage, from Sacramento.
- We would like to thank the opening bands for providing us with alternative rock.
- That was the song from Batman, Level One.
- We have a new album out, which goes on sale in stores on the 22nd, but we have it here for sale tonight.
- Thank you all for coming.