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CONCERT: Game of Thrones - Live Concert Experience (Antwerp, March 2018)

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My dear kings, queens, wildlings, whores, bastards, cripples, dwarves and sparrows,


I just returned from the Game of Thrones live concert experience and, dutiful as I am, am about to share an account of the aforementioned experience with you. Please note that I’m not a GOT music enthusiast. I love the show, but have only watched the seasons once, have listened to the OSTs twice and made a personal playlist. That’s it. Therefore, unlike my previous concert reviews, this won’t be an in-depth analysis because I just know too little about the music to do that. I’ll merely write about my overall impression and what I liked and didn’t like. Here goes.


I had bought these tickets on a whim the moment they became available and debated whether to go at all for a long time because, as catchy as most of the themes are, I need more than percussion and churning cellos to maintain interest for two hours. (Thank you, John Williams, for turning me into a horribly critical listener.) I’m also beginning to get sick and tired of this new live concert hype, which has absolutely nothing to do with the music itself and everything to do with the butchering of successful franchises (Stranger Things, really?. Then I also had a terrible night’s sleep yesterday, but in the end I found someone to go with and thought, why not?


This was the first time I went to a film concert by car. The show took place at that stupid Sport’s Palace again, a hall that values the size of its audience more than producing good sound, so yet again, everything came out of one speaker. I did hear much more trombones that I don’t recall hearing on the OSTs at all, but other than that, there was no noticeable difference, no extra details. Luckily, this music wouldn’t have sounded any more interesting if they had used 10 speakers. And in other good news, this time they had clearly sold a lot of tickets, so I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban later this year.


Random faces of GOT characters were displayed as everyone was taking their seats. I can’t name any of them because the person going with me had stopped watching Game of Thrones after seeing Daenerys eating that heart. There was also an incredibly lively woman sitting behind us who, in the fifteen minutes we were doomed to listen to her, covered everything from games to Harry Potter and the right viewing order for all the Marvel films with her friend, who barely managed to say two words during the hyperactive display of excitement. The concert also started 15 minutes late because the hall was seemingly experiencing problems yet again. This time, the faces were first replaced by a text. The. When we had all decided that we couldn’t figure out what ‘the’ meant, the faces reappeared while the orchestra, apparently consisting of around 40 people, was waiting patiently for everything to move on.


Luckily, that old chap announcing all the other concerts was finally left out of the equation. This time, we got a way better introduction by none other than Cersei Lannister. That was really great. I only wish they could have made Emilia Clarke record something to introduce part two. The tuning of the instruments couldn’t be heard through the speakers, and of course, the first cue that was played was the main theme.


What followed was, I think, a mostly unchronological collection of already existing material and newly-arranged suites. I recognised many bits in one of the first pieces, like Tyrion having killed his father (or was it Dark Wings, Dark Words?), the Baratheon theme and lots of Daenerys music and I’m pretty sure that Goodbye Brother came right after that. Please don’t start thinking that everything was re-written for this concert just because I’m suspecting it, but I can confirm that Goodbye Brother got extended cello solos and Light of the Seven was changed too. If I’m not mistaken, they played something that sounded like Fire and Blood over different images of Dany, including her eating the infamous heart, and Warrior of Light was played at some point as well while Mhysa came up in part two (always good to hear) and The North Remembers was simply gorgeous, as was See You For What You Are//Truth. They used some dialogue, but it was never too obtrusive in part one, except during my favourite piece, Needle, which had some ‘dance master’ lines in the middle and which ended in a Zimmeresque ‘cliffhanger ending’ after which Arya said she was Arya Stark who was going home.


They also performed the Rains of Castomere. This is the only thing I didn’t really like in part one. They had hired that same woman who did all the solos in the Lord of the Rings concerts. Her range is truly impressive, but she has a very annoying habit of turning wordless vowels into real words: everything becomes ‘huh, ‘hoh’’ and ‘hah’ (lots of emphasis on the H’s). That articulation mania became a real problem when she was singing in a foreign language later in the concert: I distinctly heard her say the word ‘cazzo’, which still means ‘dick’ in Italian, if I’m not mistaken. In Castomere, they also had piano in the beginning and it just would not play that F major chord, it remained firmly committed to D minor, but the orchestra later modulated, thank God, though the Sportpaleis still doesn’t understand how to properly mix orchestra and vocals.


After that song, we got the Red Wedding. This was the first of many times that they presented trimmed versions of scenes (or of their dialogue anyway). This wasn’t really problematic in that scene, but they definitely made liberal decisions when it came to the music: they just played what could work over that scene, not what was written for it.


The first half was so engaging that it was over before I realised how much time had already passed. The break was uneventful except for the fact that the remaining minutes of intermission were displayed in some GOT language: ‘lanta’ apparently means ‘two’. By that time, the loudmouthed chatterbox behind me had resumed clamouring: she had only really found one thing cool, ‘that long instrument’. I assume she meant the duduk they used in the Dothraki music, which, incidentally, made everything quiver but was still very enjoyable to hear. In her defence, she also said she preferred the Harry Potter concerts, an opinion I would end up agreeing with after the second part.


The second part got no introduction and surprisingly started with what sounded like the season 4 finale. Overall, what bothered us in this part was that it all felt rather disjointed. They jumped from one scene to the next, used more music that I cannot remember being in certain scenes at all and even showed some scenes without any music. Unless my memory is failing me, ‘hold the door’ contains music throughout the whole Hodor drama and what I did hear was definitely not the whole thing either. They also showed Arya murdering the Frey family, but in a really rushed, trimmed way. The music was less interesting at times as well because, like I said earlier, thumping percussion and low strings just don’t work for me without knowing what’s happening. I realise, of course, that things might have been very interesting for those who were able to see the excerpts, but the fact remains that when I went to Titanic, it didn’t matter that I couldn’t see who was drowning how because Horner’s music told me everything I needed to know to make my imagination fill in the gaps. Here, I only understood when Jon Snow was being trampled in the Battle of the Bastards (they did the whole thing, I think) because of the dramatic violins and it’s not like there are many variations or key changes in most of the themes either.


Time to mention my one big problem with part two. There’s no denying that Djawadi wrote some great themes for this series (although I just can’t memorise Jon’s theme), but this evening wasn’t about the music at all. They can proclaim on their Facebook page that Djawadi is a famous composer, but that’s only because Game of Thrones was his vehicle, which is, of course not his ‘fault’ at all, but what bothers me is that this isn’t about Djawadi’s music: it’s about butchering Game of Thrones through him: if audiences were yearning for marching bands during GOT clips, we would have got a marching band. That became blatantly obvious in part two of this concert: it was mostly just an exercise in showing lots of great moments and catchy lines, whether the music was engaging or not. Most of it worked, but I can only listen to that Stark theme, and main the theme for that matter, six times before starting to crave something, anything, else. Maybe that’s just because my attention span is so short these days, or because this forum has made me understand what great music is and is not, but my idea of a concert experience is just different: I was hoping that Djawadi would, as they had said, guide us through the series by presenting chronological theme suites and perhaps talking a little bit about the characters and why he wrote what he wrote, like James Newton Howard had done. But we got none of that. We just got random music. He also announced that they would be playing season 7 music for us. No one cares about the fact that season 6’s music is just infinitely superior because season 7 is newer and therefore it must be better. They definitely mixed Winds of Winter with The Queen’s Justice too, the latter cue being performed much more legato. I also felt that some themes were underrepresented. The main theme and Stark theme were all over the show, but I only picked up one Baratheon appearance. Then there was that moment where Tyrion said something about Daenerys Stormborn, but I couldn’t understand a word because the music was too loud and whatever he was saying was just not important to me either. The second part felt like a huge collection of extended trailers to me and it lasted too long for the simple reason that there’s not enough music in this series, for me at least, to fill just over 2 hours.


Not surprisingly, Light of the Seven was the only cue that got scattered applause at its very beginning and its intro consisted of more catchy lines. The re-arrangement of that cue worked really well (I find the album version too long), but the images were out of sync (Tommen’s suicide is unscored in the original episode and comes after that long sequence), the organ was too bass-heavy and drowned out the cello at times and the explosion at the end of that scene just had to be ramped up: it looked like the pianist exploded. I’ve been told that the effects throughout the whole concert were great. During one cue, they apparently hoisted up a violinist right up to the ceiling. That’s all very well, but what does it have to do with a Game of Thrones concert experience? I don’t go to Mozart’s Requiem expecting to get poisoned drinks either to feel as ill as he did while writing it, I want to be musically entertained.


I should say a bit more about Djawadi himself too. He reportedly has a sweet face and the audience loved him. At the start of part one, we clapped for at least eight soloists. He also briefly mentioned how he likes using unusual instruments for the show. At the end of part two, we clapped for George R.R. Martin. And for the screenwriters. And for the catering department. We even got an encore: ‘If you know this theme, feel free to hum along.’ I was baffled. What could they possibly play that they hadn’t played before and that we could sing? Guess what: it was the main theme in a new variation, with more ‘huh-huh-huh’ing at the end. And after they had stopped playing that and we were leaving, they played yet another variation (I think Game of Thrones) through the speakers. Enough already. At such moments, I feel part of the wrong audience. Before that ‘encore’, they predictably played the season 7 finale. That’s nice, but it doesn’t leave you with any sense of musical closure. How about one more rousing stately Dany rendition?


So, in conclusion: I enjoyed the concert, part one in particular, but just had somewhat different expectations. 85% of the music that was played worked well for me, but part two didn’t feel coherent at all, staying true to the music of certain plot points was not on the agenda and I’m a bit disappointed that they didn’t play The King’s Arrival, Dance of Dragons, House of Black and White, Maester and Dragonstone. Feel free to contradict me or to ask questions, but be warned that I’ll have your head on a spike if I don’t like what you write.


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I think the 15-minute late start was common. We had the same long wait in Amsterdam. We Dutch like to be on time for everything, which is not a common trait in other places in Europe. :P  I have been to quite some concerts over the word where they had to start late because of people still coming in. My guess is that they start late by default. I will work on my report tomorrow, but mine will take a while (two languages and proofreading) and will probably be online after the weekend.

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