When is a rock show not a rock show… ask the performers at ‘Game of Thrones’

by MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

I went to a classical music concert on a recent Saturday.

But the audience didn’t arrive in the stereotypical jacket and tie or designer dress.

There were t-shirts, blue jeans, nightclub dresses with short skirts, and thigh high boots.

And rather than champagne and wine, they had beer, popcorn, and pizza.

The show also wasn’t presented in an historic theater with a velvet curtain and a balcony. It was held in an arena that recently hosted a professional lacrosse game and would host a country music concert a few weeks later.

Of course, they didn’t dub it a classical music concert.

They dubbed it the “Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience.”

The show at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Feb. 25 focused on the soundtrack compositions from the cable series, “Game of Thrones.” And it had all the trappings of a big production rock concert.

There were huge video screens across the length of the arena, showing clips from the HBO fantasy series, “Game of Thrones.” There was an elaborate stage that stretched from one end of the arena floor to the other, with trap doors, rising platforms, snow falling, fog, pyrotechnics to emulate a dragon’s flight, and sound effects. There was an intricate light show and there was a top notch sound system.

It was like a Pink Floyd concert—without Pink Floyd.

But it clearly was not a rock concert.

There were no electric guitars or basses. There was no drum kit.

Instead, there was a 30-plus piece orchestra with strings, woodwinds, and (non-rock and roll) percussion. There was a violin soloist. There was a soprano. There was a choral ensemble dressed as monks who harmonized wordlessly as they marched through the arena, across the stage, and behind the symphony.

And there was the music of “Game of Thrones” soundtrack composer Ramin Djawadi, which was not mere background music. Instead they were compositions full of drama, bombast, sturm und drang, and enough heft to give Wagner and Beethoven the blues.

All that said, however, it definitely was not rock music.

However, the crowd at the Mohegan Sun Arena was definitely a rock and roll crowd. They would have been right at home at a Def Leppard show

But don’t tell them they were at a classical music performance.

In many ways, the folks at Live Nation and HBO, who organized the “Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience” had a great idea. It was like putting gooey melted American cheese on broccoli. The broccoli is good for you but is not always the favorite of a junk food nation. But if you dowse it in orangey cheese, you get your vitamins and it’s tasty too.

And that was the case here. As music, the work of Ramin Djawadi is very good. It’s complex. It successfully evokes a mood and an atmosphere for the violent and stormy world portrayed in “Game of Thrones.” It definite egghead material. Performance wise, I was impressed with the orchestra. Clearly, they brought along A-game professionals who not only play with skill but passion.

Even without the trappings of pyro and mammoth sized video screens, Djawadi’s work and the performance still would take you on an aural journey.

The tour also mines the rabid fandom surrounding “Game of Thrones.” And the audience loved it. When the screens projected certain characters or portions of storylines, they cheered loudly as if their favorite team had taken to the field. The show was a great opportunity for fans of the show—which is entering its seventh season– to immerse themselves in the show again.

Classical music recently has had a tough time. Its audience is older, and by the nature of an aging population, you lose members over time. Many orchestras are cutting back on their performance schedule as budgets shrink, corporate donations disappear, and audiences distract themselves with other pastimes.

Many orchestras try to find a golden elixir to bring back the crowds. They do pop series, such as an evening of Pink Floyd music or the Beatles or “Star Wars” theme music. Hartford Symphony Orchestra even brought out the spotlight for the compositions accompanying video games.

But HBO and Live Nation clearly found a formula. Rather than force pop culture into the classical music format, force the classical music into a pop music formula. Give the audience dungeons and dragons, give them fog machines, and give them fire and explosions—and let the violins, cellos, and bassoons play along.

At the Mohegan Sun, the crowds enthusiastically filed in… for a classical music performance– and walked away with the rock and roll t-shirts as well.

Overall, I’d give “Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience” 3 out of 4 stars… only because at times, as someone who is not GoT fan, I was lost watching the video projections. And if part of the experience was the video, a portion of the appeal of the show was lost on me. I’m not sure, th ough,  how you would fix that.

But “Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience” was definitely a show thoroughly embraced by the GoT fandom.

PHOTOS by MIKE CHAIKEN