PHOENIX — Whether you are on team Stark, Lannister, Targaryen, or that one guy that is on team Bolton, this show transported you to world of Westeros through the songs and scenes of the characters we’ve grown to love and hate. This was the third tour that graced the stages of Arizona for the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience. This time the immersive journey through the show’s music, eloquently crafted by composer Ramin Djawadi, would include the songs from the eighth and final season. The majesty of the show was slightly scaled down for this round and Djawadi was noticeably absent for the Comerica show in downtown Phoenix. Conductor Michael Sobie took the reigns for this stop of the tour and did a fantastic job coraling the myriad of instruments, but anyone expecting to see Ramin Djawadi at the helm were sadly disappointed. (See tour dates)
As the crowd shuffled in, the anticipation was high. The room felt a little cold; maybe winter was coming. A rotation of slides featured Dragonstone, Old Town, Winterfell, The Sept (before the wildfire), and other locales developed by producers David Benioff and DB Weiss. The amplified speakers droned an ominously disturbing symphonic ambiance that was void of melody or cadence.
The house lights dimmed. It was time. The stage was bathed in blood red light except for the iron throne in the midst of the empty orchestra seats, which was the target of a beam of light as blue as the glint off Valyrian steel in “stark” contrast to the red. Unlike the shows that hide the orchestra in the “pit”, this show revered the musicians as the protagonists as they staked claim to center stage. Yes, they were supposed to be the stars of the show, but the inanimate giant screen still upstaged them and it’s almost sad to admit that our collective eyes would be spending more time focused on the GOT scenes than on the live “band” that was breathing life into the video. That screen was now engulfed with the face of Drogon, the alpha male of Danery’s three dragons (or could it have been Viserion, they’re hard to tell apart sometimes). Fireflies of brimstone danced around his menacing stare as the musicians took their seats and tested their instruments.
Finally the undeniable voice of Queen Cersei (actress Lena Heady) filled the room with the ground rules for the show:
“Lords and ladies, eh, peasants, thank you for joining us tonight. I know some of you have come a long way to see your queen and your obedience touches me deeply. (pause) Silence your phones. Those who violate these rules will be boiled alive in the blood of their children. I do hope you enjoy the show and if you should see me afterwards do not approach. I find contact with my subjects extremely distasteful.”
And so it began. This show kicked off with the theme song that kicks off every episode HBO series. It’s less than two minutes long and affectionately known as “Main Title,” but it is the melody that everyone could hum along to. We were warned that there would obviously be spoilers ahead and I’ll relay that sentiment that there may be spoilers coming up in this article. Though I doubt you would have read this far if you didn’t already know that Ned Stark didn’t make it past season one. Sobie polled the audience to ask who has never seen an episode of the show and there were dozens in the audience that responded. They would be treated to a first class “Cliff Notes” introduction to the entire show.
It was obvious that the majority of the audience were on the other extreme, hadn’t missed an episode of the show, and had probably read all of the books and watched all of the behind-the-scenes footage they could find on YouTube. As the orchestra played through a medley of the house themes, there were varying intensities of cheers as the sigils on each banner crossed the screen. The montage of each house was edited to seemingly reveal all of the characters from the entire series.
The musicians on stage were comprised of a team of seven soloists who were part of the touring cast and the rest of the orchestra and choir seats were filled by local talent in each city of the tour. There were about three dozen Phoenicians in the orchestra and fifteen in the choir. The cello that is dominantly featured throughout Djawadi’s scores was played by Cameron Stone who dressed for the part in a sleeveless robe revealing pauldron armor and a necklace reminiscent of a maester’s chain.
Rock shows often feature dueling virtuoso guitarists and this experience mirrored that element with Stone on cello and his counterpart, Molly Rogers, on violin. Rogers has played with many of the top names in the music business and rose to prominence in this show suspended on wires several stories high above the stage while playing the gentle melody of “Goodbye Brother”. The video screen played season one scenes of Winterfell while Roger’s dress extended from stage to proscenium in the guise of a weirwood tree with red leaves snowing from the gridiron.
The next soloists to be featured were the percussion team of Alan Mark Lightner and Davey Chegwidden. While the cello cried out a phrygian melody, a scale that the ancient Egyptians may have borrowed from the Dothraki, Lightner and Chegwidden provided the cadence on taiko and djembe for “Love In The Eyes.” Lightner was spotlighted later too as he played the hammer dulcimer for the theme dedicated to Arya Stark, “Needle.”
Vocalist Nayanna Holley earned her spot on center stage from a diverse resume of performances on tours and television (see her link below). Dressed in a flowing red gown, Holley delivered the second famous song of the series entitled “The Rains of Castamere,” accompanied by Hsin Huang on keys. The lyrics for this song were actually written by Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin in the book A Storm of Swords and then Djawadi later set it to a haunting melody in the key of D minor.
And who, are you, the proud Lord said,
That I must bow so low?
Only a cat of a different coat,
That’s all the truth I know.
In a coat of gold or a coat of red,
A lion still has claws,
And mine are long and sharp, my lord,
As long and sharp as yours.
And so he spoke and so he spoke.
That lord of Castamere,
But now the rains weep o’er his hall,
With no one there to hear.
Yes now the rains weep o’er his hall,
And not a soul to hear.
The song packs an emotional impact to fans of the show who remember hearing the song sprinkled throughout the series, most notable at the Red Wedding. This was arguably one of the most shocking scenes of the series and we went back in time to relive it again while the orchestra intensified the already intense scenes with “The Lanisters Send Their Regards.”
Shifting from Westeros to Essos, we left the Lanister-Stark rift and rejoined the Daenerys Targaryens story arc for the songs “Dracarys” and “Mhysa.” The audience revealed their love of the character and Emilia Clarke, the actress who played her, as she gave the command “Dracarys” that gave Drogo the permission to burn slaver Kraznys mo Nakloz to a crisp. This song was the heavy metal segment of the setlist and the distortion on the cello sounded like a mix between a Les Paul through a Marshall stack and the spine-chilling roar of a dragon. Pyrotechnic flame cannons erupted on stage. Exciting!
Act one continued with John Snow dying and being resurrected, the Battle of the Bastards, and then wrapped up with the first song of the series to feature piano, “The Light of the Seven.” Conductor Michael Sobie proved his skills as a pianist which is his main task when Djawadi is conducting. The video played out the entire scene of Cersei’s trial that never comes to pass. The quiet piano passages evolved into organ chord progressions inspired by the horror of The Phantom of the Opera while the Phoenix choir was voicing chilling Gregorian chants…I guess they’re actually Valyrian chants. The act ends with the green wildfire imploding the Sept and the stage filled with smoke cannons immersed in lime green illumination.
Even for those who had seen the previous tours, Act Two was new. It was all carved from the episodes of season eight. There was a lot of controversy about how the series wrapped up in the final season, but there was no controversy regarding the music that was unanimously praised. The songs culled up the scenes of the reunions at Winterfell, battles on the Narrow Sea, live dragons above the clouds and undead dragons below the ice, Arya’s dagger plunge to end the war, and of course the unbridled rage of another mad Targaryan.
Djawadi captured the spirit and the tempo of this myriad of emotions in the confines of the same twelve notes used by his childhood hero Elmer Bernstein. In an HBO behind the scenes featurette, Djawadi shows the humble beginnings of this larger than life music forming in his relatively small studio. He shares his process of finding the right tones and instruments, recording them in the computer until the filming is locked, and then, he says, “I go in and record it with real musicians and I feel that’s the most rewarding thing. I still get goosebumps when I hear them play the music.” So did we.
One highlight for the second act was yet another song for which George R.R. Martin started the lyrics in the book A Storm of Swords, called “Jenny of Oldstones.” The song was featured on the series as Podrick Payne sang it before the massive “dark” battle and Florence and the Machine version sounded in the closing credits. The thirteen song set ended with a reprise of the main theme and the soloists lining up at the front of the stage for a final bow. As all of the musicians ghosted off the stage, the screen once again grabbed everyone’s attention and played a slide show of all of the major and minor characters from the Game of Thrones series. Finally the epic night of music and visual stimulation moved on to become additional audio-visions that will ever enhance our memories of A Song of Ice and Fire.
Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience – Comerica Theatre 10-1-19
Photography © Reagle Photography
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