This weekend I got the opportunity to check out the Midwest Media Expo, held in Detroit, Michigan, at the opulent General Motors Renaissance Center. This expo is a celebration of so much that makes us geeks, with guests from anime, movies, television, and comics. My find from the weekend, however, was a treasure trove of both new and re-discovered geeky music. If you’re looking for something new and geeky to put on your iPod, I recommend you check these out.
Concert – The Harp Twins
Given the name “The Harp Twins,” it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that this musical performance was literally twins playing harps, but it was so much more than that. This wasn’t your everyday harp music they played. Specializing in covers of instantly recognizable songs that you’re not accustomed to hearing on harp, over the course of the concert they played everything from the theme of Walking Dead to Iron Maiden, making both songs much more hauntingly beautiful with their harp renditions.
Their stage presence was elegant and simple, twins wearing identical outfits with identical hair styles, using identical instruments. Synchronous movements, identical appearances, and overlapping melodies created the illusion that the Harp Twins were truly two parts of a whole.
As a massive Whovian, I was stoked when they played a version of the Doctor Who theme that they had arranged themselves, taking aspects of the various versions of the theme over the years to create one that was truly representative of the show as a whole. And, as if my geek-out wasn’t complete enough, this was soon followed by a medley of the Skyrim and Morrowind themes from the Elder Scrolls series.
The Harp Twins have two albums out, available on their website and on iTunes.
Concert – Time Crash
Being the Whovian that I am, I was excited from the moment this band took stage. Heralded by a version of the intro modified to show the faces of the band members, the band’s energy was infectious from the first moment on stage. Most of the band members wore Doctor Who t-shirts, with the one exception being the lead singer, who came on-stage as a cross-play (cross-gender cosplay, for the uninitiated) of twelfth doctor Peter Capaldi. The lead guitarist sported a custom TARDIS-designed electric guitar that the band have fittingly dubbed the “GuiTARDIS.”
All of the band’s songs were Doctor Who-themed. They began with the song “Little Amelia,” following the story of young Amy pond before the events in “The Eleventh Hour,” taking about the scary crack and her missing parents.
This was followed by a song about regeneration and the one that made me geek out, “Who Am I?” the song about the 1996 TV movie that served as my introduction to the iconic show and is the first appearance of my Doctor. Other songs included “Metacrisis Man,” a love song between Rose and the Doctor who was stuck in the parallel dimension with her; and “A Soldier’s Promise,” a song based on the finale to the latest season, written and performed within 24 hours of it airing.
Overall I was impressed by the fact that the band was musically talented enough to be successful at mainstream music. This made it so that the Doctor Who-themed music was that much more effective.
Time Crash has an album out that can be found at their website and on iTunes.
Concert/Performance – Steam Powered Giraffe
The best way I’ve heard Steam Powered Giraffe described still doesn’t do justice to exactly how strange and wonderful the experience was of seeing this performance. They were described by the MC, Vorteque, as “vaudeville meets Queen with a touch of Bowie,” which is true, if it were all performed by steam-powered robots. The concert began with promotional videos from “Walter robotics” introducing the three performers (Hatchworth, Rabbit, and the Spine), as well as the supporting characters. These introduced a touch of humor before, preventing the inevitable exodus of people going to the bathroom and grabbing a smoke, ensuring that the entire crowd would remain despite the lengthy period of tear-down and set-up between Time Crash’s full rock band setup and Steam Powered Giraffe’s clear stage but technically complicated outfits (mics near mouths, steam machines on belts, and complicated costumes and paint jobs).
From the moment the performers stepped onstage to the moment the show was over, they were their characters. Movements were made in linear and jerky motions, to seem robotic, and character quirks made them look like they were created in the 1800s. This, combined with music that was both funny and well-written, created a show that kept me so enthralled that I didn’t remember to take photographs for the article. This is one of those “sorry but not sorry” moments.
Steam Powered Giraffe is clearly comfortable with the convention atmosphere, with many of their concerts being at media and steampunk concerts, even catering one song to the anime crowd by singing entirely in Japanese. Not being even vaguely fluent in the language, I’m not sure if it was correct or what they were saying (aside from “Steam Powered Giraffu”), but it was convincing to me.
As far as labeling this band, I’m not entirely sure whether to call it a concert or a performance, as it seemed to land somewhere between a concert and music theater. The band has several albums available (on their website and iTunes), and sang live on stage with recorded instrumental backing. Whatever you call it, Steam Powered Giraffe was a hilarious and impressive show that would entertain all ages.
Fantasy Formal – DJ Vorteque (Electro Swing)
While not exactly a concert, I would be remiss of I ignored the character and DJ talents of Vorteque. A former circus performer and a stickler for detail, even down to the steampunk-styled DJ station he mixes on, Vorteque is a man who knows how to have a good time. The Fantasy Formal was an experiment this year, with Vorteque spinning Electro Swing late into the night Friday.
While the experiment wasn’t as successful as hoped, mostly due to scheduling conflicts that made the dance start considerably later than advertised, both Vorteque and his music were fan favorites. If you’ve never heard Electro Swing, it’s a burgeoning genre of techno in which swing music is mixed, creating something that at once sounds old and new. It’s immensely danceable, incredibly catchy, and created an elegant feel to a high-energy party.
Vorteque has an album coming out soon, the details of which can be found on his website.
Concert – Aurelio Voltaire (Warning: Not All-Ages Friendly)
Of the artists that played this weekend, Voltaire has perhaps the most notable name. He and his music have spawned a cult following, having appeared in a Halloween episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy on Cartoon Network, and with Voltaire himself often being brought onto the news to serve as the “goth expert” when the subculture makes its way into the public eye. His music is funny, geeky, and definitely not appropriate for the whole family. His subject matter can vary from the innocuous and geeky to the sexual and perverse, and very rarely do his songs abstain from the use of profanity. That said, for the parents and kids who are deemed old enough, Voltaire is a laugh-riot.
Voltaire, as a live experience, was a real treat. From the moment he stepped on stage, he never let his audience go for a moment. He would stop between songs to tell funny stories, often an awkward but nevertheless effective form of transition, and would regularly find new ways to entice the audience into singing or shouting along. These interactions all felt natural, personalized, and not like the stock transitions and stories that an artist gets accustomed to telling at every show. It was, without a doubt, the funniest concert I’ve ever been to. Not a one-trick pony, however, Voltaire pulled the heart strings of the audience with a song from his upcoming album Heart Shaped Wound that he dedicated to the late Leonard Nimoy. Fittingly, it was a Spock-themed love song that was both funny and genuinely touching in a way I would have sworn impossible before hearing it.
Voltaire is one of those artists I had encountered before (for the first time in the aforementioned Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy episode) but never took the time to really listen to, but is now joining my iPod for those kid-free moments when a little profanity and sensitive subject-matter is just fine.
Voltaire has several albums available just about everywhere, including his website and iTunes.
Concert – The Silent Hill Band (starring Akira Yamaoka and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn)
This final concert of the weekend for me was the biggest surprise. The music of Akira Yamaoka is, by far, the most listened to of all the artists this weekend. His music has appeared in Silent Hill (all of them), Contra: Hard Corps and Shattered Soldier, and Gradius among many many other games. Hearing these songs live, however, was a treat I didn’t know I needed.
Akira’s band, which included Ann Arbor locals on bass and rhythm guitar, was headed by himself on lead guitar and singer/voice-actress Mary Elizabeth McGlynn on vocals. There’s so much praise I can write about this experience that I could give it a post of its own, but much of it would just be words unless you’d been in the room. Suffice it to say, the Silent Hill Band was technically impressive in the extreme. With a quality and complexity of sound that one rarely hears in popular mainstream bands, driven by the sublime combination of the two main elements: Akira’s guitar and Mary Elizabeth’s vocals. Akira Yamaoka deserves to be listed among the best guitar soloists of all times. Listening to his solos, which were plentiful, reminded me why the guitar solo had become such a popular art form. Creating the framework for the solos to exist within was the performance of Mary Elizabeth McGlynn. I found myself surprised as her voice would span the complete range of styles, often going from the angelic to the punk rocker of our ’80s and ’90s dreams in the course of a single song. At one point, in the middle of a song on addiction, her scream brought me back to any number of the female giants of metal.
The band’s songs are often hauntingly beautiful or drivingly intense and are always evocative. The music itself generated the reactions from the crowd, without a word needing to be said from stage. During the powerful metal songs of the beginning, the crowd was on their feet, but as the music became more haunting and evocative, many sat and seemed entranced.
This concert, without a doubt, surprised me the most. I never thought, going in, that video game music could leave me writing such a long review that seems so inadequate compared to both my experiences and my notes, but I remain as astounded and impressed as I was leaving the auditorium. Whether you’re a gamer who has experienced Yamaoka’s songs in their natural environment, or just a music enthusiast who is interested in come truly complex and impressive hard-rock/metal, give these guys a listen.
The Silent Hill Band has several albums available on Akira’s website, on iTunes, and basically anywhere else music can be found.