Game of Thrones Concert Experience Is Sufficiently Bombastic

Winter was Houston.
Winter was Houston. Photo by Violeta Alvarez
Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience Feat. Ramin Djawadi
Toyota Center
March 17, 2017

A mere six seasons in, it's premature to say HBO's Game of Thrones is one of TV's all-time greats. Certainly, it's spurred discussion on topics ranging from casting strong female television leads to proper wedding etiquette. What can't be denied is the effectiveness and prominence of the show's music. This is mostly true of the iconic theme, created — as is the rest of the score — by German-born composer Ramin Djawadi.

Simultaneously majestic and portentuous (in fairness, there's a lot to portend on GoT), the theme serves two purposes: it draws viewers in, and it connects the various plotlines and far-flung locales. And if there was one single complaint to be made about the supplemental "Live Concert Experience," the continent-wide tour that pulled into Toyota Center last Friday, it's how obvious that commonality is when all the music is played at once.

click to enlarge All hail the Iron Throne. - PHOTO BY VIOLETA ALVAREZ
All hail the Iron Throne.
Photo by Violeta Alvarez
As the lights dimmed, we were "welcomed" over the arena's PA by Cersei Lannister, newly-installed Queen Regent of the Seven Kingdoms: "Lords and ladies ... *sigh* ... and peasants." It was a welcome bit of humor for a TV series largely bereft of any. And just in case it wasn't apparent yet, this review is going to be chock full of spoilers for the entire run of Game of Thrones. In the words of famed cutlery expert Ser lyn Payne, proceed with caution.

Djawadi opened by asking the assembled crowd, "Who here has seen Game of Thrones?" with predictable results (most had). His orchestra, consisting of a handful of traveling performers and a local orchestra and chorale group, then launched into the iconic theme. Twin Jumbotrons flanked by two circular screen towers provided a more or less 360-degree visual accompaniment. For the main theme, of course, came a replay of the show's famous opening credit sequence as the Iron Throne itself rose from a center stage pit to much applause.

Six stages took up most of the Toyota Center floor. The main, or "King's Landing," stage, housed Djawadi and most of the musicians. The opposite "Winterfell" stage provided a location for the various vocal (Stevvi Alexander), cello (Cameron Stone), and violin (Christine Wu) solos. Four other smaller stages occupied the area between, allowing the musicians to position themselves appropriately for their respective performances.

Photo by Violeta Alvarez
The show jumps around in the storyline, so we got to see some of the more notorious series moments in the later seasons (the fate of Shireen Baratheon, the Red Wedding) in the first handful of songs. It also, to that end, served as a useful recap for the show's upcoming seventh season (premiering in July). That said, it roughly stuck with the overall arc, saving the concert's biggest punches for the second act.

Djawadi's style for the TV show is familiar to viewers, but becomes really obvious when you hear it all together: very martial, with heavy emphasis on minor-key variants, cellos, and kettle drums. The only serious variations come with the Daenerys Targaryen bits, which are more Middle Eastern-influenced, and Arya Stark's theme, played on the hammer dulcimer by Djawadi himself.

Perhaps the show's most notorious song, "The Rains of Castamere," got the showcase treatment from Alexander. Unfortunately, her delivery was so funereal it took me almost a minute to realize what she was singing.

Photo by Violeta Alvarez
The massive visual component was a wise move, because 2.5 hours of just the GoT score, especially with the main theme figuring so prominently everywhere, could become oppressive. The dynamism of the performers, combined with, uh, subtle touches like flamethrowers firing from the ceiling ("Dracarys!") and red leaves falling from the giant weirwood tree were welcome distractions. As were the scenes themselves, although the decision to play certain chunks of dialogue and not others could be dissonant at times.

The show's finale, if we're calling it that, consisted of a three-fer of season six's most famous moments: "Hold the door" — which is possibly even more upsetting on a giant screen with live accompaniment, a huge chunk of the climactic Battle of the Bastards, and the scene that everyone should be calling "Run the World (Cersei)" if they aren't already. Sansa showing up on the field of battle with the Knights of the Vale drew the biggest cheers of the night, just edging "Dracarys" and Arya's surprise visit to Walder Frey.

Djawadi knows he has a good thing going, and was effusive in his praise of Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss for their support. He also praised the Toyota Center crowd, though in all honesty, it was far from a full house. Chalk that up to St. Patrick's Day conflicts, I'm guessing, because this was a fun show that proved the old adage: "If you can't dazzle them with musical brilliance, baffle them with a highlight reel of a show about dragons and zombies." Let's just hope the producers of The Walking Dead don't get a similar idea.

Photo by Violeta Alvarez
Personal Bias: Big fan. Used to recap the show for the Houston Press. Have long since given up hope of ever seeing the rest of the books releasd.

The Crowd: A decent mix of cosplayers and bemused symphony types.

Overheard In the Crowd: "Shit, I can't watch that [Hodor] again."

Random Notebook Dump: "Stop! Hammer dulcimer time!"

SET LIST (all song names are made-up, except the first one)
Theme to Game of Thrones
The Heart Tree's Lament (Sayonara, Starks)
A Farewell to Dongs (Theon's Theme)
Here Be Dragon's Eggs
I've Made a Huge Mistake feat. Stannis Baratheon
Apparently 'The Rains of Castamere'
Something Borrowed, Something Red (Wedding)
The Others (not the Nicole Kidman movie)
The Wall (not the Pink Floyd one)
Jon and Ygritte's Love Theme (AKA Bathroom Break)

Man, Those Starks Can't Catch a Break
Requiem for A Smooth Criminal (The House of Black and White)
O Hai, Sparrow
Dragons Be Trippin'
From The Wall to Iran-Contra; Crimes Of People Named 'Ollie'
Bran on the Run
Pretty Much The Whole Goddamned Battle of the Bastards
Burn, Baelor, Burn
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar