I’ve never been much of a video game person, unless you count playing LEGO Star Wars with my little brother on our GameCube in 2011. But on March 1st, the 8-Bit Big Band’s concert at the Berklee Performance Center lifted my spirits and brought a smile to my face nonetheless. This 33-person pops orchestra, curated and conducted by Charlie Rosen, is acclaimed for their jazzy arrangements of iconic video game tunes; their talent, joy, and creativity shone in every aspect of their performance.
Opening the show was Berklee student and Youtuber insaneintherain, conducting his big band in their world premiere. They played a series of arrangements from Nintendo’s Pokémon: Diamond and Pearl, as well as the ubiquitous Mii Channel theme. Each piece was expertly performed - no one would have guessed that the band and its arrangements were all composed by students. Insaneintherain’s opening act was fun and effortless, setting the tone for the evening perfectly.
After a brief intermission to reset the stage, it was time for the main event: The 8-Bit Big Band. Armed with his Pac-Man bass, Charlie Rosen charmed the audience with warmth, joy, and expertise. From a classic Super Mario medley to selections from Super Mario 64, Earthbound, Duck Tales, Pilot Wing 64, Tetris, Final Fantasy, and Zelda, 8BBB was nothing short of captivating. Neither did the special guests of the evening disappoint: saxophonist and singer Grace Kelly drew us in with her dynamic, effortless chops (“Hydrocity Zone,” Sonic; “Big Blue,” f-zeroX; “Jump Up Superstar,” Super Mario Odyssey), and Leo P held our attention on the bari sax, accompanied by his wild outfits and dance moves (“Underground Theme,” Super Mario Land; “Main Theme,” Mortal Kombat). By far the night’s biggest hit was their performance of the theme from Pokémon, the hit anime. Performing together as 2saxy, Kelly and P took the stage in full costume, and together with the orchestra, they brought the house down.
I never thought I would find myself enjoying a concert of jazzy video game themes, but I’m happy to say that along with Grace Kelly and Leo P, the 8-Bit Big Band changed my mind. My favorite aspect of the show was how much joy each person took in playing - it was clear that they love what they get to do. In the midst of all the panic and fear in the world right now, it’s comforting to look back on that night and know that even in unprecedented circumstances like these, music still speaks to us just the same.
Follow the 8-Bit Big Band HERE.