‘Game of Thrones’ live experience transforms Forum into Westeros for the night
One of the many powers held by a historic music venue like the Forum in Inglewood — which has seen celebrated concerts by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen and Prince — is that of a time machine.
Capable of transporting an audience back to a summer when it first heard a favorite song or an aging band to its initial heyday, the Forum’s ability to slip the bounds of time was again in full view Thursday night with the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience, a celebration of the blockbuster HBO series and its music, led by the show’s composer, Ramin Djawadi.
This time-skipping quality could be felt on two fronts. With a mix of orchestral sweep, multiple screens and the occasional blast of fire and smoke, the show’s expected aim was to transport fans to the Middle Ages-adjacent universe of the tangled and very bloody machinations of George R.R. Martin’s Westeros. However, the performance also offered a fleeting glimpse of the not too distant future when “Game of Thrones” is no longer something analyzed and anticipated — July 16 and the new season is coming, everyone! — and exists only as a memory. Indeed, having left such an imprint on pop culture, it wasn’t difficult to imagine this concert being toured and staged well after “Game of Thrones” is over and our watch is ended.
This sort of living tribute to a series nearing its finish gave the night a communal, Comic-Con-esque quality.
A booth offering fan portraits against a green screen depicting views and characters in “Game of Thrones’” attracted a line nearly as daunting as the procession of cars heading to the Forum down Manchester Boulevard. Inside, the motto “Valar Morghulis” (“All men must die”) was spotted in ’70s-era script across a black sweatshirt. The beer lines boasted a few costumed fans, including a toga-clad Daenerys here and an anachronistically elaborate leather jacket framing a bearded face there. A merch booth selling shirts warning “Music Is Coming” was doing brisk business.
Inside, the celebratory mood continued. Starting, naturally, with the show’s empire-building opening credit sequence, the concert began with a roar from the crowd that was matched by the churning theme from an orchestra at the far end of a long, multi-segmented stage, which made room for spotlit solo performances at various positions throughout the night.
Admittedly, as the main titles unspooled there was a bit of a conditioned letdown realizing that oh, right, this won’t be followed by a new episode. Indeed, though an idea must’ve been floated to reward fans with a glimpse of something newer than the inscrutable teaser released earlier this month that was shown at intermission, this was a show that could only look back.
Which, to be fair, has never stopped an act from taking the Forum stage. And, like any good arena show, “Game of Thrones” needed to bring the hits, and the sprawling series has more than most.
Though the opening credits music may be the show’s most familiar number, “The Rains of Castamere” could qualify as the closest thing to a single. It has been covered to mournful effect by indie favorites the National over the closing credits of the “Blackwater” episode, and the atmospheric Icelandic band Sigur Ros, which did the same during the fourth season. Thursday, surprise guest Serj Tankian of System of a Down fronted the orchestra for the song with dramatic vocals that soared with a familiar, near-operatic heft.
“You can guess what’s next. The doors are locked,” Djawadi teased the crowd as the song gave way to a re-airing of the bloody “Red Wedding” scene on the screens overhead as the orchestra played on. After the carnage, a musician moved to a platform at the center of the multi-branched stage to perform on a flexible (and vigorously swung) didgeridoo for a trip beyond the Wall as scenes of the frozen North played overhead.
In addition to offering a showcase for Djawadi’s sweeping and often melancholy compositions, the concert also acted as a visual survey of how far this story has traveled.
A violinist led a somber theme for the series’ mystical red-and-white Weirwood tree as branches rose and spun on a cluster of screens above her. A choir dressed in appropriately monastic robes patrolled the stage to illustrate the rise of the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) in King’s Landing. Woodwinds and tabla framed Daenerys’ journey though the deserts of Essos, and Djawadi eventually took center stage to play hammered dulcimer for a piece dedicated to the young Arya Stark (Maisie Williams).
As the night went on, larger scenes from the series’ took center stage as Djawadi and his musicians focused on revisiting recent, pivotal moments.
The foolish valor of Jon Snow’s charge in the “Battle of the Bastards” earned a big cheer, as did Daenerys’ dragons laying waste to Meereen (punctuated by a few columns of flames erupting from the edges of the stage, worthy of a glam metal set — or at least Vegas). Later, Djawadi played a keyboard on a small stage on the opposite side of the arena from the orchestra that was cast as a pipe organ by the screens above as his music ominously circled Cersei Lannister’s devious rise to the Iron Throne with a blast of poison-green wildfire.
Was a greatest hits tour through “Game of Thrones” enough to satisfy those starving for the new season? Probably not. And judging by the ovation at the end of the night, if anything, appetites remain stronger than ever. But take comfort: Summer is coming.
Follow me over here @chrisbarton.
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