Guitars make Zelda even more legendary

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Bit-Brigade-MAGFestby Josh Neas

Four musicians played the same snippet of music they had played seven times prior as a collection of audience members thrust arms into the air, making rough triangle shapes with their hands. On a screen above the stage, a small pixilated man had just captured another triangular object and the buzz in the audience was building. Despite the rock show going on, almost all eyes were glued to the screen. And that’s probably how the musicians liked it.

Bit Brigade brought their video game-meets-math rock roadshow back to the Blind Tiger this past Friday evening. The concept is rather simple: On stage an expert video gamer plays through an entire Nintendo game while his exploits are displayed via projector on a screen. A four-piece band then recreates the soundtrack to the game along with every life, death, scene change, boss fight or any moment where the music would have changed in the game. Over the years the band has tackled classic games such as Mega Man 2, Castlevania, Ninja Gaiden and Contra. This time, however, they brought along one of the most influential games of the last 30 years: The Legend of Zelda. 

Watching a Bit Brigade show isn’t that far afield from seeing local Greensboroites Modern Robot recontextualize classic films by creating and playing new soundtracks to go with them. At their best, both bands actually blend into the background, the audience focusing on the video game or the film respectively. Members of Bit Brigade, however, strive to capture the actual music of the original game note for note  infusing it with the sound and power of math rock and flavors of their other creative projects, longstanding Athens, Ga. bands Cinemechanica and We Versus the Shark.

It is tough to measure how creative an endeavor this can be. How far removed from just another cover band is this? There is the novelty of the video game being played in front of you, but wouldn’t it be more interesting to play it yourself?

DSC_0158Bit Brigade has been creating what could be called the “new pops orchestra.” By blending the two mediums of live indie music with the geek culture surrounding video games, they have created a vibrant and engaging product. The band’s split-second shifts in music are a true testament to obvious skill at their instruments, and it’s certainly impressive to see their resident gamer blitz through a game that took a lot of us months to conquer, if ever we did. The 150 people who came to the show and the hand gestures representing the pieces of the legendary Triforce of the Zelda mythology were evidence of the effective cultural mash-up that they’ve finessed over the band’s eight years in existence.

Greensboro’s the Bronzed Chorus and Raleigh’s 8-Bit Disaster opened the show. The Bronzed Chorus’ complex instrumental music received a different context when surrounded by the video game music. Opener “Underpass Sunrise,” a song that is more than five years old, sounded like a soundtrack to a lost RPG. The multiple layers of the band’s sound were as mesmerizing as ever with the guitar work by Adam Joyce creating a broad, hypnotic soundscape on which Hunter Allen’s drums could run rampant. It was an interesting inverse of the way bands usually play, putting a lot more focus on Allen’s incredible drum work.

8-Bit Disaster, on the other hand, felt like a weird, geeky secret handshake. Calling themselves a “funk” video-game music band, the five-piece plowed its way through a bevy of video game soundtrack recreations that were decidedly less well known. They also found time for a medley of geek-culture television theme songs and music from an anime series. As opposed to the focus of Bit Brigade, they felt like they were letting their geek flag fly in as many ways as possible, but it did get them called back for a one-song encore of music from the massive 2011 game Skyrim.

Sometimes pandering works.