More Friends - Music from Final Fantasy :: Review by Sophia
Those of you who missed the live concert held in LA at the Universal Amphitheatre on May 16, 2005, which marked the very first time that The Black Mages performed in the United States, can now listen to what was presented that special day. More Friends - Music from Final Fantasy was presented a year after Dear Friends - Music from Final Fantasy, the first video game concert ever held in the US to kick off E3. This concert was led by Arnie Roth, performed by the World Festival Symphony Orchestra, and supported by the vocal talents of the CSUF University Singers, along with special guests. This was an event to remember, and thankfully an official recording is now available.
"Opening ~ Bombing Mission" from Final Fantasy VII was a fitting opening. It starts off slow to build the anticipation prior to jumping into the repetitive but intense strings of the action-packed second part. Accentuated by trumpets, this is a brilliant and vibrant orchestrated piece which builds excitement for things to come. Nothing short of exhilarating and captivating, we transition into another Final Fantasy VII melody that everyone knows and loves following this "Aerith's Theme." Chances are you've probably listened to this version on the 20020220 - Music from Final Fantasy CD, but, nonetheless, it's an elegantly performed piece that creates a very beautiful backdrop of one of the most popular games in history. With a full-blown orchestra being used bring out the poignant and heartfelt emotions that this creation has, listening to this piece will back memories.
As solo piano notes open, we are brought back to the distraught world of Spira where Final Fantasy X takes place with "Zanarkand." With the soft tones of strings as well as the flute and clarinet taking over the main melody, many instruments take turns carrying the melody with horns as the bass accompaniment. Halfway through, the harp chimes creating a smooth gentle plucking sound which helps transitions into the second half. There is no triumphant finish, but it ties up at the end, a pleasant orchestration of a very popular piano melody.
"Don't be Afraid" is another one of my favourite arrangements, mostly because I never thought a battle theme could sound so captivating performed live by an orchestra. The strings, trumpets, xylophone, and even the triangle are all thrown in together with the heavy beat of a drum that creates that same sense of urgency and excitement as the piece was in the game. There is great use of percussion of all types to really bring out the soul of this piece. Next is "Terra," another popular piece which feels majestic and whimsical at the same time. This time the different wind instruments carry the melody all the way to the final powerful ending.
You can tell that "Swing de Chocobo" was a crowd favourite. Arranged in the famous swing style of 1930's, this bouncy 6 beat variant is fun and classy at the same time... well, at least as classy as a theme for a fat yellow bird can be. With its distinct style, it's hard not get involved and feel like you want to get up and boogie. This was a fantastic arrangement and a great choice to get the audience going all the while creating an amusing and charming atmosphere. It's followed by a classic. As always, you can't have a Final Fantasy concert without the traditional "Final Fantasy" theme. A heroic and proud theme, performed with emphasis by the symphony this is the Final Fantasy theme to remember.
The moment that all Nobuo Uematsu fans have been waiting for follows; next comes the first live performance by The Black Mages on US soil. The entire mood of this album changes with "The Rocking Grounds" from Japan's Final Fantasy III. If you're a fan of The Black Mages, you will enjoy this rendition although it's just not quite the same listening to it at home. Part of the fun is hearing the musicians play up on stage, and seeing their enthusiasm and energy. "Maybe I'm a Lion," which is on The Skies Above album also, comes next. If you are familiar with The Black Mages, you'll already know how electrifying they can be and how overwhelming it is to hear your favourite tunes rock style. Kudos to the members of The Black Mages for their energetic performance.
After thunderous applause, the next track is Rikki's first US performance of "Suteki da ne." Her voice isn't quite as powerful and airy so it was difficult to hear all the words clearly. She seemed to get drowned out by just the piano melody at times. Still, this is a very beautiful and moving performance, even though her voice didn't quite carry over the music that well. Following is another vocal track, as Emiko Shiratori sings "A Place to Call Home ~ Melodies of Life," which preludes with a familiar tune from Final Fantasy IX before the vocals begin. Maybe it's the recording, but Shiratori's voice seem to reverberate a little too much, but her voice projected well overall. This was still a wonderful performance along with the orchestra, even though the acoustics were a bit poor.
Besides The Black Mages, fans are probably excited to get to hear the "Opera 'Maria and Draco'" with English words! The opera scene from Final Fantasy VI was performed by Stephanie Woodling, Chad Berlinghieri, and Todd Robinson. Although I thought the lyrics were completely corny, it is definitely interesting to hear the wide array of styles on this one album. This just proves that Nobuo Uematsu's talents expand a wide range in terms of style and music. The voices are much clearer in this track, probably because they were singing down in the orchestra pit in front of the conductor rather than on stage.
For the grand finale, this is one version of "One Winged Angel" that you do not want to miss out on. Performed by The Black Mages AND the orchestra, this rendition of "One Winged Angel" is just spectacular and absolutely amazing. With electric guitars, heavy strings, and the choir, it is just unbelievable and features considerable changes to the Final Fantasy VII Advent Children version. With the sound of the audience cheering, you can tell that this was an exciting piece to finish with.
Finally, Square Enix decided to release the live recording of one of the most special video game music events held in the US. An album with a little bit of everything, this is a must-have for any Final Fantasy fan. Even though you may have heard some of these arrangements before on other albums, this one is a special one since it was live. I am amazed at the editing job because the fans were just going wild at the concert and there were some electric current issues which would cause loud snaps during the first half of the concert. They didn't include the MC which is a shame, but since there were so many technical difficulties, it was better that they left it out completely. Overall, it's a fantastic album. Please get it and let's hope that more concerts like this will come in the future.
Overall Score: 10/10