Distant Worlds: music from Final Fantasy – Chicago, IL 9/14/2019 – REVIEW

When  Arnie Roth, the veteran conductor of the Distant Worlds concert, arrived on stage for the Chicago Distant Worlds concert, he said, “It’s good to be home.” He noted that Susan Calloway, a regular guest vocalist for Distant Worlds, is also from someplace near Chicago.  My personal home is in Pennsylvania, and when I saw Distant Worlds in New Jersey, they rocked the house. The theater in Jersey, the NJPAC (New Jersey Performing Arts Center) is larger than the Symphony Hall in Chicago, not to mention in the shadow of Broadway. “Performing Arts” is very much a part of East Coast culture, though Chicago is different. This is a city that perhaps loves the Cubs and the Bears baseball and football teams more than theater.  The beautiful music in this concert series comes from a most unexpected place, the video game series Final Fantasy.  There were easily over 100 of us in the audience to celebrate the music. The show was no less spectacular in Chicago, though there’s no denying my attachment to the show I saw close to home.

Upon receiving a newsletter about the event, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, but it was clearly a special show. The show was built around the music of Final Fanasy VII, which is a fan favorite Final Fantasy game. The show would feature guest vocalists from previous shows, Susan Calloway and Rikki. Finally, the composer of Final Fantasy XIV was in attendance, and upon arrival, I discovered a representative from Square Enix, publishing company of the Final Fantasy game series, was also in attendance. This particular show in Chicago featured more reasons than any other Distant World show I’ve heard about to go. I bit the bullet, paid for my ticket, airfare, and a hotel, and on the day of the show, off I went.

The first act featured Susan Calloway and Rikki. Rikki sang “Suteki Da Ni,” a beautiful song in every right, though she seemed to be struggling to sing, maybe out of emotion. She sang in Japanese, which was a treat. I am familiar with the English translation. Susan Calloway sang “Dragonsong” from Final Fantasy XIV, and later my absolute favorite of hers, “Answers.” Susan Calloway did not hold back. On applauding, I lifted my hands to signify my appreciation and was honored when she acknowledged me with a wave.

There was a choir which had a range of vocal styles, though no less capable than the choir in New Jersey. If anything, there were too few members of the choir. They stood right next to the string section, and perhaps they needed a section of their own. On the topic of strings, I don’t think anyone missed a beat. That said, I heard a trumpeter during a solo hit the wrong note. As a former musician, I know it takes confidence to perform, and mistakes do happen. Given that the rest of the show was near perfect, it’s easy to forgive a missed note.

Again, the show had a Final Fantasy VII theme, though the Final Fantasy VII music didn’t happen until the latter half. If I’m being totally honest, the Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII being on the setlist was perhaps the biggest reason I wanted to see the show in Chicago. The performance was as beautiful and otherworldly as any recording, and really hit a strong stride in the middle. Staples in Distant Worlds, Cinco de ChocaboJENOVA Complete, and One-Winged Angel, all from Final Fantasy VII, were also on the setlist, though I heard them all in New Jersey.

Additional songs I hadn’t heard are “Searching for Friends,” “Festival of the Hunt,” and “Somnus.”  To be perfectly honest, Final Fantasy IX is the only Final Fantasy game I have ever finished (though I may return to others in the series) and so “Festival of the Hunt” was a treat. We have a seriously experienced conductor, beautiful vocals, and skilled musicians. Quite worth the weekend in another city.

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for this great review which I really enjoyed reading, Tyler. You describe the concert so well that I almost feel as if I was there. Glad the trip to Chicago worked out so well. Good work making the effort to do something that is so special to you!

    Liked by 1 person

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