UPDATED!! ScoreKeeper From The Uber-Great BATTLESTAR GALACTICA Concert!!
Published at: April 24, 2008, 10:11 a.m. CST by merrick
-- 04/24/08 10:06am CST USA --
We've added some awesome B&W photos from the concert, sent in by NASUBI. They appear below the body of the article. Thanks a ton for sending these in...they're great!
Greetings! ScoreKeeper here still a shade hung over from the euphoric events of last Sunday night in Hollywood, California.
On April 13th, 2008, Bear McCreary, composer of Sci-Fi Network’s mega-hit television phenomenon BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2004 – 2008), led a towering two- hour concert of his music from the acclaimed series featuring the same musicians tasked to perform and record the scores each week.
For BSG fans who flocked and packed the Roxy Theatre on Sunset Boulevard, it was an orgiastic celebration of one of the more daring, innovative, and prodigiously popular shows on television. The music has long been lauded as a major cog in the BATTLESTAR wheel of success which this unprecedented live music event was testament to.
With an ensemble of around a dozen musicians, Bear conducted the group from a pair of keyboards stacked toward the front of the stage. Hosted by James Callis, who plays Dr. Gaius Baltar, the concert rocketed fans through three cherished seasons of music from the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA compendium. There was a premiere of a new behind-the-scenes documentary film and to cap it all off, a generous autograph session with Bear, James, and the entire ensemble after the show.
It was a night that every BATTLESTAR GALACTICA fan in attendance would never forget.
I first arrived at the Roxy Theatre early in the afternoon right around the time that Bear and the musicians showed up to start setting up equipment. I watched in the shadows as the vacant black stage quickly filled with amplifiers, keyboards, microphones, cables, and drum set components. When they brought in the two mammoth Japanese taiko drums famous for giving BATTLESTAR its distinct musical sound, my excitement started to escalate.
Around the time that Johnny “Vatos” Hernandez was soundchecking his drum set with the house engineer, I stole a few minutes with Bear McCreary and James Callis. They sat down with me for a two-on-one interview where our conversation ranged from the phenomenon behind the show, its heralded music, the upcoming concert, and their personal thoughts on the inevitable conclusion to the series later this year.
It went something like this…
ScoreKeeper: Hey guys! Thanks for taking the time to sit down with me today. It’s a big night tonight. How are you both feeling?
Bear McCreary: Feeling great! This is an incredible opportunity to celebrate the show with the fans. We do what we do in a vacuum so this is such a unique opportunity.
SK: It’s really an unprecedented event. Film music isn’t performed live nearly as much as it should and live television music performances are practically non-existent. What is the catalyst for tonight’s event? Why is this happening?
BM: This is happening because BATTLESTAR is such a unique show…it’s hard to explain…The music is really a character in the show. It’s allowed to develop and grow in ways that TV music normally isn’t. I think the worst of TV music is set up to be something that is the same every week.
When you’re watching SEINFELD and you hear the SEINFELD music you know what you’re watching. But on BATTLESTAR, they not only allow me, but encourage me to take the music in very different directions and experiment in various episodes. In that regard, I follow the writing and the performances because you’ll see the characters continually evolve so why shouldn’t the music evolve?
So to answer your question…what makes this work in a concert setting? I’m not quite sure…
James Callis: I’ve got a feeling about that…There’s something phenomenal about BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. In that sense there are many people who want more and more access to…if I can say, dare I say, more access to the phenomenon that is BATTLESTAR. And a huge part of that phenomenon is the music.
I love what you were saying (turning to Bear)…in over four years of the show everything is developed. The music in some way is a bit like a pied piper. It’s like a smell that goes out. You’re drawn in to this arena where by the show and the music together constitutes why there should be a concert. The feelers have gone out. How can we get more from the show? Almost like squeezing a blood-orange and seeing the juice dripping into a glass.
Just to be a part of this…that’s what is going on. It’s almost like a mental vibe that’s gone out through loads of tentacles…
BM: …and that process has taken time. It’s interesting to see the difference between this concert and the one I did in 2006.
We were at a much smaller venue and sold around 70…80…at the most, 100 tickets for that show. So this time, I only booked this one concert here (at the Roxy) because I thought, this room holds about 500 people I’ll be lucky to fill it. It sold out in ten days! Even the second show now is almost sold out. So we went from selling 100 tickets to selling 1000 tickets two years later!
I think that is because the show has continued to seep into the psyche of mainstream culture in this very unprecedented way. There’s really very few shows that have ever done anything like this.
SK: But even knowing the popularity of the show, to suggest the idea of putting on a concert…I mean, on paper it’s a bad idea. There’s just no precedence for it.
BM: Absolutely! It’s a terrible idea! (laughs)
SK: So when you thought it up were you thinking “To hell with it, let’s just do it!”?
BM: The first time I did it, I did it for fun, honestly. But it was also an experiment to see if anybody would come…to see if anyone would show up. And they did. It sort of set the precedent that people would come out and be a part of this experience.
JC: If you build it…they will come.
SK: When you wrote all of the music for BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, you were doing so knowing that you were taking it into the recording studio which is a much different beast than a live performance.
SK: So how does this translate with the music? Now you have to prepare all of this music for a live performance. What are the differences and what challenges did you face?
BM: One of the interesting things that I noticed when we were doing this concert and the 2006 concert is that these musicians – who I feel a very close relationship with – many of them hadn’t met one another. These are people who play on BATTLESTAR all the time. The guy that played the duduk never really works with the guy who plays the drums. So to get everybody in the room together and to be able to shape the music in real time, because it’s being performed all at once, is a luxury for me. That is something that young composers will continue to say time and time again. This is the way, or course, that everybody used to make movie music.
But for me, especially coming from TV – and there is no such thing as big-budget TV – for me to be able to work with these musicians all at once is a real luxury. It’s a very thrilling experience but it also means I have to be more economical with my arrangements and my writing. We can’t layer 500 tracks of drums, we can’t overdub anybody, each person can only play one thing at a time. So actually, I’m approaching this from a different mindset.
Honestly, the tricks that I’ve learned while doing these concerts end up seeping back into the show when I start realizing different combinations of instruments that I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. Because in the studio you can do whatever you want.
It is an interesting balance and the live performances end up influencing the show in a round-about way.
SK: Would you say the music translates well to live performance?
BM: I think the music translates very well…
JC: It’s awesome!! Having been at the soundcheck yesterday, it’s rockin’ awesome!
BM: It’s really, really exciting to be able to hear the music live. I mean, any music that you can experience live…is better.
SK: Can you break down some of the instrumentation you’re using?
BM: Sure! We’ve got Steve Bartek, from Oingo Boingo who also works with Danny Elfman, is the lead guitarist on the show and a major part of the sound of BATTLESTAR. The other guitarist is my brother Brendan who is probably more famous to BATTLESTAR fans as a singer on the show. He performed “All Along the Watchtower” in the Season Three finale. The other vocalist is Raya Yarbrough who sings a lot of the ethereal, multi-language pieces that we do. She sang “A Distant Sadness” for season three. and “Lords of Kobol” in season two. Chris Bleth is a multi-instrumentalist who plays duduk, bansuri, and shakuhachi…he basically plays every woodwind instrument known to man. On BATTLESTAR he is the most important melodic instrument.
There’s M.B. Gordy and Bruce Carver on percussion. Our drummer is Johnny “Vatos” Hernandez who is also a member of Oingo Boingo. Tonight we are also working with Eric Rigler who plays the uilleann pipes. He doesn’t play on every episode but the ones he does play on are the ones people really remember. I’m thrilled that he’ll be here with us tonight.
SK: With BATTLESTAR ending soon, will these concerts continue?
BM: You know, I don't see any reason why they couldn’t.
BM: If there is a fan base that is interested in seeing it, I would totally do this again.
JC: The music is beautiful! It’s an integral part of the show. But it also lives totally independent especially in a setting like this. It’s rock! And it rocks! So when you hear it without the images to stick it to, it’s almost more powerful. It works totally independent by itself. That’s why you can perform it in a concert like this.
SK: James, let’s focus on you a little bit. I’m very interested to get a viewpoint from a cast member. I’ve talked with a lot of composers and directors about their particular scores but I’ve never had the opportunity to tap into the thoughts of a performer.
What does Bear bring to BATTLESTAR GALACTICA?
(SK Note: I was truly impressed with James’ response. Not just by what he said but also by the passion in which he expressed each word. I thought it an injustice to merely transcribe his words without being able to capture that passion (not to mention his kick-ass accent) so I’m including his response as an audio file so you can hear for yourself. Please excuse the extemporaneous noises. I conducted the interview during the soundcheck.)
JC: [CLICK TO HEAR JAMES CALLIS' RESPONSE]
SK: You definitely have an interesting angle on the music because Baltar, arguably, is one of the more complex characters in the show. Music plays into Dr. Baltar so much.
JC: And how!
SK: …and the fact that its television, changes the effect the music has on you as a performer. When you act in a film you don’t hear the music until the film is completed and your work as an actor has long been concluded. However, on television you hear the work that Bear brings to the show each week and then you get to continue playing this character. Does Bear’s music affect your portrayal of Dr. Baltar subconsciously?
JC: I think it does. It’s exactly as you said. I play a very complex character. But on the scale of dark and light, the guy is…what’s the word…well, he’s not a goodie (smiling).
The music brings an extreme amount of empathy for Gaius Baltar. There are certain situations that you would watch that if it were just the scene without the music, you’d be like…’This guy’s a FUCKER!’…excuse my French (laughing)…and there’s something else going on with your brain when you’re watching it that goes ‘Well no, maybe it’s not quite as simple as that.’
I find that when I watch the show the music makes Gaius so much more sympathetic. In some strange way the music gives me a lot of his pain. “Baltar’s Dream” for example, the wailing of those violins…it’s not something that I can give but I am so glad to be bolstered by that. When you’re watching the show, you’re not just watching me. You can’t just remove all of the elements of this thing that you are watching. So it’s going into your brain to make me look more complex.
BM: One of the things that makes BATTLESTAR so much fun to work on, is that all the best scenes have layers and layers of subtext. Because each character is so complex, there are different ways to score it. Each scene has a different perspective. You could look at it from Gaius’ perspective, or another character’s perspective and it would totally change the way you score the scene. I find that I’m usually walking a very delicate tightrope. I want to try to hit a little of everything. I want to preserve the moral ambiguity…especially with Baltar’s character. I don’t want to make him too sentimental but at the same time I do want to present all sides of him. I think that the comedic and conniving sides of his character come across very easily. The sympathetic side is the one that needs a little help.
JC: I could not agree more! That’s exactly what I was going to say.
(SK Note: click the audio file below to hear my favorite Bear quote of the interview and his subsequent explanation)
BM: [CLICK TO HEAR BEAR McCREARY'S RESPONSE]
SK: James…Bear talks frequently about the creative freedom the producers of BATTLESTAR give him to experiment and try new things. Do you feel that same sense of creative freedom as a performer?
(SK Note: click the audio file below to hear more of James’ insight as a performer spoken with his usual brand of passion and eloquence)
JC: [CLICK TO HEAR JAMES CALLIS' RESPONSE]
SK: Jump ahead for me to the series finale. Bear, how will you feel when you score your last episode and James, how will you feel when you perform your last scene?
BM: (looking over at James) Who wants to go first?
JC: (smiling) After you…
BM: I…I don’t know. I guess it depends on what happens in the last episode. I think I’m going to feel sad that it is over. It does feel like a family breaking up. As we all go into this I think everybody in production and post-production feels the same way.
At the same time, I feel immense pride in starting this project and finishing it out right. We didn’t go on so long that people started taking other jobs and leaving, stories started getting strained, or the music started getting tiresome. We are going towards what, I think, is going to be a really explosive finale.
This is something that I’m going to be proud of my entire life. I would much rather have a five year stretch that I would never forget, than a thirty year stretch…
JC: …that you’d prefer too…
JC: Here’s my comment…ditto! (laughs)
It’s already getting a bit emotional, to be honest, up in Vancouver with the cast realizing we only have a few more episodes left. I’ve been acting…professionally at least, for…twelve years, or something like that. I’ve never felt more proud about being involved with this show. It does so many things. It says so much. The caliber of performance, writing, production value, graphics, the music, it’s almost more than the sum of all of its parts. I’m also very proud to be part of something which is in popular culture but is also a cautionary tale. We are looking at a very similar society to our own who have already screwed it up for themselves. There are lessons you can learn from this. It’s quite didactic!
Nobody can take that away from us. We’ve been involved in this superb phenomenon.
I’m quite excited to finish on some other level. When the box sets are out we can say ‘Hey! That’s incontrovertibly all part of us forevermore!”
In our industry you can’t really ask for anything more.
SK: Well guys, thank you so much for having me here and taking the time out of your busy and exciting day to talk with me.
BM: Thank you! Enjoy the show!
After our interview I continued to observe the musicians warming-up, tuning-up, and leveling-up in preparation for the concert which was set to begin in just over three hours. I needed a dinner break before the show so after a short spell I decided to head out earlier rather than later so that I could be back in time to witness the grand crescendo towards showtime.
After a quick bite to eat I arrived back at the Roxy about an hour before the concert was scheduled to begin. As other guests and dignitaries filed in, a video projector was playing a twenty minute loop of epic BATTLESTAR scenes edited to Bear’s music. I mingled about, meeting and greeting various attendees who were there to lend Bear their support. I met Bradley Thompson and David Weddle, two writer/producers on the show, Michael Nankin, one of the directors, and producer Paul Leonard. I was also introduced to Adam “Mojo” Lebowitz who does visual effects on the show and MV Gerhard, president of La-La Land Records who released the soundtrack CDs for seasons one, two, and three.
I even said a quick hello to Frank Darabont who was in attendance.
When the venue doors finally opened, the Roxy was quickly crammed with BSG fans eager to grab a little slice of BATTLESTAR for themselves. The phenomenon that is BATTLESTAR GALACTICA had begun to take form and I was there to experience it all.
The evening started with a local group led by Bear’s brother Brendan “BT4” McCreary. The rock band consisted of much of the ensemble performing Bear’s BATTLESTAR music. After almost an hour-long set, Brendan led the band off stage to thunderous applause as fans anticipatorily settled in for the commencement of the headline event.
Bear led the ensemble on stage and the music of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA began.
Here is the complete set list for the concert:
A Distant Sadness from “Occupation” (Season 3)
Precipice from “Precipice” (Season 3)
Roslin and Adama from “Resurrection Ship: Parts One and Two” (Season 2)
Wander My Friends from “Hand of God” (Season 1)
Fight Night from “Unfinished Business” (Season 3)
Spooky (an original song written and performed by James Callis)
Gina Escapes from “Resurrection Ship: Part Two” (Season 2)
Black Market from “Black Market” (Season 2)
A Promise to Return from “The Farm” (Season 2)
Baltar’s Dream from “Valley of Darkness” (Season 2)
Wayward Soldier from “Hero” (Season 3)
Something Dark is Coming from “Lay Down Your Burdens: Part One” (Season 2)
Dirty Hands from “Dirty Hands” (Season 3)
Lords of Kobol from “Pegasus” (Season 2)
Heeding the Call / All Along the Watchtower from “Crossroads: Part Two” (Season 3)
The concert was littered with a plethora of memorable highlights. For me, there were the booming twin taiko ballets of “Precipice” and “Fight Night,” the alluringly seductive vocals on “A Distant Sadness” and “Lords of Kobol,” the disgustingly filthy guitars on “Dirty Hands,” and the raw emotional fortitude behind the Adama family theme as heard in “Wander My Friends” featuring Eric Rigler on the low D whistle, uilleann pipes, and pennywhistle.
The concert effectually surveyed the entire gamut of BATTLESTAR music including gorgeous soliloquies like “Roslin and Adama,” razing action pieces like “Precipice,” and shadowy choruses like “Something Dark is Coming.” Fans erupted with enthusiastic applause upon hearing the first few notes of each selection as murmuring exhales of elation echoed all around me.
One thing I truly appreciated was the opportunity to witness first-hand the talent of the musicians who perform and record the music each week. Free from the confines of the recording studio, Bear was able to let them loose on stage and explore BATTLESTAR music in ways not always appropriate in a recording environment.
Lead violinist, Paul Cartwright, sliced up the Roxy with his scalding fiddle solos during the more energetic pieces and then eloquently sculpted it back to form with Bear’s intoxicatingly beautiful melodies during the slower pieces. Reports of small earthquakes in the West Hollywood area turned out to be M.B. Gordy and Bruce Carver hammering their taiko drums with such fervor as to make Thor jealous.
Vocalist, Raya Yarborough, sent audience members on galactic journeys to distant worlds with her seductively alluring vocals. Oingo Boingo mates Steve Bartek and Johnny “Vatos” Hernandez along with guitarist Brendan McCreary, brought the rocks while bassist Michael Valerio provided the mortar.
To watch worldwind expert Chris Bleth jump from the duduk, to the bansuri, to the alto flute, to several other instruments I didn’t even recognize, and play them with such passion, I realized how much emotion from the series is expressed by this one individual.
How often do ardent fans of a television series get to experience this particular brand of talent and craft?
Here is a complete list of instrumentation and performers:
Brendan McCreary: vocals, acoustic and electric guitars
Raya Yarbrough: vocals
James Callis: vocals (Spooky)
Chris Bleth: duduk, bansuri, membrane flutes
Eric Rigler: Irish whistles, Uilleann pipes
Steve Bartek: acoustic and electric guitars
Michael Valerio: bass
M.B. Gordy: percussion
Bruce Carver: percussion
Johnny “Vatos” Hernandez: drum kit
Paul Cartwright: acoustic and electric violin, mandolin
Anna Stafford: violin
Tom Lea: viola
Jacob Szekely: violoncello
Bear McCreary: keyboards, conductor
About halfway through their second and final set the band surrendered to the premiere of a new behind-the-scenes documentary chronicling the making of the music for BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. The film was peppered with ripe humor as various members of the cast and crew were interviewed about what they thought of Bear’s music for the show. Responses ranged from “There’s no music in this show!” to “Who’s Bear?” to “Bear McCreary? You mean like a bear? arrrgggghhhhh!” and “That’s one talented bear!”
The film charmingly lampooned the young composer while simultaneously showcasing his undeniable presence as felt by each and every member of the BSG team. Coupled with glimpses of Bear in the recording studio, the doc was an enlightening and entertaining sideshow to the main event.
After several more music selections, the concert concluded with Bear’s arrangement of Bob Dylan’s magnum opus “All Along the Watchtower” sung by his brother Brendan which was featured at the conclusion of the third season.
The fans went nuts! The concert was over and for more than two hours folks beholden to their fantastical colonial heroes shared their pain, their strife, and their victories through Bear’s poignant music. The musicians brought them closer to the show in ways rarely experienced by other fans. I watched the audience as the band left the stage after the final curtain call and there were many smiling faces to be found.
Afterwards, the band made their way downstage toward a table where audience members had already begun to line up. Bear and each member of the ensemble signed autographs, had their pictures taken, and chatted for brief spells with fans until the last one had made their way through the line.
I relayed my thanks and said my goodbyes and with that my evening was over.
In 2006 Bear held a similar concert at The Mint and sold out the one hundred tickets available for the show. This year they sold five hundred tickets for the Roxy in ten days. Due to popular demand, they added another show to be held two days later. It also sold out in ten days.
If you build it, they will come…indeed!
It may seem easy to look at this concert and excuse away its significance. Whether you’re a fan of the show or not, live diegetic music events like the one I experienced that night at the Roxy promote the union between music and images, celebrate the craft of composing music for film or television, and bring a piece of what is cherished most to its fans.
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA fans in London, England, are heavily campaigning to get Bear McCreary and his BSG ensemble across the pond to put on a concert in the UK. If you live in the UK and would like to help the grass roots effort to see Bear McCreary live in London visit http://www.battlestarlondon.com.
There are three seasons of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA music on CD from La-La Land Records. When I chatted with Bear before the show, he revealed that a fourth season CD will definitely happen and he even hinted at his desire to release an album or two of tracks not contained on the previous four discs.
This was an incredible experience for me to share my passion for the show with a room and stage full of die-hard BATTLESTAR GALACTICA fans. We will both celebrate and mourn the final episode and look forward to the next chapter in the careers of Bear McCreary, James Callis, and the remainder of the talented cast and crew that brought us four years of remarkable entertainment.
It’s what you find at the very core of being a fan that makes you most appreciative of what you’re a fan of.
So say we all!
On behalf of Ain’t It Cool News I’d like to personally thank Bear McCreary and Beth Krakower of Cinemedia Promotions [www.cinemediapromotions.com] who is celebrating ten years in the business. Thank you for making this event happen and for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of an amazing evening.
I’d also like to thank James Callis for taking the time out of his busy day to chat with me before the show.
Finally, a hearty thank you to every fan of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA without whom none of this; the concert, the show itself, or even this article, would exist.