A night of live music from artists like Usher, Jane's Addiction, Soundgarden, Maynard James Keenan, Eminem, and more turns slightly awkward as Activision's lavish E3 2010 production confuses as much as it astounds.
I didn't know what to expect as I approached the bustling entrance to the Staples Center last night after speeding out of a previous appointment. It was around 9PM, right when Activision's E3 2010 preview event was supposed to launch. I was late, and a series of lengthy lines to get in nearly had me turning around and shame-dialing the boss to tell him I was too late.
Luckily for me, one of my favorite Activision reps caught my eye and gave me a VIP lanyard, speeding me through the line and inside the crowded concert venue, still unsure of what to expect.
I figured a preview event would involve some sort of gameplay. Perhaps there was some of that, hidden somewhere within the gigantic Staples complex, but I never saw it.
After stumbling upon a VIP section door I made my way to the top floor of the center, all the while hearing murmurs of various musical artists rumored to be in attendance. Eminem seemed like a shoe-in, while others seemed a bit more far-fetched. Lady Gaga? Soundgarden? Jane's Addiction? How random.
As I often do at these sorts of events, I teamed up with a fellow writer. Safety in numbers, as the saying goes. This time around I hung out with Gus Mastrapa, one of the nicest guys I know. Gus and I met at a wrestling game event several years back in Atlanta, and run into each other every now and then.
Gus is a wealth of musical knowledge as well, which is wonderful, as I needed his help determining who the first few acts were.
I ran into Gus in the VIP section, which in the case of this event seems to mean 'as far away from the stage as possible.' As you can see from my photos, we weren't exactly hobnobbing with the stars where we were sitting.
It was, however, far away enough to allow Gus to let me know that the first performer on stage was Z-Trip. You'd figure having his name flashing in 20-foot-tall letters on the screen above the stage would have given me a hint.
Z-Trip is the master of the mash-up, effortlessly combining multiple tracks into pleasing tunes that feel as if they were made as one, instead of cobbled together from different songs. Boston, Aerosmith, Nirvana, and Survivor all blend together in a musical smoothie, guaranteed to be good for you though potentially giving you the runs later on.
I am pleased.
Then comes a quick ensemble dance number to Lady Gaga's "Just Dance," raising the audience's hopes that the diva would make an appearance before crushing them with an inspiring performance by DeadMau5, a DJ with a mouse head.
The DJ's are rising from the sides of the stage and then disappearing below again in rapid succession. David Guetta comes next, the wild-eyed blond man feeding off the crowd's enthusiasm before quickly descending.
The show is interesting, and certainly entertaining, but no one is telling us what's going on. There is no announcer. We have no idea what is going on. Who is coming next? No idea. Should I go pee? No, probably not, you'll miss something.
Not quite so pleased anymore.
Next comes the first artist I really don't recognize. The songs are familiar, but I can't place him. "Usher," Gus explains, and I turn red. I should have known that.
I take a moment to text my fiancée (spelled Feyonce). "I'm watching Usher perform." "What, the crappy rapper?" she responds. "I guess so?"
"Wow. I feel kind of bad for you."
This is probably where the evening turned.
The screen lights up with four characters from Guitar Hero, including the new one that looks like Eddie Riggs from Brutal Legend, the game Activision might have borrowed just a little bit from. The characters sing the opening to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," before Tool lead singer Maynard James Keenan rises out of the stage, doing his best Freddy Mercury. A choir arrives. The crowd goes wild.
This was probably the most entertaining moment of the evening, in retrospect.
Next up is Jane's Addiction, and they've been caught stealin'. Perry Farrell humps the speaker during that one song about the mountain. Dave Navarro continues to look creepy as hell. Seriously, the guy is spooky. I think he might be the devil.
Farrell takes a few too many liberties with his own work for me to really enjoy a band I only remotely liked in the first place. The audience as a whole seemed to love it. I was just sort of meh.
Then came intermission. As Gus and I returned with our water, we heard the audience cheering. Tony Hawk took the stage, ready to ride on a giant half-pipe that was to descend from the ceiling. It did not descend. Tony left. We took our seats again.
The parade of lead singers continued with Chris Cornell rising out of the stage to perform Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun," accompanied by an orchestra. The man sings like the mind to late 90's. He embodies that era for me. It takes me back.
But how many times can you hear "Black Hole Sun" before going insane?
Then came a woman on a pole. She was brilliant.
After pole lady came a trailer for the new True Crime game, True Crime: Hong Kong. Since rap group N.E.R.D. is featured in the game, they came to perform as well. Good for them!
Not my cup of tea, but then I was beginning to get tired and surly. The performers would yell out, " Is Activision the best!?" and I'd mumble to myself, "I dunno, can we have some sort of forum discussion about this?"
Still no announcer. No sign of this ending. It was beginning to get a bit like that scary tunnel in the original Willy Wonka movie.
After N.E.R.D. came a solo performance by the group's Rhea, who performed with a group of women in lingerie. Oh, and there was a motorcycle. Okay!
I am really, really tired. The only thing that could possibly wake me up is a trailer of Call of Duty: Black Ops, complete with symphonic accompaniment and pyrotechnics.
What a coincidence.
After the smoke had somewhat cleared, Eminem took the stage, performing a couple of newer songs, as well as a newer track from his next album that I couldn't really discern from the other songs. He didn't play any of the really offensive songs from his younger days, which is a pity. I guess that happens when you spend most of your career rapping about what an asshole you are.
After leaving the stage and returning for the obligatory audience call back that didn't actually happen - people were too busy wondering if this was all over to cheer - Eminem returned and performed "Lose Yourself," the serious song from the movie 8 Mile that everyone in the audience knew.
This pumped them up for the long walk back to their hotel.
As I bid Gus farewell and headed off into the night, I thought about what I learned that evening.
First, Activision has far too much money. Second, Activision needs a Kevin Butler. A face. A fake spokesperson. Someone we cheer for, who comes out on stage, tells us what's going on, and keeps the crowd motivated.
That, or a program book.