If you've ever wanted to run into somebody famous while they're wearing their pajamas, the lobby of the downtown Hyatt during Phoenix Comicon is apparently the place to do it. Friday, in-between music sets by local bands Halocene, Dead Man's Curse, and Toybox , we saw an actor from Buffy the Vampire Slayer in his gray flannel jammy pants and flip-flops. Today, in-between sets by two more great local acts -- hip-hop artist Mega Ran and Nintendo theme cover band Minibosses -- we saw Billy Dee Williams walking around in some blue satin pajama pants patterned with silver diamonds.
Saturday was a busy day at Comicon. Several times, the fire marshal ordered Comicon staff to stop admitting people into the exhibit hall because it had reached capacity. "Walking" around Phoenix Convention Center was more like a stop-and-go, side-to-side, painfully slow shuffle around people posing for photographs with plastic swords jutting out of their costumes. Things were a bit calmer in the Hyatt Regency Ballroom -- at least until Mega Ran got onstage at 4 p.m.
Even that early, about a hundred people showed up to see Mega Ran rap about Nintendo games and nerd culture. Officially licensed by Capcom, Mega Ran freely references characters in games like Final Fantasy, Mega Man, and Star Fox, over a backdrop of 8-bit beats and programmed hooks both inspired by and pulled directly from the video game soundtracks.
Backed by DJ Marvel, Mega Ran spit some clever rhymes with great precision, and got the audience involved, as well. Before his song "The Goodness" (inspired by Star Fox), he asked the audience to shout out the name of a character from the game. Dozens of people shouted out several answers, then enthusiastically waved their arms in the air during the song. The performer and the audience were definitely in tune, all fans of the same stuff.
Before his song "Avalanche" (from his album about Final Fantasy VII), Mega Ran told the audience, "We're gonna get a little crunk on this one, so all I need you to do is go ay-ay-ay-ay-ay." The audience obliged, and got even more enthusiastic during a bizarre, karaoke-like cover of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin.'"
"I'm in Playstation Magazine this month," Mega Ran said before the iconic keyboard riff began playing on the loudspeakers. "Playstation Magazine makes me emotional, and when I get emotional, I like to sing this song."
Nearly everyone in the ballroom shouted along to the lyrics, while Mega Ran added flavor by doing things like emulating the keyboard riff in a gruff, Louis Armstrong-esque voice. It's pretty comedic, the way "Don't Stop Believin'" brings people together.
But my favorite parts of Mega Ran's hour long set were the song "Dream Master" and an hilarious, interactive freestyle. The lyrics of the former are in third person, but the song is about Ran's childhood as an outsider and gaming geek, and he name-drops Transformers, He-Man, and Ninja Turtles while telling stories of being bullied and misunderstood -- until his mom bought him a Nintendo gaming system to keep him off the streets. "So he sat in front of that screen and chased his dreams," Ran rapped. The crowd bobbed and nodded their heads, like they could totally relate.
Mega Ran asked for the lights to come on for his freestyle, which was done to the tune of the Beastie Boys' "Paul Revere." He asked everyone in the audience to hold up an object, then took his wireless mic off stage and went through the crowd, rapping about peoples' items. It was awesome. He made quips about Yoshi, signed comics, and some guy's L.A. Lakers baseball cap. "I'm not a hater/but seriously, I got no love for the Lakers," Ran rapped, to which the audience applauded and howled with laughter. (Another zinger: "Sarah Palin blows more hot air than a desert."
He wrapped up his set with "Splash Woman" (which got everyone in the audience doing "the swim"), "Player Two," and the infectiously catchy "Grow Up." The last song was 180 beats-per-minute and boomed with throbbing bass. It was a big bang to end a great show.
Minibosses took the stage shortly after 6 p.m. The Regency Ballroom was packed; there must have been more than 300 people there to hear this Phoenix quartet play rock 'n' roll covers of Nintendo theme songs. The area in front of the stage was packed with people dancing, and there was a decent amount of long hair and colorful anime wigs flying around.
Yes, people were moshing to the Castlevania theme. And the theme from Legend of Zelda, and Mega Man 2, too. Minibosses turn midi to metal. Their instrumentals are true to the original video game songs, but amplified through crisp, clean guitar and a bumping rhythm section.
The throng loved it, and in-between songs people screamed out requests for various Nintendo covers. Guitarists Aaron Burke and Jeff Owens enthusiastically jumped and strummed their way through music from Super Mario Brothers 2, while bassist Robin Vining and drummer Matt Wood produced a bouncy, dance able beat.
By the end of the Minibosses' set, a lot of people had danced so much in the tightly packed crowd by the stage that some of their costume makeup was starting to run. Rock 'n' roll.
Last Night: Mega Ran and Minibosses at Phoenix Comicon
The Crowd: Mega Ran's audience was mostly young males and cute, costumed kids, while Minibosses drew an eclectic (but still mostly young) mix of video game geeks, male and female.
Overheard: "This is Mega Ran. It's not a T&A show."
Personal Bias: I'm not usually impressed by sets with music that comes from a laptop. Mega Ran surprised me.
Random Notebook Dump: "Dude dressed like Deadpool on escalator yelling he's happy he's not fat. Wearing tights."