For one short beautiful day, on Saturday 16 September, the Barbican Centre in London, UK - usually a venue reserved for high-brow theatre and classical music performances - became the white-hot kinetic centre of the Sonic the Hedgehog universe, as the Sonic Symphony World Tour officially kicked off with a supersonic bang.
Hordes of fans gathered to enjoy two truly fantastic shows running back-to-back, each featuring a complement of heartwarming orchestral music (performed by the National Symphony) followed by an explosive rock set (courtesy of a dedicated 'Sonic Band’). The response from the audience to each and every song was so emotional, raw and energetic that it even seemed to take the performers by surprise!
Of course, expectations were high following the original Sonic the Hedgehog 30th Anniversary Symphony that was broadcast globally in June 2021, which was critically acclaimed and brought a tear to many eyes around the world with its enchanting production.
But, there’s nothing quite like hearing the sheer depth and volume of these arrangements in person, at an auditorium built for soaking in sounds and getting lost in the music. That level of sheer closeness and intimacy was only one reason why the Sonic Symphony World Tour shows added a whole new dimension to the previous 2021 performance.
Another reason, undoubtedly, was the quality and competence of the production itself, and the dazzling skill of the performers. We were lucky enough to attend the sound check in the early afternoon and get a taste of what was to come for our 8pm show, and both orchestra and rock band were clearly seasoned artists. I could tell things were going to get serious later on.
While we were given access as a kind of ‘sneak peek’ before the real show begins, it’s worth noting that, naturally, these sound checks are simply intended for performers to practice their set, experiment with the space and ensure their equipment is working properly.
So, while we watched some great demonstrations of tracks like Shadow the Hedgehog’s “I Am… All of Me”, Sonic 2006’s “His World” and Sonic and the Black Knight’s “Knight of the Wind”, we understood that the Symphony ship was only really sailing at “half mast” - which made us even more excited to see how these same songs would sound later that evening, with the full force of the performers and the production crew behind it.
Although it was very cool to have an exclusive audience with Jun Senoue and Tomoya Ohtani performing their greatest hits, what struck me the most during my time at sound check was the personality and approach of the show’s producer and rock band member, Shota Nakama. He was serious about his craft but all the while light-hearted, lifting the mood where necessary - and clearly intensely knowledgeable about the Sonic franchise and its music.
Towards the end of the sound check, I overheard segments of a final set run-through from Nakama, mostly directed to the orchestra musicians. At one point, I heard him jokingly say something along the lines of, ‘You may never have seen an audience quite like Sonic fans before. Sonic fans here are crazy passionate!’. He was saying this to express to a group of musicians that are more familiar with black-tie and formal engagements, that they should expect to pause between songs for longer periods than they may be used to, as the Sonic audience will clap and cheer for extended periods of time (and he was right. We did).
It was a funny line that made me chuckle (we are crazy!), but it also gave me the impression that Nakama truly understood the audience he was going to be working for that day. His later engagements with the Sonic community on social media after the Barbican performances have only been further evidence that, under his stewardship, the Sonic Symphony World Tour is truly a labour of love - both to the franchise and to the fans.
We left the sound check to get a t-shirt or two from the official merchandise stall (which sadly was severely under-stocked that day, selling out of everything before the 8pm attendees could even have a chance to browse - this has since been rectified by the team with an online store that is currently exclusively open to London attendees), before hitting a nearby gastropub for some lunch and a meetup with some like-minded Sonic fans.
Photo from "SonicpoX"
See, one of the greatest things about anyone holding a Sonic the Hedgehog event in the UK (particularly in London) is that this tiny country seemingly has the biggest concentration of Sonic fans in the entire world - and you get the chance to meet them all and really feel like the Sonic online community is alive and right here on your doorstep.
After organising what feels like a hundred Sonic conventions to date, I missed the simple fun of just “meeting people in a pub” and so I casually threw out a time and a venue to hang out on social media, the week before the London Symphony performances. Little did I know I accidentally max capacity’d the place as word got around and so many Sonic fans descended upon a bar that I later realised was absolutely tiny. Oops.
Whether you were there at the Jugged Hare or not that day, no doubt you and many others ran into old Sonic fan friends not seen in years, met brand new pals or finally put a face to the username of that guy who's been chatting with you on social media for ages. Just like me! It was fantastic to catch up and chat to friends old and new, and when it was time to head in for the 8pm Sonic Symphony performance we all went in together as we were greeted by even more fellow fans (many of whom were gathered around a wandering Sonic taking photographs!).
Everybody got some drinks and took their seats as a countdown rolled on the main projector screen. As the clock ticked ever downward, the crowd in the Barbican hall grew more and more excited - culminating in a roaring chant as the count went from 10 to zero. We had all seen the 2021 broadcast. We were hoping the live version would be an even more captivating experience.
We were not disappointed in the slightest.
Blasting open with a symphonic rendition of the ever-familiar Sonic 1 title theme, the orchestral half of the show had truly begun (led by conductor Jose Delgado), with a delightful medley from the blue blur’s very first Mega Drive adventure. This, like many other tracks performed at the show, was faithful to the original orchestra arrangement already heard in the 2021 Sonic 30th Anniversary broadcast, but hearing the thunderous drums of Scrap Brain and the fluttering flutes of Green Hill live and in front of me was a stunning and mesmerising affair, and had me in tears from the very start of the show, like a right sap.
Photos by "chaoluna"
Other songs pulled from the 2021 performance evoked similar responses - from the Sonic Mania medley (which again included a fantastic form of Titanic Monarch I never knew I needed), to Sonic Adventure’s Sonic and Tails themes, the series of Game Gear tracks which made me feel like an eight-year-old kid again, and Sonic 2’s 16-bit carousel of aural delights which may have had me blubbering by the time the ending theme hit. I have heard all of these before, but there is a colossal new emotional anchor present in experiencing these songs live, that latches on to your heart and pulls you down into your seat (and towards the nearest box of tissues).
While I was sad of a few omissions in the orchestral set list (I would have adored a Sonic R and Sonic 3D Flickies’ Island set of tracks), there were plenty of brand new arrangements that made it clear that this was not a mere retread of the 30th Anniversary Symphony. Immediately after the Sonic 1 medley, the audience gasped as the Sonic CD title screen appeared on screen and a collection of Little Planet music began barrelling out of the orchestra.
Photo by "JDCatalyst"
There were similar reactions to a new rendition of Rooftop Run from Sonic Unleashed, an extended take on Sky Sanctuary and a brand new medley focused on Sonic Frontiers (I was ecstatic to hear an orchestral version of Cyberspace’s iconic “Flowing” stage track during this segment).
While the music was laser-focused on bringing all of these nostalgic feelings up to the fore, on-screen the accompanying footage for each game had a very different mission - telling a story to run alongside the audio journey. In many cases, it provided some welcome humour in how the gameplay was cut to the sound. From Sonic dying constantly in time to Labyrinth Zone’s beat, to Sonic 2’s Game Gear medley ending with a nod and a wink to the infamous “Tails is dead” meme.
Photo by "The Jay Eggman"
Perhaps the song that illustrated this integration of sight and sound the best was the Chao Medley in the middle of the orchestral performance, a light-hearted set of tunes that had the crowd bopping and laughing as they saw various custom Chao do their cutesy best to run races, dance and do kung fu.
After a brief intermission, the symphony made space for the Sonic Rock Band (consisting of Shota Nakama on guitar, Louis Ochoa on bass, Derek Dupuis on keyboard, Blaize Collard on drums and Dave Vives on vocals) as the stage became steeped in vivid red lighting. Guest guitarist Jun Senoue was introduced, the intro to “I Am… All of Me” began and the audience roared in excitement.
Photo by "SonicBoss_1991"
From this point, the show and the crowd had transformed from one of elegant reverence (Delgado had several times asked the audience to sing along to the orchestral songs in the first half, to no avail - we were just too polite) to frenzied energy. The symphony would continue to play the backing instrumentals to all of the rock songs, adding fantastic new depth and wonder to tracks we have all heard (and sung to) hundreds of times over the years.
From Shadow the Hedgehog’s main theme, to Sonic Heroes’ “What I’m Made Of”, Sonic Adventure’s famous “Open Your Heart” and then onto “Knight of the Wind”, Senoue ran through a short history of Crush 40 classics with the band - and he had the full attention of absolutely everybody in the hall. Every single verse, every single chorus was loudly chanted back to the stage as Vives did an admirable job keeping the vocal style and spirit of an absent Johnny Gioeli alive.
Overall, the singer’s range and performance was incredibly impressive throughout, and he somehow matched the energy that the army of Sonic fans was giving him for the entire hour or so he was on stage.
Escape From The City rounded off Jun’s special guest appearance, and for good reason as it was possibly the loudest the Barbican hall has ever been in its entire existence (besides the encore). He stepped off, and guest bassist Tomoya Ohtani stepped up to cover his own similarly legendary themes, starting with “His World” and running through “Reach For The Stars”, “Fist Bump” and ending with “Endless Possibility”, the latter of which was received exceptionally well by the crowd. You really should have heard the fans singing along to the bridge of that one.
The night’s biggest track - Live & Learn from Sonic Adventure 2 - would be saved for the very end of the three-track encore that followed, but not before the crowd was treated to an exclusive preview of the opening theme to the upcoming Sonic Superstars by Jun and the band. Perhaps the most surprising song in the entire show was the presence of Sonic Frontiers’ “Break Through It All”, a track so vicious and hardcore that I wasn’t sure if I had accidentally walked into my local heavy metal club instead of a Sonic concert. The whole crowd was intensely fierce in its growling chant of “Don’t Look Dowwwwwwwnnn”. As a metalhead, I was immensely proud of my fellow Sonic fans for that energy.
Though, it was ultimately Sonic Adventure 2's theme that would bring the entire house down - and the entire crowd to its feet, as everybody jumped and sang the lyrics at the absolute top of their collective voice. As a show ender, it was a show-stopper, and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a crowd go this hard for a live performance of this track - even at any of the Summer of Sonic conventions!
The show had well and truly ended after the final riff and drum roll played, but not before a good ten (or twenty) minutes worth of standing ovation, cheering and absolute chaos from the crowd. To say the opening night of the Sonic Symphony World Tour was a success is a colossal understatement - the atmosphere in the Barbican by the end of the show was simply electrifying.
It’s not that you really needed me, or this article, to convince you that the Sonic Symphony World Tour is something you have to experience. No doubt you have either already got your ticket, are in the process of getting one, or sitting there desperately wishing for one. But let me tell you this. If the London shows are anything to go by, this will be one very special tour that you absolutely have to see if you are a Sonic fan. The quality of the production, the skill of the performers and the dedication of the organisers makes this a concert worthy of the storied legacy of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, and you don’t want to miss out.
>> Thanks to all who shared their photos and videos of the concert! View them all here!
[ ACT I ]
- Sonic the Hedgehog Medley
- Sonic CD Medley
- Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Medley
- Sonic Game Gear Medley
- Sky Sanctuary
- Sonic Mania Medley
- Believe in Myself - It Doesn’t Matter
- Chao Medley
- Rooftop Run
- Aquarium Park - Planet Wisp
Sonic Frontiers Medley
[ ACT II ]
- I Am… All Of Me
- What I’m Made Of
- Open Your Heart
- Knight of the Wind
- Escape from the City
- His World
- Reach for the Stars
- Fist Bump
[ ENCORE ]
- Break Through It All
- Sonic Superstars Opening Theme
- Live & Learn
Many thanks to the Sonic Symphony performers in London: Jose Delgado, the National Symphony Orchestra of Great Britain, Shota Nakama, Jose Delgado, Dave Vives, Derek Dupuis, Louis Ochoa, Blaize Collard, Jun Senoue and Tomoya Ohtani, as well as the entire crew, for an incredible performance and for giving many fans a night they will never forget.