Total Rock, Total Rewards 2009: Atlantic City Regionals!

I can't even begin to describe all the madness that went on in Atlantic City over the past five days... no, wait, that's not right. I'm about to describe all that madness right here.These are going to be some super-sized posts, so I’m going to start with the Eastern Regionals and then move to the Finals + House of Blues.

Random Round

Mario Speedwagon: Battery – Metallica
First off, I think this may be one the best band names in the history of Rock Band, if not ever. I had commented to Mario Speedwagon before they went on about not pulling Battery as the first band and they quickly assured me that they had no fear of the song. They were telling the truth. Not only did their lead singer actually know the vocal flow of the song, he brought a real cowbell for the mic tapping sections. Yes, a real cowbell. It was awesome. Christopher Walken would be proud. The judges had reservations about someone singing Metallica and wearing pink, but hey, both the Style and Performance scores were above average so it couldn't have been that bad.


Strippers For Stephen Hawking: Ramblin' Man – The Allman Bros. Band
If you didn't know already, SFSH is a soon to be Husband & Wife band, so props to them for that. They also had a mysterious 5th band member, who I will refer to only as Pocket Squirrel. Anyway, as you can see by the score, SFSH took this song to school and back, and not in the short bus kind of way. This is one of my favorite Rock Band songs so I’m always happy to see it performed well. And by "well" I mean "95% one handed finger tappin' expert guitar solo". 


Blue Steel: Bodhitsattva – Steely Dan
Oh Blue Steel... I want to love you. Your band name is awesome, your lead singer is hilarious, and your drummer is fantastic. Oh, but no, not only is one of your guitarists a lefty (damn you lefties!), you also play on Breakneck Speed! Making me do work, how dare you! Anyway, it was pretty clear that Blue Steel were hometown heroes. Their cheering section was huge, loud, and sign waving.


The GurnKillers: Flirtin’ With Disaster – Molly Hatchet
Let's face some facts here, The GurnKillers were famous before they even stepped on the stage in Atlantic City. Well, at least with the massive, jumping, dancing, screaming, Gurn Army, crowd that was down in front of the stage. With the judges, I’m not so sure. Not only did they come prepared to alter their outfits based on the song, (and caught flack from the judges for "dressing on stage") they ripped up Flirtin' in a huge way. They rocked it so hard that they tore the fret keys off my precious guitars. I had to yank the guitar stand off the stage for fear of more destruction. Also worthy of note, Maria (our lovely MC) helped the drummer solve a mustache malfunction mid-song. Hot.


Chris Derham and the 409 Surprise: Cherub Rock – Smashing Pumpkins
That's right! No Down with the Sickness! Take that, Disturbed! I want to know the origins of this bands name just because every time I hear it I can only think of "Formula 409". In any case, it was pretty clear that these guys were a bit of the underdogs. The judges came down on them pretty hard for their Style and Performance, but clearly their performance was photo worthy; they were photographing themselves on stage while they were playing. Ha! Revenge would be sweet for them though... read on.


I've become pretty good at calling the rankings from my little home on the side of the stage and as we broke for Intermission I had it called as a tie between Strippers and Gurn. Well, as I was resetting the stages, replacing instruments (Thanks, Gurn!), and getting things ready to go, my radio comes to life and, lo and behold, it's a First Place tie between SFSH and Gurn! I was dead on! This meant that Round 2 was going to be critical to the winning band. Everyone really had to turn it up to eleven for this round... and indeed they did.

Also of note, by this time i had spotted both FA/KE and The Ninja's In Disguise in the crowd (I only spotted the Ninja's because they were, in fact, in disguise). It was "scope out the competition" time I guess. They were in for a hell of a show.

Band Choice Round

Mario Speedwagon: Kids In America – The Muffs
In a pretty brilliant move, Mario Speedwagon switched guitarist and singer for this round. With their switched up female vocalist front and center, they just let loose and tore the place up. For the whole song I had Nils, our graphics lead, commenting over radio about how she was just killing the vocals. Spot on and pure energy. The real cowbell from Round 1 was replaced with a real tambourine this round, again upping the ante with Style aspects no one had seen to date. The judges soundly agreed and rained praise down Mario's huge Performance leap forward. Original song, original Performance and Style aspects, amazing energy, and great stage antics set the bar really high for the rest of Round 2.


Strippers For Stephen Hawking: Dani California – The Red Hot Chili Peppers
Ok, well, if you saw round one you would have probably wondered where the name "Strippers For Stephen Hawking" name came from since they were pretty much dressed as a swanky lounge act. Maybe it was just a clever name? Well, not just since in this round "strip" is exactly what they did. Our Round 1 lounge act turned into two Chippendale’s dancers, a French maid, and… well, Lt. Jim Dangle from Reno 911! Yeah... you read that correctly. I'm not quite sure how Stephen Hawking would react to this particular band of strippers, (Note to self: Send video to Stephen Hawking) but the crowd certainly seemed to love it. It probably helped that their lead Singer, the lovely French maid, spent a huge amount of the song actually in the crowd. Not only was the Performance amazing, they Gold Starred the song, which was really rare in this competition. Gurn was going to really have to be on-game to take the Regionals after this knockout showing.


Blue Steel: Dani California – The Red Hot Chili Peppers
The same song back to back... old news. Not Ballroom Blitz... what the hell?! That's right; Dani California was the star of the show tonight. It was easy to see, and hear, that Blue Steel were the local favorites. Their fan base out in the crowd was enormous and very, very loud. During this performance the Singer and Guitar player made a seamless role-swap that was just amazing as well as some crowd walks that were just as awesome. I love seeing new stage antics and Blue Steel's were really impressive. Blue Steel's killer Performance, Style, and Crowd weren't enough to make up for the low score though. They did get bonus points for being the oldest band there and still having the balls to compete with young'uns on-stage.


The GurnKillers: Ballroom Blitz – Sweet
Ballroom makes its first appearance! And what an appearance it was. If anyone was prepared for the outfits that The GurnKillers took the stage in, Sway wasn't among them. Sway was at a loss for words when Gurn took the stage. Personally, I thought they were brilliant. The GurnKillers had a huge performance to top (Strippers) if they were going to take first in this tournament. Well, they came out with all pistons firing (and let's be honest, anyone who had eyes on their Guitarist and his Size 14 patent leather high heel boots and washboard abs probably had their pistons firing too). Gurn had clearly spent a lot of time with Ballroom and it showed. Their stage presence was unreal (seriously, watch the video. It's more than I can put into words here) and they were rewarded handsomely for it by the judges. With a significantly lower game score than Strippers though, (they broke my poor Ion's bass pedal about 2/3rd's through) it was going to be a nail biter all the way to the final winner's announcement.


Chris Derham and the 409 Surprise: Go With The Flow – Queens of the Stone Age
First off, since The 409's were a band made up of law students, everyone in production was paranoid that they were going to read through the rules and regulations and point out all kinds of inconsistencies and then force some kind of technical victory. As hilarious as that would have been, I have to say that The 409's are probably the easiest going group of guys I’ve ever met. I love when bands just pick songs they love and play them to enjoy them. This is exactly what The 409's did, and they did it dressed as a softball team and ref. It was clear that they were having an awesome time on stage and their singer is a great front-man. The judges were pretty harsh on them, but then again, "We don't dress like women." and by this point, the judges were probably confused about their own genders.


The judges and scorekeepers went to work. The GurnKillers had decided not to replay Ballroom because of the bass pedal incident, so it was a tense time. Gurn and Strippers were in a dead heat so it was still anyones guess. Well... to break that tension the judges themselves decided to perform a song for everyone. Awww, what a nice group of guys and gals. Well, you can't have a Rock Band performance without judges, so who stepped in to fill their shoes? That's right, Chris Derham and the 409 Surprise. With the new judges in place and the old judges on stage, the show began.

The Judges + Maria: Everlong – The Foo Fighters
With Sean taking control of the mic, he decided to put rest the rumor that he is, in fact, Dave Grohl. 5 out of 5 audience members agree. 5 out of 5 audience members also agree that Sean is, in fact, cooler than Dave Grohl, so the point is moot. So, despite Sean's amazing vocal styling’s and crowd interactions, The Judges were promptly disqualified for not only changing their drummer mid-song, but the second drummer was only eleven years old (but way better then the first!). Maria was clearly there for the Style points, but when The 409's handed down their scores, I don't think anyone was shocked. Sweet, sweet revenge.


Yeah, you read that right, -4. The score breakdown was actually "-10, 4, 2". Take that, Judges!

Anyway, with that train wreck cleared off the stage, it was time to announce the winners of the Eastern Regional’s. This whole time I’m sure Gurn and Strippers had gnawed their nails down to nothing. It was going to be close... and, well, it was. Close as in "Won by 1 point" close. And that victory belonged to The GurnKillers. Seems that men dressing as women on stage just barely went farther than men undressing on stage with a woman.

And that wrapped up the Eastern Regionals. I have to say, every band in AC for the Regionals defied expectations. The sportsman and band camaraderie was really fantastic. The GurnKiller's decision to not replay their second song really shows the depth of their character. They could have made a huge issue out of it, but instead decided to leave it to fate to decide.

Everyone who played put on spectacular performances and couldn't have been more worthy to be there. They really made the Eastern Regionals special. I'll have my photo's up ASAP.

That was just the tip of the iceberg though. We now had our 4 bands for the Finals and that means that everyone would be going all out for that grand prize. Friday would be insanity, the huge showdown between FA/KE, The Ninja's In Disguise, Wet Nelson and The Hot Commodities, and now, The GurnKillers.

That recap is coming, stay tuned...