Total Rock, Total Rewards 2009: National Finals!

I just left Las Vegas again to help get another Rock Band tour off the ground (Can't Stop Rockin' w/ REO SpeedWagon & Styx). Fear not though, we're about to throw up the horns and stage dive face first into the Total Rock, Total Rewards 2009 Finals.

Random Round

FA/KE: Ramblin' Man – The Allman Brothers Band
FA/KE draws the honor of kicking this whole shindig off, never an easy job. They had a bag of props ready to go though; full of appropriate items for pretty much any song they might draw. If you play "Ramblin' Man" backwards in a mirror while standing on your head in mono the lyrics say "Wear funny cowboy hats." Clearly FA/KE knew this and did indeed wear funny cowboy hats during their performance. I'm pretty sure they weren't worried about this performance. With their Vocal and Guitar strength, Ramblin' Man wasn't much of a technical challenge. Impressing the judges, on the other hand... The term has been coined as "Getting Vindictive Syndicate'd." It happens when you blow the doors off a venue with an amazing performance and a judge comes back at you with a randomly low score for some bizarre reason. In this case it was the now notorious "4" for "Southern Rock".


The Ninjas In Disguise: Bodhitsattva – Steely Dan
There's a level of coordination that just has to be recognized with TNiD. Personally, I think their band’s style is fantastic and they bring a level of choreography to their performances that no other band really matched. It seemed to be overlooked by some of the judges, but I appreciated it. It's an understatement to say that Bodhitsattva is not a vocally challenging song. Fortunately for TNiD their band uniformity means that, regardless of the songs particulars, they're just going to dominate it. The score is evidence enough of that. The judges had some choice commentary, including the now infamous "Screech from Saved By The Bell" line. I'm not saying there's no similarity... but come on now. Screech never rocked this hard (I think he is a ninja though).


The Gurn Killers: Cherub Rock – Smashing Pumpkins
Gurn Army, unite! GK assimilated band members from the Regionals the night before into the Gurn Army so you can believe that there was cheering and yelling before they even got on the stage. I have to say though, sometimes I wonder if they only reason they get on the stage in the first place is so they can jump off it while they're playing. The crowd sang along during this whole song, which was pretty amazing. I can do a lot of things with a XBOX 360 controller, but lowering the live crowd volume isn't one of them... Maybe I should look into that. In any case, GK did what GK does. They put on an amazing performance and secured the top score in Round 1.


Wet Nelson and the Hot Commodities: Down With The Sickness – Disturbed
Well, we all missed good ol' DWtS during the Regional’s but lucky us, it was back as Wet Nelson's song for the Finals. Wet Nelson was sporting a new look for this round of the Finals, a united military theme. You folks out there in Rock Band Land need to understand something though. The Army helmets they were wearing must have weighed more than they did. The guys went for authenticity and were wearing actual, vintage, helmets. One was WWI era. If the stage had collapsed during the performance, they would have been the only people without head injuries. We all already know that their Guitarist is a one-man shred-fest, but there's just something about watching the whole band perform that's just really awesome. There's a presence there that's hard to describe, but fantastic to behold. Also, I got my 30 seconds of fame during this performance when I had to roadie-run to the drummer to re-plug the bass pedal and hold it in place. There was so much humidity (OR ROCK) in the air that the pedal was sliding all over the place.


I have got to say, we were totally blown away when all four bands had finished Round 1. We had never had a first round like that, ever. The scores were huge, the performances were awesome, the styles were new, the crowd was super-pumped, and we were only getting started. It was obvious that these bands were the cream of the crop and Round 1 was truly deserving of the title "The Finals". It was shaping up to be an epic battle to the grand prize. 

To switch it up a bit, the band order was changed for Round 2. This would lead to some pretty tense, nail-biting, situations as we started to roll through the performances.

Band Choice Round

The Gurn Killers: Kids In America – The Muffs
As they were waiting to take the stage for Round 2 (after an assembly-line-like costume change during the intermission) I overheard GK say that this was "Their song." Just that alone had me excited to see what they were going to hit us with this round. The aforementioned costume change was pretty fantastically epic. By this point in the competition everyone who had seen GK perform knew to expect the unexpected and this was no exception. I won't go into descriptions of their outfits, you'll have to watch the video and see for yourself. I'm not sure who's in charge of wardrobe for The Gurn Killers, but that person needs a raise. It's not all style over substance though with GK. You can always count on a blistering performance and killer scores. They left nothing on the table with this performance, including the foil wrapped cucumber. Gurn opened Round 2 with a huge raise to the bar and after winning Round 1 it was going to take some spectacular performances to catch them.


Wet Nelson and the Hot Commodities: Dani California – The Red Hot Chili Peppers
Wet Nelson were back in their standard issue duds for this round (one of my favorite band "uniforms"). John D thought they looked like busboys in New Orleans, but I prefer the Atlantic City judge's description of "Acid Trip Piano". Like I mentioned before, I really dig this band. All of the production did too; they're a really amazing group of guys. There's no doubt that by this point in the competition we were resigned to the fact that we had pretty much seen every variation of classic rock n' roll stage antics that exist except one. The classic guitar spin. Now, let me explain; one of the minor reoccurring issues during a lot of bands performances were the guitar straps popping off. It happens when the strap is bent over itself on the bottom of the guitar. Instead of the downward force securing the guitar, it pops the strap off of the post. For this reason alone I thought I’d never see a guitar spin, lest that Fender go flying and impale someone in the audience. Well, Wet Nelson proved me wrong. During their performance their Guitarist busted out this last, final, stage antic and nailed it so perfectly. It was pure poetry in motion and now you too at home can experience it. It's in the video clip below @0.32.


The Ninjas In Disguise: Give It All – Rise Against
TNiD dedicated this song to every band that took part in the Total Rock, Total Rewards Competition. If you ever needed an example of their amazing, upstanding, character, there it is right there. For this performance, two of the Ninja weren't actually in disguise... I think. If a ninja is a ninja, but in disguise, but wears a ninja costume over his disguise, is he still in disguise? I can't go on thinking about this; I’m convinced it's a secret ninja assassination technique. Speaking of assassination techniques, TNiD threw up a huge score with this performance. They were in second place after Round 1 and while they didn't quite top Gurn's Style/Performance scores, their game score looked like enough to keep them within striking distance of the Grand Prize. Sneaky ninjas. They brought their unique brand of choreography up to a new level with this performance, including a katana crossing finish, and it was awesome to watch it all unfold. This performance cemented "Hendrix" in the minds of the judges, not "Screech".


FA/KE: Ballroom Blitz – Sweet
Although FA/KE had opened up Round 1, they pulled the closing for Round 2. Neither are easy positions to be in but FA/KE was about to put on a show that will go down in history as maybe the greatest Rock Band performance in history. After Round 1 they had a lot of ground to cover. With that "4" still looming in the background, FA/KE came out of the gate at full force and never let up through the whole song. The props from Round 1 had been replaced will some full on costume awesomeness and with the energy cranked up to 11, FA/KE unleashed "Ballroom Blitz" on the crowd in an amazingly powerful, frenetic, raw, pure rock spectacle. The barrel roll was back, but with their custom on-stage riser, the ante was upped with some huge string section leapfrogging. Their Drummer played the entire song in a custom, spiked, motorcycle helmet that has to be seen to be believed. Their Singer was on fire, he was giving Ballroom, in all possible aspects, to the crowd as a gift of rock showmanship that kept the energy through the ceiling the entire time. They were also about to accomplish a feat that had, until this time, been unheard of during the competition. If you glance down, you'll see that they have a "30" in Style. That's right; they received 3 perfect 10's from the judges. Yes, that includes Mr. "I don't give people 10's." HMXSean. That's unheard of and FA/KE is the only band, over the entire competition, who can claim to have done it.


With FA/KE's epic finale, the scoring was thrown for a huge loop. They wholly dominated Round 2 to a point where it was actually possible to overcome their 3rd place standing after Round 1. The judges and scorekeepers went to work and we all waited with baited breath to see how it would all play out. Meanwhile, I was calculating all the destruction to my precious Rock Band instruments. The GurnKillers love to tear the fret keys off my guitars and the Ninja’s assassinated one of my microphones.

Sway took the stage to make the announcements, starting from 4th Place and working his way to 1st. Wet Nelson and the Hot Commodities took 4th. They were consistent in all aspects for both rounds, but it just wasn't enough to overpower the other 3 bands. The Ninja's In Disguise took 3rd. TNiD was sitting in a great position after Round 1 and their Round 2 performance was fantastic, but FA/KE's stunning closer overtook TNiD when the points were added up.

Now we were about to find out if that same performance was enough to knock The Gurn Killers out of their Round 1 1st place seat. Both bands were invited onstage for the announcement and we all held our breath waiting to hear who was going to take home $10,000, the titles of "Rock Legends", and the opening spot for the B-52's at the House of Blues the next day. And we waited... and waited... Our wonderful host for the evening (for all the Regional’s & Finals), MTV VJ Sway Calloway, decided to milk all the anticipation in the air for all it was worth. Personally, I thought it was hilarious, but with the fate of the competition hanging in the balance, he finally shored up and announced the Grand Prize winners of the first ever Harrah's Total Rock, Total Rewards 2009 Rock Band Competition... (It’s hard to build that same kind of suspense with text, especially when most of you all know anyway).

The Gurn Killers!

FA/KE's amazing Ballroom performance had pushed them just a scant 3 points behind Gurn. 3 points! But in the end, Gurn's two outstanding rounds secured them at the top of the charts and locked in their stellar victory.

When it was all said and done, the real winners were everyone who got to see some of the most amazing Rock Band performances to ever take the stage and some of the greatest bands to ever play the game. It had been a long, crazy run across the country and there is no doubt that every band that played in the finals deserved to be there. The whole tour closed on an amazing high note with performances that will live on with everyone who had the pleasure of being a part of them.

  • Huge thanks to everyone who came out to compete and supported Total Rock with their talent and passion for Rock Band.
  • An especially huge thanks to The Gurn Killers, FA/KE, The Ninjas In Disguise, and Wet Nelson and The Hot Commodities for giving us an epic Final Round and for closing the show out in a true rock n' roll style, venue destroying, crowd slaying, battle of the bands.
  • Huge thanks to MTV Games and Harmonix for providing a vehicle like Rock Band and giving people the chance to transcend "just playing a video game" and turn it into something so much more.
  • Huge thanks to Harrah's, especially Mindy and Kathy for their amazing support, contributions, and, hospitality. They really made the dream a reality for so many people.
  • Huge thanks to the Production Crew; Joe, Nils, Jee, Adria, Matt, Lynda, and Kerith for making sure everything behind the scenes ran so smoothly for everyone involved and for being so amazing to work with.
  • Huge thanks to Sway for taking up the host duties and really taking things to the next level during the shows.
  • Huge thanks to HMX John, HMX Sean, and the rest of judges for not only taking the time out to be a part of this program, but for making us cringe, scream, yell, fist-pump, heckle, and cheer with your commentary and scoring.
  • Huge thanks to all you folks out there reading this for putting up with the absurdly long posts.
  • Last, but not least, huge thanks to Kuniochi for the YouTube video love.

Well folks, that wraps up this recap for now. I'll chime in with The Gurn Killers HoB performance in my next post, since this one already is ridiculously too long.