Hello there ladies and gentlemen, my name is Kyle and I'm the Xbox/Rock Band System Programmer for the Total Rock, Total Rewards Tournament's Regional and Final Competitions. That's really just a fancy way of saying that it's my job to make sure that everything game related is running at 100% so the bands performing can really focus on impressing the judges and the crowd. One of the great parts of this job (and there are a lot) is that it offers me a unique perspective on all the performances, so I've taken to writing the summaries of the shows. Originally it was so that the folks on the boards could follow along at home (check out the Las Vegas and Hammond recaps), but it's been decided that the summaries are 'Zine-worthy; So here we are!
Normally I just jump right into the action, but this show in New Orleans was so epic that I feel the need to add a little preface. I’m going to recap the amazing competition performances in a minute, but I wanted to give a shout out to all the bands for picking great tracks for their Warm-Ups sessions. As you can imagine, the production team has heard a lot of the same songs over and over during this competition, so it’s always refreshing to see and hear something new performed well. From “Indestructible” by Disturbed (Potent) to “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffet (Wet Nelson), the Warm Up sessions were really fun to be a part of.
Anyway, I just wanted to get that out there. On to the show!
The Karate Choppers: Cherub Rock – Smashing Pumpkins
It’s never easy being the first ones out of the gate in a competition like this. Fortunately “Cherub Rock” is a little more forgiving than “Battery” and TKC handled it without too much difficulty. During the post-song interview they made an offhand remark about calibration affecting their performance but John Drake swooped in to defend my honor about that little issue. My hero! Also true to their name, during their performance the drummer lost a stick and instead of grabbing a new one he, yeah, that’s right, karate chopped the drums to keep going.
Score: 473, 359
Style: 11 (There’s nothing wrong with camo shorts!)
Clutch Bananas: Battery – Metallica
This song looms like an evil shadow over the competition. The lowest score potential combined with some seriously brutal instrument tracks just leaves a trail of carnage and fear wherever it goes. Don’t tell that to Clutch though. They owned this song, and by “own” I mean grabbed it by its horns and dragged it all over the stage, kicking, screaming, and bleeding until there was nothing left. Clutch had no fear during this performance; they just took Battery, ran, and set a performance precedent with it.
Potent: Bodhitsattva – Steely Dan
This song has the distinction of always being stuck in the head of someone I work with. Seriously, there’s always someone walking around singing it. In fact, I’m listening to it right now… wait, where was I? Oh yeah, Potent did not seem pleased when they pulled this song. That’s not really all that surprising though since Potent has a powerhouse female lead singer and it’s kind of hard to take advantage of that with a one star vocal track. What they did have, though, was a guitarist in a Viking helmet who rocked so hard he broke off one of the horns and ended up as some kind of faux-bearded Viking Unicorn. Judges seemed to dig it though, so you can’t argue with that.
Score: 251, 121
The Popes Toyota: Flirtin’ With Disaster – Molly Hatchet
First thing you’re probably asking yourself is “How does a band come up with the name The Popes Toyota?” Well, you’re going to have to wait for the interview video to find out. If you’re wondering if any of them were dressed as his Holiness, then the answer is “Yes.”, if you’re wondering if any of them were dressed as Toyotas, the answer is “No.” 1 Pope + 2 Priests + 1 Catholic School Girl = a pretty solid run through this classic southern rock track. The hardest instrument in this song is obviously the drums. Fortunately for TPT the Holy Father is one hell of a drummer. He has his own custom Papal Ion Kit apparently, so he unleashed some righteous fury on our heathen stage kit. Ok, ok, enough Pope puns.
Score: 524, 390
Wet Nelson and the Hot Commodities: Down With the Sickness – Disturbed
To be honest, I’m kind of Disturbed by this band’s name. It has, like, some strange connotation that I can’t quite wrap my melon around. Anyway, Wet Nelson took the stage in some pretty slick two tone outfits with the drummer, guitarists, and bassist in black on white and the lead singer in white on black. (Think “Too Much, Too Young” by The Specials”) The judges were impressed by the matching shoes too (Although Sway wasn’t too keen on giant, loopy, laces.) Something else the judges were impressed by was the fact that Wet Nelson took this song tore it up like they had chosen it on purpose. They knew it inside and out and had a rock solid performance to match their rock solid technical skills. They closed Round 1 with a huge bang, and a huge score.
We cut to intermission and got ready for Round 2. It was looking like Wet Nelson was going to take the show pretty easily after Round 1, but we were about to see a total transformation from nearly all the bands playing that evening. It was like a whole new set of performers took the stage for Round 2. Inhabitations gone, rock star on…
Band Choice Round
The Karate Choppers: Ballroom Blitz – Sweet
TKC’s guitarist caught some flack in Round 1 for his camo shorts so he was back in jeans for Round 2, but if you had seen their first performance and then watched this one you might as well think that they just replaced the band members entirely. It was clear that TKC knew Ballroom Blitz really well and any factors that had inhibited their Round 1 scores were gone now. During this performance the lead singer even made the 4 foot jump off the front of the stage to croon to the crowd right up close. They were on for this performance and it was a huge step up from Round 1.
Clutch Bananas: Ballroom Blitz – Sweet
What Clutch was lacking in Style for Round 1 they made up in spades for this round. You would have actually thought that Sweet themselves had taken the stage. I didn’t know that clothes like that even still existed. Wait until you see the video of Clutch, it’s amazing. And that’s before they started playing!
Ok, I mean, by this point in the tournament we’ve all heard Ballroom Blitz more times than any person really should ever have to. We’ve seen some seriously knockout performances of the song (FA/KE, Vindictive Syndicate) but I’ve never had to actually do a double take from my position off stage to make sure game settings hadn’t been changed. Travis, the singer for Clutch, sounded SO GOOD that I thought they had somehow turned the game vocal track up to max. I’m serious. I’m wondering if maybe the reason I lost my voice was because he somehow stole it to add power to his. The whole band was on fire and they took the crowd, the judges, and everyone else in Masquerade into the inferno with them.
Potent: Almost Easy – Avenged Sevenfold
I have to give huge props to Potent here. This song is pretty far off the beaten path in terms of this competition, but I seriously dig that they obviously love this song and that was their reason for performing it. It played to their band strengths and, unlike during Bodhisattva, their lead singer really got a chance to shine. Potent took control of this track and really shared their passion for it with the audience. It was a complete turnaround from their first performance. And, I must say, we’ve seen a lot of wacky on-stage antics but big ups to Potent for showing us something new. At one point in the song the bassist and guitarist were facing each other and decided, “Hey let’s just strum each other’s instruments instead of our own!” Awesome.
The Popes Toyota: Ballroom Blitz – Sweet
Back for more Ballroom. It was strange though, Ballroom Blitz didn’t really seem like it was in the right vein for TPT. I was kind of surprised they stuck with it, but stick with it they did. There’s just something kind of surreal about watching the Pope, two priests, and a catholic school girl rocking what might be the most glam Glam song every performed. They needed a huge score and a perfect performance to knock Clutch out of the judge’s minds. In the end, Father Time (you’ll get it when you see the video) dropping to his knees to shred and his Holiness’s stand up (literally) drumming weren’t enough to put them over the top.
Wet Nelson and the Hot Commodities: Vasoline – Stone Temple Pilots
When I got the order to cue up Vasoline by STP for the final performance on the night, I have to say, I was both confused and thrilled. On one hand, this would have to be a nearly flawless execution of the track to be able to climb up into Ballroom’s score territory. On the other, I’m a huge STP fan and well, I was happy I didn’t have to hear Ballroom again. I double checked with the band and they confirmed. They told me they just wanted to go up and jam on a song they loved to play. Hey, can’t argue with that. Apparently “jam on a song they love” is Wet Nelson-ese “put on one hell of a stage performance”. They took control of the stage and it was clear that their familiarity with the song gave them plenty of leeway to just put on a real rock show worthy performance. John Drake dropped some seriously heavy praise for their drummer as well, which says a lot if you know John at all. Their guitarist has some serious technical precision. A fact that was about to become more important than anyone could have been ready for…
The show closed and the scorekeepers went to work calculating the final rankings. This is usually the part of the show where I start to collect the instruments and begin the show shutdown process. My radio crackled in my ear “Hold” so I went backstage to see what the situation was.
“It’s a tie, between Clutch and Wet Nelson.”
Now, let me try to convey the magnitude of that. There was a discussion on the boards last week about what happens in the event of a tie. I mentioned that the scoring system is designed to reduce that possibility to pretty much “astronomically minute” and “feasibly inconceivable”. Ok, well, you know what… I got nothing. Sometimes two bands just rock so ridiculously hard that they collide head on and we end up with a tie. The decision on what to do about it had to come next. The rules state that in the absurdly unlikely event of a tie, it would be the judge’s decision to break it. I did not envy the judges position or having to make that choice. Both these bands were amazing and there was no easy way to break this tie.
The judges handed down a decree and it was left to John Drake to explain the situation. From on high they levied unto us mortals, “Let there be Score Duel.”, and there was Score Duel. Expert Guitar Score Duel to be specific, with the one song that didn’t get picked during the Random Round doing the honors. “Ramblin’ Man” by The Allman Brothers Band. Both Clutch Bananas and Wet Nelson surrendered their guitarists to the stage. They each grabbed an axe and started shredding.
Tie Breaker Round
It started out insanely close, with Wet leading Clutch by only a few hundred points. About 1/3rd of the way in though, the guitarist for Wet Nelson hit his hot streak, fired his overdrive, and torn into the track like it was the last song he’d ever play. Every single person in attendance, crowd, judges, production crew, staff… everyone was glued to a screen. It was like watching two titans hurl thunder and lightning at each other. In the end though, there can be only one. Despite the fact that the guitarist for Clutch had started to mount a comeback, the guitarist for Wet never went off this streak. The dual ended with Wet Nelson winning with a monster lead, nearly double that of Clutch. With final scores of 119,448 to 54,891, Wet Nelson and the Hot Commodities took the grand prize and the title of Regional Champions.
The southern Regional’s ended up being far more epic and crazy than anyone could have ever predicted. From start to finish we were constantly surprised and impressed with the song selections, stage antics, technical performances, and most of all, the quality and attitudes of all the bands in attendance. All the bands that played were awesome on-stage and off and that really makes a huge positive impact on all of us working to produce the shows.
Plain and simple, you guys rock. Thanks so much for all your hard work and we hope it was as fun for you as it was for us.
Next Stop: Atlantic City for the Eastern Regional’s and the Finals!