At around 6PM on Saturday my brother and his son Wade arrived at my Atlanta-area apartment secret lair, where I have been watching my other nephew Xavier doing much better at Halo multiplayer than I could ever hope to, making me look good by using my gamertag and not talking on the headset. This gathering wasn't about Halo, however. It was about Rock Band. I didn't really have high hopes, as I had tried playing with Xav a bit earlier with hilariously sad results. "You know how to play?" I ask. "Yeah, I played Guitar Hero." He then proceeds to miss almost every note, failing the song at 33%. "Well I never said I was good at it!"While members of my family are great at bullshitting, we're also pretty good with rhythm and music. My mother and her mother before her ran dancing schools for most of their lives, with most of the girls in the family performing at some point. My brother Richard and I both dabble with musical instruments. He is an excellent guitar player in his own right, and I can pick up just about any instrument and at least peck out a simple tune or two. When I put my mind to it I'm a pretty good singer as well, so we were pretty sure we would make an excellent Rock Band group.
We start off with me on vocals, Xavier on lead guitar, Richard on bass, and Wade on drums. We immediately discover that knowing which of the guitar tracks on the screen is your own is of paramount importance, and the drums are extremely hard for a novice to play. We swap Wade and Richard, but once again the drums prove a bit too complicated, especially for a lifelong guitar player.
As I sadly hand my mic over to Wade, my leg starts throbbing in anticipation of becoming the band's drummer. Until you find the sweet spot between stomping and tapping, your leg is going to hurt. There is no way around it. I'm surprised professional drummers don't have to special order their pants to accommodate freakishly giant calf muscles.
As soon as we launch into Weezer's "Say It Ain't So", we know we've found our places in the band. Well, as soon as we relaunch it, after my brother fails due to playing the wrong side of the screen. Xav picks up on the guitar quickly, Richard is pretty much a natural at it, and Wade - while not knowing the lyrics - performs an admirable if warbly rendition of the hit song.
As for me on the drums, I actually don't do half bad. Once I get into a rhythm it's hard to break me out, though when I do stumble the recovery time is nasty.
After doing a few quick songs, we decide to try out career mode. We let the game randomly generate a band name, but in my head we are the truly outrageous Fahey and the Holograms. For the sake of brevity, our band members are named A, B, Alan, and Fahey. It's getting late, and we decide we're going to do a couple quick songs and call it quits.
If you've played Rock Band single player, you haven't really played the game. Whereas the single player game is just about completing a set number of tracks to open up a new set number of tracks, the multiplayer is about opening new venues, playing mystery sets, and earning fans and fame.
An hour and a half after deciding to just play two more songs, cheers ring out as our band wins a 1967 van, allowing us to travel to neighbouring towns to spread our musical love there. My brother and I bow out soon after, but my two nephews are still playing about an hour later, nearly having to be pried away from the Xbox 360 when time comes to go home.
What started out as an excuse for ordering pizza ended up being one of the best times I've had with members of my family in recent memory, even if one of my nephews reeked of onions (he's still figuring out this whole deodorant thing). We don't get together very often, but I've a feeling Rock Band is going to be a staple of such get togethers for a long time coming.