The three stages of Rock Band:
Play a few songs on the Solo Tour, realize the game is pretty easy. Play with the drums. Sing to the world that you’re a creep, a weirdo, a cowboy with a six-string on your back, are drinking Stevens and wearing the dress you slept in.
Second stage: Get some friends, and rock out until the neighbors complain. Drop the crummy van for a rusty bus, then finally a jet and see the world. You’re rock gods.
Third stage: Don’t feel like soloing, friends are busy, so you go on Xbox Live and form a band with random strangers.
Now the game begins for real. You’ll want to know the people you will meet.
The Guitarist. The thing about Rock Band is that every single person who plays it, has played Guitar Hero in some form. And so every single person you meet can play guitar. So it can be awhile before a Guitarist can get a band, and when they do, they feel anxious to prove they are a guitar god. The Guitarist plays at Expert. Regardless of actual skill.
The Bassist. There are no bassists, just frustrated guitarists who can’t grab lead fast enough. If you do get a bassist for your band, their sole goal is to make the lead guitar look bad. Most frustrated guitarists will quit the band if forced to play bass too much.
The Vocalist. Like in a real band, a bad vocalist can bring the whole place down. Vocalists apparently sing only the first couple of sets, which are easy for all instruments, then decide they are Steve Tyler, except the kind of Steve Tyler who cannot actually sing Aerosmith songs. There aren’t many vocalists, likely because they get frustrated when the band strays into the harder songs and the microphone sits in the red the whole time. They get a lot of the “Gutsy” kudos — the one given to people who are playing above their level. Vocalists only occasionally let the rest of the band hear them, which is really a service.
The Drummer. Surprisingly, the drums aren’t that hard… for the first couple of sets. Similar to the Vocalist, this gives them an inflated sense of their skill. Drums are actually HARD, but nobody can resist trying them out. This wouldn’t really be a problem if people had a realistic judgment of their skills.
So you got your guitarists right off, and they’re wondering which one of them is going to make the move to Lead first. Your drummer came in a few seconds later, and then finally, reluctantly, a vocalist joins.
Now mind, apparently there are ways to talk to each other, but Drew and I could not get that to work, so it’s either sit in silence as the leader selects a song, or if we’re leader, try to get a sense for what people want to play. We really need a voting mechanism.
Then comes the e-peen waving time. A song is chosen. Is it in the first couple of sets? Too easy, and people might leave. Is it one of the the bonus tracks? Too unknown, people might leave. So we start out with a common, but not trivial song, and people try to get a sense of who they’re playing with.
Guitarists do a little duel with the difficulty. The game here is to shame the other guitarist by choosing Expert, forcing them to choose Expert as well to keep up. If the bassist chooses Expert first, it’s saying — you got Lead, but I’m better than you. So Lead has to either go Expert, or back down and choose something easier, and tacitly agree to take Bass next time.
The first song is usually chosen to be easy, anyway, so the guitarists both typically start off in Expert. The drummer has to decide their move. Easy? You shouldn’t even be on Xbox Live. Medium is a good choice; most everyone can play drums on Medium. But with the guitarists on Expert, the drummer almost always feels compelled to at least try Hard.
Finally, the singer weighs in. We’re not going to hear them anyway, so all we really want is for them to be able to hold a note and not require continual savings. The first song is usually easy, so they may choose Hard for points — but singers usually stick with Medium. I’ve never seen one pull off Hard. I can for easy songs, but…
Well anyway. The song starts, lead and bass are wailing away at Expert, drums on Hard, singer doing whatever it is they do, and we all end at around the same time.
Now comes the disastrous Second Song. The leader chooses a harder one — nearly always Enter Sandman or Foreplay/It’s Been Such a Long Time, for some reason. Neither are all that hard, but they are both harder. And the band comes again to the Difficulty Duel.
They probably can’t all continue at their levels, but if you back down, you lose face. The drummer has played both these songs a lot, so goes to Expert. Vocalist stays at medium unless they’re idiots (or can, I suppose, sing, but they would have made that known by choosing Hard or Expert on the easier first song).
Well, if the drummer is going on Expert, the guitarists can’t back down from that, because the quote where “if you can play drums on Expert, you can play drums in real life” makes them seem less like musicians if they can’t toss off Expert as casually.
Unfortunately, things don’t go quite as well, but since everyone is focused on their own parts, often the first time you notice is when you hear the crashing sound as someone drops from the mix and needs saving.
Still, the song isn’t a fail, and so you move on to the next song. The pivotal third song.
The third song is always something hard or obscure. Some or all the players will have to back down except the vocalist, who is just praying that nobody wants to listen to Mick Jagger tonight, psychically willing the leader to choose, say, Beastie Boys or Faith No More.
But no, it’s something nobody knows well. This is when people drop if they don’t like how it’s going. You lose less face by leaving the band than dropping difficulty level. Unfortunately, you can’t just find a new person to hop in; you have to dis-band the band and reform to fill the empty slots.
Still, oftentimes people do stick around for the third song. The drummer CAN’T back down — they’re the only real musician in the band, you know. The lead guitarist has to stay Expert, but they may start accepting Bass… it is better to be Bass than to drop difficulty. This forces the person who has been playing Expert on Bass to step up to do it on Lead. Now, I am of the opinion that you do not lose face by dropping a difficulty level when you move from Bass to Lead.
This song is likely one that the vocalist should really consider dropping to “Easy” on. But as the second-most real musician in the group, they too can’t back down.
And so, the third song train wreck commences. Drum intro fails immediately — CRASH. Lead guitarist tries to play consistently enough to get a star power quickly enough to save the drummer. Bass guitarist usually picks up the first save. Drummer and vocalist live around the middle of the gauge until the first Lead solo, and now Lead crashes. Then the drummer quits the band mid-song, and then the song fails and everyone splits.
Because it is better to quit a band in the middle of a song, than to fail.
The only way to win? Be a vocalist and keep it on “Medium”. You’ll get an instant invite to any band, and by not playing in the Difficulty Duels, when it all goes sour, you’ll come off sweet.
(All that said, I did meet a drummer who actually COULD play on Expert. It was mind-boggling to watch.)