A host of imitators of rock and roll’s most popular acts from the past 30 years gave bizarre and not entirely lackluster performances this Wednesday on the Santa Barbara City College Campus, playing their beloved classics through a series of humble mediums. Ranging from half-hearted lip-synching to student Chris Romine strumming a plastic guitar behind his head a la Jimi Hendrix, students and faculty of various gaming skill levels at City College turned up to compete and revel in novelty at SBCC’s first annual Rock Band-off, with the popular video game making the point that it’s not who you are that matters, it’s who you can pretend to be.
Bright red, black, curly, and overtly Garth-esque wigs – Garth, as in “Wayne” – were passed between bands, some of whom proved that even pretending to be someone else can be something to be taken seriously. The contest was organized by Nathan Gallego and put on by the campus’s Computer Science Club, which is hoping to raise enough money to purchase a Lego Mindstorm Robot – the programmable robot that shows that if you’re trying to raise money for a toy aimed at adults, nothing beats a video game competition. And though Soundgarden missed the final chord of “Black Hole Sun” and AFI’s Davey Havoc was without his usual corpse-like paleness, there was plenty of rock to go around.
The competition itself was so enticing in its promise of mass voluntary humiliation that it gained the attention of the faculty, who donated money to pay for the trophy awarded to the contest winners. The entry fee for the contest was $10 per band, a price that would barely cover the cost of the victory plaque had the administration not decided to lend a hand.
The criteria for the rulings made by Office of Student Life judges were difficulty, stage presence, and presentation. The winners of the competition were representatives of Video Game Club, in what can be seen as a seemingly unfair forgone conclusion. They won over the crowd with their stage antics and their passionate entreaty to all those present to not “stop believing.” When someone mentioned to guitar player Romine his command of Rock Band, he exclaimed, aghast in confusion, “That wasn’t Gears of War?”
Common mistakes in the competition included facing away from the audience and getting over-excited and forgetting to watch the cues on the game screen. Although it was often the worst performers who found the best response from the crowd: The loudest cheers by far accompanied those who forgot to play or sing, and those who got so flustered in their songs that they started asking confused questions over the playback. At one point, a student with an actual guitar strolled up then wandered away, stopping only a moment before realizing there was no place for him in the situation.
The highlight of the competition, and the reason most turned out to watch the contest was the performance by the faculty band. Like most, they surely became teachers in the hopes of one day wearing bright-feathered wigs in front of many yelling people and strutting to Oasis or Journey. On Wednesday, they were The Police.
Computer science professor Robert Dependahl drummed in a Rod Stewart wig, supporting vocalist English professor Margaret Prothero, who came during the break in her class to belt it like Sting, afterward crying out, “Now, back to Shakespeare.” Lou Spaventa, dressed in his commencement faculty robes, also an English professor, justified his place in the band. “Sting was an English teacher, and he’s old,” he said logically. “He’s Sting, and I’m stung.” Joe White represented the philosophy department with distinction, saying, “Philosophy is on the bass, where it’s meant to be.” White actually used to work in artist promotion, having had dinner with Muddy Waters and representing Jethro Tull. He left the business long ago when he “figured they’d all be dead in a couple years.”
Their song started without them. They missed the first 20 seconds of Roxanne while they continued waving into the crowd, who began crying, “You guys are playing! Go!” The rocky start behind them, the faculty soon became delighted by their unexpected proficiency for rock and roll. It has been a good while since “Roxanne” has been played by anyone with quite so much charming self-consciousness. Though they did not win, the professors made fans of their students – the students can now respect their teachers for their funkiness in such a way that they will never be able to respect them for their minds and command of material within their fields.
Congratulations to Video Game Club rockers Jordan Jenkens, Cedric Mercer, Chris Romine, and Malcolm Crum on their Rock Band battle victory. We can’t wait for next year.