by Harold Goldberg
What follows is an accurate account of what the Guitar Hero Live event at Manhattan’s Best Buy Theater was like this morning, April 14, 2015.
1) We stand outside in the slightly rainy dampness for a while. I have a problem with this because I’m wearing two knee braces after something happened to me this weekend in the Catskills.
2) We get inside and stand in line to pick up badges which will allow us admission. Knees. Hurt.
3) We take an escalator downstairs, only to stand in another line for another 20 minutes because the Activision people aren’t ready to let us into the theater. I think, it would be nice if they had water. Then, my knees! We’re under bright blue L.E.D. lights and somehow this makes me feel lightheaded. Not in a good way. It feels like being on one of those train cars from the movie, Snow Piercer. I think, “My friend, you suffer from the misplaced optimism of the doomed.”
4) We’re let in and we all sit down. I sit in the front row where there’s more leg room. The theater is smaller than I expected. CEO Eric Hirschberg comes onstage, kindly apologizes for the wait, and says that even though Guitar Hero hasn’t been out in five years, it has 10 million followers on Facebook.
5) I check Facebook. It’s actually 9.621 million. What a few hundred thousand people among friends?
6) We are told that Guitar Hero Live is all about getting that essential feeling of stage fright as you play before a live audience.
7) The in-game footage shows film of the audience’s reaction to playing. Guitar notes are missed. A pretty girl on a handsome guy’s shoulders shouts, “You suck!” when more notes are missed.
8) It looks like a lot of actors got work filming this thing. That’s good. The way it’s shot reminds me of CD-ROM video from the 1990s. But less hiccup-y.
9) Someone from Fallout Boy, Pete Wentz (I think), comes out to play the game. He seems nice enough.
10) Gerard from My Chemical Romance comes out to have a game. Gerard dukes it out with game developer Jamie Jackson from FreeStyleGames, who sports a lot of intricate tattoos. (Buzzfeed should do a listicle about game developer tattoos. I bet they’d get 100,000 hits! Hits, I tell you!) Like a great sports match, the lead changes hands three or four times during the course of the song, “Na Na Na.” Gerard FTW!
11) I used to get ragged on for liking My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade. I still like it.
12) My Chemical Romance is still together?
13) Guitar Hero TV, another mode, lets you play along to popular music videos. I like this idea, as long as I don’t have to pay extra for it. I bet you have to buy coins or some damn virtual currency to unlock everything you want. Activision’s not dumb.
14) I thought Katy Perry would be here. Where’s Taylor Swift? Maybe they’ll be at E3. Activision used to have Guitar Hero concerts at E3. I think Eminem and Rihanna were at the very last one back in 2010. Rock Band once had The Who. They played well, but too long.
15) The event ends. People seem happy enough. I bump into Ben Gilbert, now of Business Insider, and he has a smile on his face. No one’s rock-concert ecstatic, but, you know, we’re critics.
16) While talking to Adam Rosenberg, now of Mashable, a small cone full of mac n cheese comes by on a pole held by two caterers. It’s hard to describe. I pull off a cone from the pole. The mac n cheese cone is cold. As is the mac n cheese. Nice presentation, though.
17) You can’t play Guitar Hero with your old controller. You have to get the new one. It’s not backwards compatible with the old songs you already bought, either.
18) There’s quite a line to play on a mezzanine near the stage. Yet I find three kiosks in a hall that no one seems to have discovered. No one! I take up the new guitar controller (it has no colored buttons) and use the new three-button configuration to play songs by The Killers and The Black Keys. I like the three buttons. I even bop around and rock out in my quiet way. (I don’t play the hard mode, which asks me to use six buttons.)
19) Yet I don’t get the stage fright. I want the stage fright. They promised stage fright. My eyes are on the passing notes onscreen which I have to hit in rhythm. So my eyes are not on the teeming teen-ish masses onscreen. I get two or three 50-note strings, but never a 100-note string. I’m done. But I want my stage fright. Maybe it’ll come with the full game.
20) But my knees! It’s time to head out. I get a t-shirt which I’ll give to charity and leave.
Harold Goldberg, a contributor to the New York Times and author of the book All Your Base Are Belong to Us, is founder of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.