“You can’t calculate the chemistry that arises when you put together a band. No one knows until you start working together.” – Jimmy Page
That guy from the Yardbirds knew what he was talking about. To celebrate Rocksmith’s 5th anniversary (the original title appeared October 19, 2011), the team at Ubisoft Studio San Francisco launched a bold experiment: Prove, live and in front of a crowd, that Rocksmith really teaches you how to play guitar. They invited community members to submit videos of their personal success stories. They then picked a handful, flew them to SF, and put them center stage, fronting a band of real musicians in a real club – without the game as a safety net.
From the start, there were more questions than answers. Could these people really play, or were they just looking for a free vacation to California? Even if musical director Brian McCune assembled a rotating house band from the professional musicians who create the DLC for Rocksmith every week, would they have time to gel as a unit of their own, let alone with guests they’d never met? And weren’t they supposed to be creating more weekly DLC for Rocksmith at the same time, anyway?
In short: What are you, nuts?
The community stars couldn’t have been more diverse. Myles Bristowe, a rocker dad from St. Petersburg, Florida, carves out just enough time from his professional career and family responsibilities to let loose on ’80s metal hits by Def Leppard and Bon Jovi. Tim Porter, a college student from Dublin, Ireland, not only wanted to play challenging songs from Rush and Muse, but wanted to sing them as well; and Audrey Shida, just 12 years old, has learned to play exclusively through Rocksmith in her home in Nagasaki, Japan. A true guitar prodigy, she has chops to rival her heroes, but she’d never played live without the game. Each story turned out to be unique, and each faced a unique personal challenge.
In the weeks before the big show on October 20, coaches from Studio SF worked with their charges on everything from basic stage awareness to advanced fretting techniques, making sure they felt supported long before they stepped on a plane — let alone a famous stage like Slim’s, where legends like No Doubt, Prince, and countless others have rocked the house. Once they arrived, they were whisked to Fantasy Studios for rehearsal with the house band, playing in the same space where bands like Aerosmith, Green Day and Journey have recorded all-time classics. The reality that Audrey was rehearsing “Smooth” in the same room where Carlos Santana recorded it was not lost on anyone!
Throughout the all-day practice, musicians locked into their roles, discussed transitions and identified last-minute bumps that needed smoothing out. By the time everyone reassembled at Slim’s the next afternoon for soundcheck, the reality started to set in – a lit stage, a wall of amps, and a few mistakes suddenly appeared. With a Rocksmith logo projected behind the players and hundreds of people arriving for the start of the show, nerves started to build. To twist Mr. Page’s words a bit, this final exam in chemistry was going to be a pass/fail situation.
And yet, when the show got underway, all that homework suddenly paid off. Ubisoft’s house band, The Notetrackers, blasted through an opening set of personal favorites from the Rocksmith library (including the exclusive hard-rock Bachsmith version of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”) and then the real stars took the stage. Myles not only tore through Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and Heart’s “Barracuda,” but performed all the talk-box solos from Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Tim wasn’t content to just play and sing “Plug In Baby” by Muse and Rush’s legendary “Subdivisions” – he wound up reaching over and playing the strings on the guitars of Brian Poedy and Sam Schwartz during his version of Philip Sayce’s scorching blues-rocker “Out of My Mind.”
And then, of course, there’s Audrey. After watching her improve as a guitarist from thousands of miles away via YouTube uploads, it was a thrill for everyone to see her make her stage debut live in person. She wowed the crowd with stunning versions of Carlos Santana’s “Smooth,” Pantera’s “Cowboys From Hell,” and Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality.” As an encore, all three musicians joined each other on stage for “Blitzkrieg Bop” before sharing a triumphant bow in front of a roaring crowd – but not before Epiphone President Jim Rosenberg surprised each player with a gift of brand-new acoustic guitars.
With that, the whirlwind event was over. Personal barriers were broken, and new bonds were formed. There was no better way to celebrate Rocksmith’s 5th anniversary than with some of the living, breathing, shredding examples of the Rocksmith learning method.
Myles, Tim, and Audrey’s personal musical paths led to them to a legendary stage in San Francisco. Where will your Rocksmith journey take you?
Rocksmith 2014 Edition – Remastered is now available for Xbox One, PS4, PC, and Mac. Check out the Rocksmith at Slim’s album for more pictures from the event. For more on the game, check out our previous coverage: