I found Rock Band where most videogame sleeper hits are located: at a friend's house. Jeff and Jozey (who run a superb burrito shop) had sprung for the $160 game that comes with a plastic guitar (which I was holding), drum set (where Skylar sat spinning sticks) and microphone (held by Jeff as he stretched out its cord).
Jozey, who was playing bass in Rock Band using a compatible Guitar Hero II guitar, signed in to her Xbox account, clicking through what seemed like half a dozen menu screens on the TV. Then Skylar signed in using the drums. Then Jeff signed in. Then me. After a sign-in process that basically sucks, we were ready to rock.
"Don't Fear the Reaper" was the first song that I ever heard Jeff sing. I was concentrating on pressing my guitar's color-coded frets, so I couldn't fully appreciate his performance. But his voice ranged from a holler to something actually soulful. I was able to find the song's groove as much by watching him cock his hips as by watching the TV screen. Glancing at Skylar, I saw his sticks flying up and down on the colored plastic drum pads in a synchronized flurry with my strumming.
Jeff tapped his microphone like a tambourine. Jozey and I rocked our guitars back simultaneously, unleashing a flurry of psychedelia on the widescreen. We fled through "Run to the Hills." (Did we get four stars? Five stars? Details are hazy.)
Jeff and Skylar got in a minor argument between sets about costumes. Skylar wanted to wear a new T-shirt he had picked up after a concert. "It takes too much f***ing time," Jeff whined, turning towards the screen. Our onscreen rocker personas waited -- a group of lingerie-clad, trashy girls. "We spent the first day just customizing them," said Jeff. "Getting them tattoos and s***."
I flipped through the game's playlist, selecting a song. "No, not that one," Jeff said. I explained that if I was going to write a review, I was going to have to mess around and see Rock Band's weirder corners. Jeff rolled his eyes. "OK, close the f***ing door." He didn't want anyone to know he covered Jon Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive."
"Should I get out my jeans jacket?" he asked as I started to noodle through the opening guitar riff. Skylar and Jozey joined in.
"I'm a cowboy," Jeff droned flatly, obviously not feeling the Bon Jovi. "On a steel horse I ride...."
THE GOOD: Rock Band offers a degree of humiliation that only karaoke can provide.
THE BAD: Redgy, who's an excellent bassist in a real rock band, sat on the sofa watching with disdain. We were all playing a videogame that made lame people look like rock stars, without the work, sacrifice or skill. Posers, yes we were. But we rocked.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Rock Band is a slick, rock-rules videogame that gets better the more you practice, the more people show up for practice, and the more fun you try to have.