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The 'Rock Band' era is upon us and there's no turning back

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Slash_lI have seen the future of rock ‘n’ roll, and it’s a video game. Specifically, MTV Games’ soon-to-be-released Rock Band (out Nov. 20). I only fully wrapped my head around this revelation a couple weeks ago, when a group of us LA music journalists were invited to a private demo at MTV’s Santa Monica offices. Oh sure, I’m acutely aware of the Guitar Hero franchise. Rob Thomas introduced me to the game, which he often toyed with between vocal takes in the studio; something I found a bit peculiar — here are all these amazing musicians, dozens of priceless guitars lining the hallway, producer Steve Lillywhite (U2, Dave Matthews Band) at the console, yet Rob, who’s no slouch on the six-string, would rather click away on a glorified Simon posing as a pee-wee-sized plastic guitar. Go figure! But he loved his GH, so much so that when it broke, a studio runner was immediately sent out to Best Buy for a replacement.

So yeah, I get it and appreciate its enormous popularity. Even last week’s South Park was devoted entirely to a Guitar Hero story line (which included a bold declaration by Kyle that “real guitars are for old people”). And at the recent LA launch party for Guitar Hero 3, I was dumbfounded to walk into a rooftop affair with several hundred in attendance (including Slash, pictured; Good Charlotte’s Joel Madden; and some of Slash’s Velvet Revolver bandmates) to find the bars nearly empty and the hors d’oeuvres trays full because all the guests were off gazing into fluorescent screens. I basically spent the whole night staring at peoples’ backs (when not scanning for Rock of Love contestants — past or present — there to see Poison perform), which was not only freaky in a futuristic sort of way, but kind of sad.

addCredit(“Slash: Bill McCay/WireImage.com”)

So now comes Rock Band, taking the playing experience to anentirely new level, with four instruments and a killer soundtrack thatincludes classics by David Bowie, the Clash, Rolling Stones, theRamones, the Police, and the Who along with more current tracks by thelikes of Radiohead, the Killers, Weezer, Fall Out Boy, and Yeah YeahYeahs. Plus, let’s not forget that the Sex Pistols reunited ostensiblyjust to rerecord songs for GH3.

Which makes me wonder, will kids in the future discover pivotal,genre-defining bands like the Rolling Stones through this very medium?And of those who maybe get inspired to start a band or jam with theirfriends, how many will forgo the garage experience for the living room?Will we read, in an interview with the next Kurt Cobain, that the firsttime he heard “Gimme Shelter” or the Sex Pistols was in a video game?

I shudder to think, but this could be our new reality. And perhaps that South Park episode, with its hilarious spoof on a guitar hero audition (all clicks, no licks), hit the nail on the head.