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Sun, Jul 15, 2007 - Page 12 News List

'Guitar Hero' sweeping US bars

Curious bar patrons, self-styled bad boys and video game addicts can fulfill their dreams of being a rock 'n' roll frontman by playing the popular new game

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , Cambridge, Massachusetts

Bar patrons play at ``Guitar Hero'' night at River Gods in Cambridge, Massachusetts, last month.

PHOTO: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Kevin Doyle and Ivan Wine strode to the front of River Gods and picked up the guitars with the confidence of two guys who had played this bar and those instruments many times before.

With their wives watching from a nearby table, Doyle, 30, a software consultant clad in a Dewar's Scotch T-shirt, and Wine, 32, a graphics designer with an unruly goatee and thick black glasses, strapped on the guitars and chose a song from the list on a projection screen.

They planted themselves in position as the first plodding strains of Black Sabbath's head-banging heavy-metal classic War Pigs emanated from the speakers. As the song's tempo increased, they frantically fingered the multicolor buttons on the necks of the guitars, hitting them with authority in time to the song's signature "dun-dun-dun" riffs.

But the two men were not showboating. They were actually concentrating, biting their lips and staring almost trancelike at the screen, watching colored balls falling toward them on an electronic fretboard.

When Doyle and Wine finished the last riff, the audience whooped and cheered. The newly minted music gods offered high fives as they returned to their seats.

This is Guitar Hero night, where curious bar patrons, self-styled bad boys and video game addicts, all usually a drink or two deep, play the game Guitar Hero on a big screen and fulfill their dreams of being a preening, prancing rock 'n' roll frontman.

Bars from Roanoke, Virginia, to San Diego are offering Guitar Hero nights, some providing players with big-hair wigs, Viking helmets and other colorful garb to help them complete the momentary illusion of being Eric Clapton or Lenny Kravitz. Others serve as hosts of competitive tournaments where the winners receive real guitars.

Players come because, for most, it's as close as they'll get to being an actual rock star.

"The audience cheers and it's almost like being onstage," Wine said. "You don't get that playing the game in your living room."

Within the past year, bar owners and managers have introduced the game, usually played in basements and bedrooms, into their locations to spike business on otherwise slow nights. Now they say Guitar Hero night is the new karaoke night -- without the embarrassment of atrocious vocals.

"It's for people like me, who can't play guitar but want to," said Jasper Coolidge, the head talent booker at Pianos, a downtown Manhattan bar that features Guitar Hero night every Tuesday.

Coolidge said business on Tuesdays had tripled at the bar, which typically attracts a post-college crowd, since the event began in April. "We wanted some sort of quirky thing that wasn't your typical New York dance-club house music night," he said.

At River Gods, where the crowd is filled with high-tech workers in rock T-shirts, denims and Converse sneakers, bar regulars and bewildered patrons who just stopped by for a drink, some of the players take it much more seriously.

"There are a couple of people who are these cartoon-character version of nerds," said Jeff Mac-Isaac, the bar's entertainment produce. "They're playing their Game Boys until Guitar Hero starts. They're actually playing video games before the video games start."

Guitar Hero requires dexterous players to press buttons on a plastic guitar in time with a song chosen from a library of familiar rock tunes like Message in a Bottle and Sweet Child O' Mine. As the player watches colored notes scroll down a television screen, the object is to hit the corresponding colored buttons (along with a second strum button) in time with the notes to score points. The harder the level, the faster the notes fall and the more complicated the chords.

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