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Rock Star alter egos are growing in numbers

  • Story Highlights
  • "Rock Band" video game has many fans
  • Game lets non-musical people perform as if they have talent
  • Winners get a classier virtual tour bus, better venues
  • Players pick character-- punk, earthy babe, pretty boy

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By Ron Dicker
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(LifeWire) -- Jess Hu is a child care provider from Brooklyn, New York, but for 20 hours a week, she's a rock star. That's how much she estimates she plays the video game "Rock Band."

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Alex Hedquist (left) and Jess Hu strike their best rock star poses during a "Rock Band" competition in Brooklyn.

"It's like a part-time job," says Hu, 27. "I gave up sleep."

"Rock Band" has joined "Guitar Hero" as the must-have video game and become another way for wannabe rockers to live their dream.

"Rock Band," released in the United States on November 20 by MTV Games and Electronic Arts, takes up to four players at a time: a guitarist, a bassist, a drummer and a lead singer.

The performance simulator enables players to look and sound like the real deal -- so much so that "Rock Band" devotees are posting videos of themselves on YouTube, talking about faux concert triumphs in online forums and storming bar-hosted "Rock Band" festivals.

Haven't heard of the band Something Ridiculous? They are legends in their time, which would be Sunday nights at the Living Room Lounge in Brooklyn. That's "Rock Band" Night. Hu and fellow members Alex Hedquist, 25, Darce Grillo, 19, Saori Tsujimoto, 21, and E. Pena, 21, even made their own T-shirts.

"When you do 'Guitar Hero,' you're like a comedian -- on your own," said Living Room Lounge bartender Gerard Grillo, who brings the game to the bar on Sundays and projects it onto a large screen. "Now you have three other people to act foolish with."

Karaoke's successor

Bar nights devoted to music games are popping up from Brooklyn to the Bay Area. "Guitar Hero" Night at the Living Room Lounge brought in 60 people on Sunday nights, estimates Darce Grillo, the bartender's son; with "Rock Band," it's about 80.

Arshan Sadri, a restaurant worker, slips into a showbiz alter ego as soon as he straps on the stringless guitar replica, urging three strangers to join hands and yell, "Let's go, band!"

"You're forming a fake band -- that's what you do," says Sadri, calling the game "the best part of karaoke, adding in a drummer and guitars."

Players at the Lounge shred on electric anthems such as the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter," Mountain's "Mississippi Queen" and Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper."

Or, at least, they appear to play.

Guitarists press colored notes on the neck of the "instrument" to correspond with the colored bars descending on the video monitor. They press a strum key with the other hand to "hit" the note before it disappears.

Drummers pound in syncopation with a color code, and singers perform with a real microphone as the words stream across the screen, their voices blending with the real artists'. They pat the microphone to simulate a tambourine.

Tsujimoto of Something Ridiculous said "Rock Band" demands a degree of dexterity similar to "Dance Dance Revolution," in which participants match dance steps with flashing colored lights.

"Rock Band" doesn't quite put one onstage at Madison Square Garden. Computer-generated characters do the prancing and preening. Players can choose from among such archetypes as the muscular punk, the earthy babe and the mop-topped pretty boy. Strong performances earn bands a classier virtual tour bus and better venues in the video game.

Something for everyone

The fantasy is all some need. The newly hooked Mary Tchamkina, 24, says it fulfills her long-held dream of being able to play the drums. She had never tried a video game before "Rock Band."

Others like that the game begs for participation in a social setting -- in the living room or garage with friends, or at a bar with strangers. Even though bands can compete, the vibe has been more communal than cutthroat at the Living Room Lounge.

"It's all about fun as long as people are feeling it," Darce Grillo says. "If you compete, you don't have fun."

Roy Tumminia, a 25-year-old Staten Island sanitation worker, plays "Rock Band" with colleagues between garbage runs. Jared Fletcher, Tchamkina's boyfriend, used "Rock Band" in his apartment as a perk when advertising for a prospective roommate.

The explosion of virtual performance is "bringing a whole new crowd into the rock scene," says Tumminia.

"Rock Band" and its "Guitar Hero" forebears are attracting non-gamers as well, says Brian Crecente, editor of the gaming blog Kotaku.com and a judge at the Spike TV Video Game Awards. He hosted a charity event in Denver where "Rock Band" was the featured entertainer.

"It's so big because it gives people a chance who do not have musical talent to play like they have musical talent," Crecente says. "It tricks you into thinking you're pulling off that amazing solo." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to Web publishers. Ron Dicker is a New York-based freelance writer who covered sports for The New York Times from 1996 to 2005.

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