Guitar Zero

Maybe the next generation won't even play instruments. Clapton and Hendrix? So passé.

Although the game has lifted the industry, the gamers themselves derive some of the benefits, fans of the game say. Guitar Hero has changed the way kids play videogames. Instead of parking in front of computers and televisions at home, they're out at coffee shops, socializing and waiting their turn to rock for their friends, challenging the gamers-as-nerd notion.

Don't call Yvonne Nelson of Miami and Lucila Hernandez of Ft. Lauderdale groupies. One auspicious day at Undergrounds Coffeehaus, they proved their "rock" prowess.
Jacek Gancarz
Don't call Yvonne Nelson of Miami and Lucila Hernandez of Ft. Lauderdale groupies. One auspicious day at Undergrounds Coffeehaus, they proved their "rock" prowess.
Mark Brooks plays video games eight hours a day. Victor Iannelli, 12, is a Coral Springs pianist and Guitar Hero novice.
c. stiles
Mark Brooks plays video games eight hours a day. Victor Iannelli, 12, is a Coral Springs pianist and Guitar Hero novice.

On a recent Sunday night, a white cotton bra soars over the marble countertop of Undergrounds Coffeehaus in Fort Lauderdale. It passes a giant painting of Pinocchio, who appears to have crushed Jiminy Cricket and started shooting heroin, then loses momentum somewhere between a shelf of yard-sale books and a decorative antique refrigerator door and touches down on its intended target — the dark-haired noggin of Lucila Hernandez.

Though she's concentrating hard, trying not to miss a single note of "Free Bird," she gives a fast smile and lets the undergarment stay put.

The tosser of the bra, Undergrounds owner Aileen Liptak, purchased it and two pairs of Hanes Her Way underwear earlier today for the amateur Guitar Hero competition. She also wears her blue Atari T-shirt and a painted blue star on her cheek for the third Undergrounds Guitar Hero competition. But the underwear-throwing, to give the performance a touch of glam, is a first.

Though Liptak put out the announcement a little late this week, the turnout tonight is pretty good. About a dozen people, who range in age from 17 to 35, have shown up. Many are tattooed and pierced and either making or hoping to make a living in music or art or something else that's equally tough to make a living at. This is pretty much how they roll at Undergrounds, an indie coffee shop that opened a little over a year ago and looks — with its blood-orange walls and baroque hipster décor — directly transplanted from Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

As usual, topics of discussion jump from the South Park episode to new songs that can be downloaded to ways the controller can be taken apart and customized. A few guys bring up how annoyed their girlfriends are getting about their passion for Guitar Hero.

Hernandez scoffs. She defies the misguided stereotype that girls aren't into the game. Tapping her fingernails on the buttons, she rarely misses notes on medium level and achieves star power at all the right times. Some might even say she's chicken for not attempting the hard level.

Did Brett Combs just say that? No way. He's the genial, ponytailed co-owner of the shop and Liptak's boyfriend, and he's a guitar player, piano player, and singer who's been in plenty of bands. At the moment, he's folded into a captain's chair and discussing why Guitar Hero beats Dance Dance Revolution, an earlier videogame that requires a player to dance.

"Guitar Hero is less embarrassing," he says. "People are much more self-conscious about dancing."

"And people like to rock," Liptak adds from across the shop.

"People do like to rock," Combs agrees. "The rocking out catches you by surprise. Suddenly, you're like, yeah, I'm Neil Young."

A couple of guys from the Java D'Lites competition, Joe Benak of Coconut Creek and John Linn (full disclosure: He's New Times' assistant calendar editor) have also come to rock. Though the talent isn't quite as cranked at Undergrounds, there's a palpable camaraderie. People cheer for one another. Everyone is showered in underwear and bras. In the end, everyone gets Blow Pops and prizes. There are few problems with boozed-up egos here, since Undergrounds has no liquor license.

Maybe that's why Benak got his ass handed to him at the Java D'Lites tournament, he suggests. "The younger kids weren't old enough to drink," he says. "So they were better than us."

Likely story.

For Matt Lozano, being a Guitar Hero expert means people are constantly dropping by his house for pointers. On a recent Thursday, Nicole Micucci, a cute blond classmate in a magenta tank top, is perched on a couch in the Lozanos' family room for just that reason.

Since Guitar Hero became all the rage at school — a trend that Micucci credits to Lozano — she has been working on her skills and plans to buy the videogame fairly soon. "Everyone at my lunch table owns it," she says.

In the halls of Sheridan Hills Christian School, Lozano's red duffle bag is pretty much a fixture slung over his arm. Inside rests the black plastic guitar, about the size of a squash racket, adorned with stickers from In-N-Out Burger, Vans, and West Coast Choppers. He brings it everywhere. One teacher lets them play in class, Micucci says.

She recalls the time that the band instructor, Kevin Wright, let Lozano throw an after-school Guitar Hero party in the school's theater. Refreshments were served while Lozano and anyone brave enough to challenge him played on a big screen. Wright also let Lozano play the game at Wednesday-night summer youth group meetings at Sheridan Hills Baptist Church. When people watch him play, their contact lenses go dry, his fans say. Their eyes are that glued to the screen.

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