Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Quest for Karaoke—Chapter Three

Posted By on Wed, Apr 21, 2010 at 5:07 PM

It was clear the instant I walked through the door that Humpin' Hannah's had a lot going for its Thursday karaoke night: The space was fantastic, with a large stage and a booming sound system. An older, but super-enthusiastic crowd was lurching and gyrating across the dance floor to a singer not remotely bothered that his voice was somewhere between the pimply teenager from The Simpsons and Rosanne Barr's infamous attempt at the national anthem. And when he was finished, the KJ, Heidro X (take notes ya'll cause that's how KJ names are done), snatched up the mic with the sass of a sailor on leave and not a trace of wacky morning radio speak. It didn't even matter that the bar was cluttered with wagon wheels and antlers and road signs and all manner of formulaic family restaurant chic. Not while an open forum was provided for such well-received cacophony. Two nearly round older men even got up and freestyled their own lyrics over The Sky is Crying, by Stevie Ray. And though it sounded genuinely awful, even SRV himself would have seen that performance as the truest spirit of the blues, and the by hook or crook act of musical release that makes karaoke great.

Sadly however, the glamor was short-lived when I looked through the book. There was a good supply of tracks that jumped the shark long ago like The B-52s Love Shack, or Picture by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow. But aside from those 15 songs that haunt KJ's and bartenders dreams, the song catalog was nearly devoid of even marquis and cornerstone tracks. There were only two Pat Benetar choices, a woman with more gold singles than Mastah P's grill. Kylie Minogue was in there, but without Come Into My World. I'd never even heard of the songs they had by The Cars, and I have all their albums. There were two versions of Del Shannon's Hats Off to Larry, to one Runaway. If not Sparta, then this was clearly madness.

There were however an absurd number of offerings by Randy Travis and Patsy Cline, which indicates that perhaps Hannah's simply knows its clientele. But that doesn't mean they know karaoke. Patsy Cline's got some mean cuts—her version of Hank William's Lovesick Blues and Today Tomorrow and Forever, aside from the obvious hits. But you'll never hear anyone stray from the path of Crazy and Walkin' After Midnight. In my many years of karaokeing, I've never even once heard anyone attempt I Fall to Pieces or I've Got Your Picture, likely because the divine Miss Cline set such a high bar. As for Randy Travis, the only person who sings his songs is Carrie Underwood. Now I'm not saying it's outside the realm of possibility that someone might want to slum it a bit, but why pad a catalog like that and ignore the whole of the 80s that karaoke is built on?

Again, if not Sparta...

Frustration grew when what I was told would be a 15 or 20 minute wait to sing grew to over an hour because Misses X took a long break. I'm hardly a slavedriver, but a KJ doesn't need a break. Almost their entire job is a break. They only work for 30 seconds every five minutes. And while the music playing during the break was rad—I love me some Kriss Kross—I and everyone else was there to sing. If we wanted to hear Kriss Kross we would have sang it. When Misses X returned, she brought back someone she knew to sing twice before cycling through all the singers. This seems petty, but that's exactly the kind of thing that frustrates patrons enough to take their business elsewhere, especially if the KJ is well enough known and liked to create an elite inner circle who become the only people that get a chance to sing, a fairly common occurrence wholly outside the democratic ideals of karaoke. Why is it that we as a society can go after corruption in banking, but are content to leave it be in our artistic institutions?

Still, despite all that. When I finally got my chance to wail Just a Gigalo (The David Lee Roth version), that stage was awesome, a model for other joints to follow. Sadly though, not quite awesome enough to balance the poor song catalog and make Hannah's an official karaoke destination. It is however a strong contender for the Thursday night title.

The quest continues...

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