Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Quest for Karaoke—Chapter Four

Posted By on Tue, May 4, 2010 at 4:49 PM

Having been somewhat disappointed with Boise's karaoke offerings so far, I decided it was time to get to a gay bar, where stereotype dictates that karaoke should be only an overpriced ticket and a smoking car trunk removed from a Broadway revue. So hope in my heart and feathers on my mind, I hit up The Balcony on a Sunday night, only to have the music drowned out by my sociology professors reminders that stereotypes aren't terribly accurate.

There were three clear problems with The Balcony's karaoke night: a near microscopic song catalog, an ambivalent audience and the risk of having a seizure while mid-chorus. I'm sure you're most confused by the third, so we'll save it to the end just to keep you reading.

My initial impression from looking through the catalog was that a bar manager had at some point sent a dishwasher on a mission to K-Mart to grab whatever karaoke CDs happened to be closest to the register, a suspicion that was semi-confirmed when I was told the discs had been purchased from Boise Weekly after they were used for an office party. The catalog was a pitiful half-inch. And while it may not be the size of the catalog so much as what you do with it, this catalog just lay there limply waiting for things to be over with. There were only two songs by the Rolling Stones and one by The Beatles. What it was that set Fixing a Hole apart from the rest of their catalog is a question even The Beatles themselves might struggle to answer. There was almost no showtunes, and four plus pages of the book had no no artists listed, filed simply as miscellaneous hits. While that's certainly a commentary on modern pop music, it's frustrating when you start to consider how many songs were popularized as covers, or that there are often songs with the same title but no relation whatsoever to one another. Both Tom Waits and Whitney Houston recorded songs called, Saving All my Love for You. Tool and Salt'n'Pepa both have tracks called Push It. The titles Sunday Morning, I Want You and Baby have no less than seven different songs to their credit apiece, all by established groups. And finally, in the ultimate insult, the catalog listed a song as being by Motley Crew. For shame...

But the worst part about the catalog was that all of the songs appeared to be by Sweet Georgia Brown, the muzak of karaoke offerings, using bad keyboard renditions instead of original recordings as the backing tracks and making awful sounds no one wants to sing along with for fear of being seen as guilty by association.

A small catalog can still be dense, offering diverse and challenging options to push the entertainment envelope. This was not that catalog.

It did have a strangely large amount of Alice Cooper though.

After turning a slip it quickly became clear that audience disinterest in the cavernous space was at record levels. Rather than taking part, most bar patrons hung far far back, even when their friends were singing. Disinterest was so high that the KJ briefly took to playing tracks sans singers just to fill time. And Mambo #5 barely works with vocals, so without... You get the idea.

When I was called to the stage for my crack at Paula Abdul's Straight Up, the mic felt good in my hand. This may not seem important, but there is a world of difference between a quality performance microphone and sound system versus flimsy Radio Shack filler that could very well crumble in your grip. A microphone should feel powerful, like pair of brass knuckles. It should have weight, a solid construction capable of taking a physical and verbal beating. A knight wouldn't go into battle armed with a tinfoil sword and no serious karaoketeer should take the stage armed with anything less than a battle-scarred cardioid-patterned Shure SM-58, and preferably a wireless one like they have at The Balcony.

But even the joy of that microphone quickly faded as the lyrics being projected on a large screen behind the stage, either through malfunction or evil design, began strobing colors that weren't only distracting, but actually gave me slightly spotted vision and something of a headache.

I stepped down from the stage frustrated. Where were the showtunes? The bombastic dance numbers involving hats made out of fruit? The spectacular bitchiness? I had a mean itch for Officer Krupke, or a stroll down Avenue Q and The Balcony wasn't delivering.

The mic was given next to a woman who sang the slightly predictable Cabaret, followed by a punk who did Elvis's version of Viva Las Vegas with the trademark Jello Biafra warble and then a flaming stringbean rendition's of Bad Romance by Lady Gaga.

From behind me I heard a lisped complaint. "He does that every week."

After that I decided to stick around a bit, turning in a slip for Fat Bottomed Girls, by Miscellaneous. But until that catalog gets chubbed up a bit, I'll have to seek my showtunes elsewhere.

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