Friday, July 23, 2010

Quest for Karaoke—Chapter Seven

Posted By on Fri, Jul 23, 2010 at 3:30 PM

A bold thesis is set when naming a bar "The Plank." It says raucous, it says mirthful, it says come here if you want your evening to get "whimsically criminal." So I definitely had expectations when setting sail for their karaoke night. I imagined being loaded to the gunwhales, swaying arm in arm with sweaty drunkards, spilling from tankards of grog as we crooned old sea shanties, or "The Piano Man," as if it were last call. All. Night. Long.

That was not quite the case. The Plank's karaoke night proved frustratingly even-handed with some jolly good stuff going for it, and some disappointments.

Whether singin' or going on the account, buccaneers need a map. For singin', the book is that map. Handed down through generations they are, so scalawags and gentlemen of fortune alike can sing and perhaps drop a few doubloons into the tip jar. And the book in question, was aggressively adequate. There were a few nice surprises, like the original Screamin' Jay Hawkins version of "I Put a Spell on You"—a fitting song for a pirate bar if ever there was one—and Desmond Dekker and Amy Winehouse tracks other than "Rehab."

But the book was also riddled with errors. Billy Joel songs ("Still Rock and Roll to Me") filed under Billy Idol, "Little Girls" by Oingo Boingo filed as "The Little Girl," "Be-Bop-a-Lula," filed under Gene Pitney rather than Gene Vincent. And those were just the ones I caught. That may not seem like a big deal, but when you're looking for something specific, or want to sing a song or artist that your memory is fuzzy on, those details can make a big difference. It's like trying to follow a treasure map full of mistakes and geographic features that don't exist.

But one can still muddle through with a book like that.

A faulty sound system however is like a leaky pirate ship, and no buccaneer should set one foot on board expecting anything but failure. And while there aren't any direct problems with The Plank's PA, it ain't doing much either. The wired mic is of decent quality, but an uncomfortable shape that feels off in the hand. There is no mic stand or monitors. And because The Plank is pub-sized more than club-sized—a sloop more than a man-o-war—there is a volume cap which can throw the mix off depending on the song or singer. But it gets the job done just fine. A pirate can get by on gruel alone.

However, if there was a single way to sum up The Plank's karaoke night, it would be disconnected. The people in the bar, even the ones singing, sequestered themselves as far away from the action as possible and went on with their conversations oblivious. Until much later in the evening when the space was at more of a premium, it was practically a junior high dance with karaoke on the boys' side of the gym and everyone else on the girls'. This was the major contributing factor to the even-handedness of the affair. No one gave a balls-out performance. No one danced like they were a little "too into it." No one got shitfaced and sang "Do You Think I'm Sexy," in a thick Scottish accent. But, that's not necessarily bad. I got to sing five songs in a relatively short time. And an environment that free of interest and therefore judgment, might be the only place I'd feel comfortable dropping Buck Owens or "The Monster Mash." Those are certainly advantages the scalawags have over the privateers. But whether that's what you want in a a karaoke night depends heavily on the singer and situation. Were I trying to "drink you off my mind," as The Rolling Stones might say, it could be just the thing. But this evening, I was hoping for high adventure, a thrilling evening full of colorful characters and outrageous exploits. That didn't happen. But now I have "The Monster Mash" in my repertoire to show for it. So the evening was far from a loss.

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