This week, a depressed Karaoke Jeff Roman rekindles his love with the art of microphone mimicry at Hamburger Harry's, with a little help from his family and an old haunt beforehand.
I had been in a serious karaoke funk since that horrible experience at Skyway Bowl. I never realized how much one bad karaoke night could affect me. For two weeks, when I thought about going somewhere to sing, I'd just remember that lifeless room with the KJ that was out to screw me, and it was seriously the last thing I wanted to do.
Last Saturday, my family gathered at the Atrium Bistro for lunch to celebrate my belated birthday. My dad requested that KJ Rogel be there so we could do some daytime singing. I almost told him not to bother, because I really wasn't in the mood. I got flashbacks of family parties from when I was a kid, where the Singing Machine would get broken out and I'd be forced to get up and sing when I all I wanted to do was play Atari.
Luckily my cousin Karlo, whom I hadn't seen in months, was there, because he always does a great job of sparking me up. After stuffing ourselves with an awesome spread of Filipino food, Karlo handed me a second San Miguel beer and told me he'd kick things off. He sang Sinatra's "The Summer Wind" and his voice was like butter. He's been singing standards from the time he was eight years old.
It snapped me out of the funk immediately.
My two older cousins, Fred and Luisa, were there as well, and they both have amazing voices. Watching them sing is like watching Ray Allen shoot a basketball. When I saw them tooling through the book I got really excited. Before they came on, cousin Luisa's 14-year-old daughter, Vanessa, got up and sang Journey, and it was one of the few times I wish I had a kid. The pride her folks must feel to know their kid is already an awesome performer has to be the best feeling ever.
After Vanessa killed, her six-year-old kid brother, Ian, got up and sang Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name" and I swear to God, it was one of the most awesome karaoke moments I've ever witnessed. His performance was shot right out of a cannon, and it blew everyone away. He was so confident and polished, and had so much command of the song. The Atrium doesn't normally host karaoke in the daytime, but the customers that were lucky enough to be in there that day got themselves a treat, because the hits just kept on coming.
My cousin Fred got up and sang Hall & Oates' "Sara Smile," and it was so smooth it made me realize I needed to work on my control. That's the difference between having a legitimate singing voice and just carrying a tune; you have to be committed to staying within your range. Cousin Luisa's pick was the Emotions' "Best of My Love," and she nailed it. I've heard that butchered so many times that I forgot how much I loved it. Songs like that should be kept in a special catalog behind the KJ station for people who can really sing.
I next decided to sing a song that I do incredibly well and love to ham up: "At This Moment," by Billy Vera & the Beaters. I needed to deliver something to prove I was part of this incredible family of singers. There was a laser disc malfunction right before the climax of the song and it got cut short but I still felt good about my performance.
I can go into how awesome my dad and uncles were, but Ian really stole the show. The people sitting at the bar and other tables were dialed in to every one of his selections. At that point realize karaoke doesn't have to be held in a dark bar after nine. We proved it works just as well in a restaurant in the daytime with family and friends.
When I left the Atrium, all I wanted to do was find another place to karaoke that night. It was my friends' turn to take me out for my birthday, so they took for a nice dinner in Wallingford. After dinner, I got them to go to Hamburger Harry's in Ballard, where they offer karaoke on Saturday nights.
I didn't know what to expect from the place. It's on Market about a block down from all the hipster haunts, and I wondered how much of a factor that would be. When we got there at nine, there were only a couple people around, so I was totally stoked to take the place over. I loved the atmosphere immediately. It's nice and dim with all windows at the entry wall so you could see people passing on the sidewalk. They also have cool sports and celebrity paraphernalia on the back wall.
My favorite part of the set-up is they have one main monitor on the wall behind all the tables. It's set in the perfect spot, so singers are naturally facing the crowd as they sing. The KJ's name was Fehrone, and we liked him immediately. He was very friendly, and I could tell he was going to make it a fun night. He kicked things off with the Tom Jones classic "Love is in the Air," and it was clear he'd definitely sung that number many many times.
My buddy Mike [Seely, the Weekly's managing editor] was excited to find Stevie Wonder's "Part Time Lover" because he would get to do a lot of freestyle scatting. He did a great job and scatted to his heart's content, but the lyrics were a bit late so it messed him up occasionally. It's key to let the KJ know whenever you encounter a glitch like that so he can stop using that version of the song (there are typically several versions in a given catalog).
I was up next and did a song I thought would be suicide but wound up working out great: Billy Joel's "Allentown." Billy Joel's karaoke song options are like a landmine of pitch disaster. A few years back I tried "Tell Her About It," and it was such a mess I gave up mid-song. Thankfully, Joel sang Allentown in his lower register, so I was able to stick in for most of it and it really delivered.
At this point, there are just a few people hanging and one house ringer. The ringer is a younger guy with a voice like Ronnie James Dio. He was so good it annoyed my buddy Riggins, because he thought the guy was showing off. I've gotten that feeling about good performers before, but I respected the fact this guy was there alone. If he really wanted to flaunt his voice, he could have gone to a busy place, but he was happy hopping into our five singer rotation. It's good to know there are other people out there like me that don't care about anything else but getting up as many times as they can.
Unlike the other spots in Ballard, the karaoke scene at Hamburger Harry's isn't out-of-control packed from the moment it starts. It's probably just a matter of time, however, so take advantage of the mellowness while you can.