I covered every base of my karaoke life this past Memorial Day weekend. I sang in my neighborhood (Greenwood) on Friday, with Filipinos Saturday afternoon, my regular spot (Tarasco) Saturday night and, on Sunday, I hit a place I've never been: the Tug Tavern. (Its name has technically been changed to the Tug Inn, but no one who's been going there for any amount of time calls it that.)
"Sweet Caroline" might be Diamond's driver, but he's got plenty of clubs in his bag.
Friday night was lame. I walked over to the Greenwood Yen Wor around ten and the sound was fucked up. The place was packed, people were having fun and I was enjoying delicious Jager shots and deep-fried chicken drumlets, but my seat at the end of the bar was right underneath a speaker, and the mics were up way too loud. It caused every singer to sound like they were screaming. I looked down at the people along the bar as this girl sang "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and everyone showed visible discomfort. Her voice was in tune but it came out harsh and distorted. Even the bartender winced, but she didn't tell the KJ about it. There was no way I was going to point it out to him. On a busy night that's a surefire way to the top of any host's shit list.
Instead, I wound up pissing off the Baranof's KJ.
It was as super busy as always. I focused more on the drinking when I first got there. My buddy John had met up with me by this point and I didn't want to be rude and read the book as we hung out.
After I hit some tequila it started getting me in the mood to sing, but I didn't have a slip up. "That's All" kicked in overhead, but was quickly turned off because the singer requested a different song. It gave me the idea for what I wanted to sing. I was so excited I ran up to the KJ and asked her, "Off the top of your head...." and as the words left my mouth I realized what a stupid thing it was that I just did. I think I've been too spoiled by these computerized set-ups because there is no way a laser disc KJ would ever know any song number by heart. She shook her head, waved me off and said, "I don't know anything off the top of my head. You need to look in the book."
I knew I was completely in the wrong, but she fired back in such a crabappley manner that I couldn't resist asking her some follow-up questions, "Can I sing the song that guy just turned down? 'That's All'? It's on this disc right now, right?" She just ignored me. When I turned to the book I found (after nine years) they had finally alphabetized and reorganized all of their songs. Then I felt even more stupid for asking her to look up a song for me. I turned in ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man," sang it five singers later, and got out of there.
Saturday I headed up to my dad's in Snohomish County. He had a bunch of old high school friends from the Philippines visiting from out of town. The weather prevented us from doing the 50's acoustic guitar sing-along on his back deck, so we kept it in the living room and used the Magic Mic.
For those who don't know, a Magic Mic is a self-contained karaoke microphone you connect to the television. It takes memory chips that hold around 2,000 songs, and you punch in song requests directly from the mic itself. Many of these units come from the Philippines and pretty much every Filipino I know has one. The production quality is decent enough, but the sound quality is only as good as the stereo it plugs into.
I did a couple songs that, to me, sounded like shit, so I had to hit Tarasco on my way home to redeem myself. I did a couple numbers I'd been itching to sing from the Soft Rock Café set list. I went straight for "Nights are Forever" by England Dan & John Ford Coley, and "Swayin' to the Music (Slow Dancin)" by Johnny Rivers, Both were very satisfying to sing.
I had a feeling when I woke up Sunday morning that the Tug was going to be awesome that night. Sunday night karaoke comes alive on three day weekends, and the Tug's Sunday has been such a hit they just added karaoke to Wednesday night. I arrived around ten with my main partners in croon, Mike [Seely, SW's managing editor] and [his wife] Cary. We'd been drinking an assortment of mixed drinks, Italian beer and tequila shots at our friend Tim's birthday party for a couple hours, so we were good and loose.
The entire bar area was packed, so we set up shop at a table just inside a billiards room that was completely vacant. Just as I figured, it was a total party atmosphere. The crowd was young and, unlike my neck of the woods, had a good mix of blacks and Hispanics. I was anxious to hear songs I don't normally get to see picked, and it didn't take long for someone to deliver. A black guy in a brown sweater in his early forties sang a super smooth rendition of Bobby Caldwell's "What You Won't Do for Love."
We all turned got our slips up right away. Mike and Cary's buddy Pete showed up, so the four of us decided to make the most of the empty pool room and shoot some stick. It was great having something to do while waiting for our songs to get called up, but I was really stinking it up with the cue. I was passed that point of the drunkenness helping my game. Cary was my teammate and she was so encouraging before all my shots, but I was missing everything.
Mike's first offering was "Dixieland Delight" by Alabama. This was one of our favorite songs in high school. I learned through experience it's not that fun to sing because vocal harmonies are added throughout the song and you're constantly singing alongside other voices. I'd never heard him sing it before so I wasn't sure he knew that, but it still sounded great. (Later, Mike would also draw from the Soft Rock Cafe setlist, singing "When I'm With You" by Sheriff, which contains the highest note ever recorded. Mike failed to hit it.)
There were some good random picks that got the whole crowd singing along that night. I can't believe in all my times at the Little Red Hen I've never heard anyone sing "I Love This Bar" by Toby Keith. People went crazy over that one. Another guy pulled off a legitimate, not-fucking-around "That's Amore," and Pete busted out an awesome "Help Yourself" by Tom Jones.
I've been stoked about the re-release of the Rolling Stones' legendary album Exile on Main Street, so I tried my luck at "Tumbling Dice." I'm pretty gun-shy when it comes to singing the Stones because I've misunderstood most every verse Mick Jagger has ever sung, and when I read them from the prompter they're nothing like the words I know to sing. This song is a perfect example. You have to listen to it over and over again to get what he's saying. I decided not to rely on reading the lyrics and focus on my showmanship. I have two really good Jagger moves: the chicken walk, and the clap and point your finger around the room. I milked them through the entire song and the crowd seemed to enjoy it.
My favorite performance of the night was this dude that sang "Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show." Thank you, sir, for showing us all that there are songs by Neil Diamond other than "Sweet Caroline." I cannot believe no one has dipped into the goldmine that is that man's karaoke catalog. It makes me wish I was more of a Diamond fan because there are so many songs to choose from.