For those who have never heard of it, Rockaroke is karaoke backed by a live band. Conor Byrne brought in a band that did it a few years ago and it was pretty fun, but the problem was there was no prompter to read from. If a singer didn't know their selection by heart they had to read the lyrics from a sheet of paper, which barely helps because you still need to know when to sing. The band had a great list of songs to chose from, but without the security of a monitor they weren't getting too many people up to try it out. Most of the performers were friends of the band. I pulled off a decent "Don't Do Me Like That," but I remember my buddy totally dying on stage trying to remember the lyrics to "Against All Odds."
Teleprompters are for middle managers, not the Boss.
A few Fridays ago I hit the Crocodile for their debut night of Rockaroke (the next edition is Wednesday, Sept. 1). When I checked out the link that announced the event it provided a song list, and I was impressed by the depth of songs from each genre they were able and willing to perform. They could do it all: rock, country, pop, hip-hop, standards, you name it--but all I was looking for was something simple I knew every verse to. I wasn't about to take any chances on something I did not know backwards and forwards. I got to the bar ready with a short list of a couple Steve Miller and Eagles songs.
I arrived around 8:30 and there weren't many people there yet. The song being performed as I arrived was Lita Ford's "Kiss Me Deadly," and I could tell by the looks and vocal ability of the gal singing that she was a member of the backing band. It was loud and they rocked out on that big stage, and I remember thinking the five bucks I paid to get in was a more than fair price to get a feel of what it's like to be the lead singer of a band. There was an old bearded guy entering song requests on a laptop at a podium just below the stage. I turned in "The Joker" by Steve Miller.
The first non-bandmember performance I saw was a guy named John who sang the Petty/Nicks duet "Stop Dragging My Heart Around." John sang it like a pro and the gal did a great job backing him up with the Stevie parts, but he definitely was someone that was no stranger with this format. The first real "karaoke" performer was a gal named Lauren, and she did Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot." The way I could tell she wasn't another Rockaroke ringer was I could see her looking down at something as she sang. It was like she was reading from something. I walked up to the front of the stage where the request booth was to take a closer look, and sure enough there was a monitor set up on the floor. That device just took this game up ten notches.
I immediately changed my pick to "Born To Run." It's a song I'm never comfortable doing in a regular karaoke bar because it's so exhausting and a bit out of my range, but I needed to try it here. It is the Springsteen number everyone wants to hear, I've had a dream for years now of putting together a Bruce tribute band. So I figured this was finally my chance to see if I had what it took to be the Boss.
When they called my name and I took the stage, it was pretty crazy to look down at all the people. Eight out of ten karaoke bars I visit don't have an elevated stage, and the ones that do are about a foot high. I, however, was a good six-seven steps above floor level.
The prompter was front and center, the drummer counted off, and the band kicked it. I noticed immediately the tempo was just a bit slower than any karaoke disc version I had ever sung, but it still felt like it was in the same key. From the moment I sang the first line I knew I would have no problem reaching every note. Most of the song I can hang with, but the ending is brutal if I can't hit the notes. By the first chorus my voice was on fire and I abandoned the prompter. It was the first time I'd ever sung my hero's music with a live band, and I just kept thinking to myself: "I can really do this."
I crushed the ending where Bruce goes crazy with the screaming, and when it was over one of the guitarists turned to me and said "nice work." It was a dream come true.