Most of the time I have ideas for k-bars stacked up weeks in advance, but this past week I found myself on a Monday still not knowing where to sing. When that happens I just turn to the latest edition of the NW Karaoke Guide. I don't read the articles but this two-page list they have of karaoke bars throughout western Washington is my Bible. Scanning through all those spots from Aberdeen to Yelm every month just gets my heart a-thumpin'.
Singing America will cleanse her from your soul. And loins.
As I read through my options I spotted three venues in Lynnwood within about a mile of each other that had karaoke on the same night: Marco's Lounge, Taster's Wok and the 13th Ave Pub . Naturally, I decided to hit all three to find out which place had the best Monday night crowd. I live for the solo karaoke bar crawl; I do it in Greenwood all the time. That's the advantage of having three seven-night-a-week spots within walking distance of my home: The Rickshaw, Mandarin Gate, and Yen Wor Garden.
Just like the last time I sang in Lynnwood, at One Eyed Jacks, I wanted to get my look just right. I spent my early teen years growing up in Brier hanging with older kids that attended Mountlake Terrace High and it still matters very much to me to fit in with Snohomish County people. I threw on my lightest pair of jeans, a "Greetings from Asbury Park" baseball tee, and my old-school satin Seahawks jacket. After checking myself out in the mirror I realized it's pretty much how I dress every other day.
Before making the move north I had to map out the bar sequence. Some places pick up later than others and I wanted to be sure that first spot had customers to start out. The 13th Ave Pub clearly sounded like a sports bar that would most likely have a bunch of people watching Monday Night Football, so I went there first. My hope was to get two songs in at each place.
I arrived at the 13th Ave around eight and even before I could take a seat at the bar a dude was all over me about how much he loved my jacket. It was exactly the reception I was shooting for. It's a pretty sharp place located in the middle of a strip mall with a bunch of TVs, pool tables, and dartboards. Most of the clientele were in their 20's to 30's and the bartenders were very nice. It seemed like everyone knew each other.
The Titans/Jags game was well into the third quarter, but I had a good feeling karaoke would not be starting at 9:30 as scheduled. I was a bit concerned that I allowed myself too much time for drinking, but when I found out a short can of Rainier was $4 it made it easy to take it easy. I spent most of my time looking through their songbook stockpiling songs to last me the entire night. They had a big, well-organized catalog and I knew whoever ran the show would have all the songs on the computer.
KJ Monique started setting up after the game was over. They have an elevated stage set up in the back corner. One of the bartenders clocked out and took a seat next to one of the regulars a couple stools away from me. They got into a heavy discussion about new bands and classic rock. I didn't give too much of a crap about how I was going to do until I started eavesdropping on their conversation. It seemed like both of them knew their stuff. Hoping to see if they were down with Springsteen, I decided to go with "Thunder Road" for my opener.
There were a couple groups of people hanging out at the tables near the stage but half of them were preoccupied with a game of darts. The first singer performed Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reason." She sounded great, but not too many people noticed. It was still early, but the anchor of a good karaoke night is a solid crowd giving their undivided attention to the show.
My "Thunder Road" was shaky and flat. It's really hard to get fired up when you look down at an audience that isn't paying any attention to you. And just like in Seattle, people are indifferent to the Boss. I didn't even get the slightest reaction from the music dudes the bar. I decided my next song would be about pleasing nobody else but me.
That first rotation was eight singers deep, and were mostly the people sitting at the table playing darts near the stage. To be fair, they weren't really paying attention to each other's performances either. The scene here reminded me of how things were early in the night at The Bullpen in Seatac and Casey's in Kent: quality set up, but too wide open an area to keep the focus on the stage.
For my next and final number, I sang "Bell Bottom Blues" by Derek & the Dominos. The song's been on my mind for weeks and I wanted to sing something I could really feel. From the moment the song began, I was dialed in. This song breaks my heart. Not wanting to be distracted again by the chattering crowd below, I kept my eyes closed through most of it. Normally, I think it's kind of cheesy and affected when people do that, but I really just wanted to bond as best as I could with the song. I've done it in the past in the intended key and my voice would always buckle during the chorus, but this time I had Monique turn it down half a notch and, voilà, it was just right. As I tabbed out, the bartender and another dude told me they liked my singing, so I was able to end things there on a high note.
It took but five minutes to get to the next venue, Marco's Lounge. Nobody was singing when I arrived at 11. There were only five people sitting clear on the other side of the bar, but this karaoke stage here was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. The backdrop was a an drapery gorgeously lit from below. It looked straight out of MTV Unplugged.
As I sat down to check out the book I was greeted by an old friend: Joel, the KJ from the Rickshaw. He was just as surprised to see me as I was to see him. I told him what I was up to and he said this was the best kept secret in all of Lynnwood. Unlike the Rickshaw, this place has a high-end sound system and computerized catalog. I didn't care that no one was there, I just wanted to see what it was like to sing up there.
One artist I'm always shy about singing is Jackson Browne. I seem to know a lot of his songs a little bit, but not well enough to risk singing. I asked Joel to fire me up "Rock Me On the Water." I sat on the stool looking out at that empty room and imagined myself being one of the performers in "The Last Waltz" doing a pre-concert sound check. Two verses in I fell behind, got completely lost, and wound up asking Joel to kill it. As hard as I try to will myself through a song I'm not sure of, the bottom line is a singer really needs to know the number backwards and forwards in order to stand any chance of landing it.
I took another crack at "Thunder Road" and did it in a softer style this time. It was a lot looser than my first try, but it's definitely a number I need to add to the list of cuts I do with the key turned down. Since no one was singing I went ahead and did two more. "Peg" by Steely Dan is something I always felt would be very satisfying to sing, but I was not pulling off Donald Fagen at all. That was something I was happy to learn in the privacy of an empty bar. My "Sister Golden Hair" did hit the spot. Any America fan who's ever been crazy for a blond should try that one out. It's very cleansing to the soul.
Before heading to my final destination, I asked Joel if he knew anything about Taster's Wok. He said it was Lynnwood's equivalent of the Rickshaw. I took that as a good thing. It took three minutes to get there, and when I arrived it totally reminded me of the Rickshaw. It's a brightly lit Chinese restaurant that offers karaoke seven nights a week and has a well established core of regular singers.
It was midnight, and I knew there was no way I'd be called up more than once. Just like at The 13th Ave Pub I was given a warm greeting as I entered. This black guy sitting at the bar shook my hand and welcomed me in. He didn't work there, he was just nice. Karaoke people are the best. We're all singing on a Monday night. What's there not to be happy about?
Just like the Rickshaw, the singers were hit and miss, but very supportive of everyone who took the stage. Everybody clapped for everybody. That's how good karaoke bars do. The KJ's name was Carla and she was super friendly, and their catalog ran circles around the Rickshaw's. Sometimes I can't believe that place is still considered by many to be the best place to karaoke in Seattle. I have a soft spot for it, but if I'm being honest, the sound isn't that great there either.
There was a tone deaf dude struggling with an Allan Jackson song. He was eventually bailed out by his buddy, who should have sung the thing from the start. The black guy's name was Terry and he had a remarkable voice. Watching him perform Babyface's "Sorry for the Stupid Things" took me back to that epic night at Loafer's in Maryland where every singer was singing that type of random R&B at the highest level. I sang "Born to Run," but by that time my voice was shot.
I enjoyed every spot, but if I were to recommend one I'd have to say Marco's Lounge. The other two spots need no endorsement; they've already got things in full swing. This Marco's is a place just waiting to be taken over. As empty as it was, it easily had the best atmosphere of the three. The microphoness sound great, they have a huge song selection and I cannot say enough about how gorgeous the stage is. The place has everything going for it except the crowd. But hopefully, it'll only be a matter of time.