After the crazy trip I just returned from, I needed a mellow and familiar spot that could help me back into the swing of things. I'd never been to the T-Bird Tavern before, but it's a dive in Ballard and that's as familiar as it gets for me. About a month ago, I learned my buddies with Absolute Karaoke started a Saturday night there, and this place is less than five blocks from two of the most popular Saturday-night karaoke spots in Seattle (Tarasco and the Waterwheel), let alone Ballard, so I had a good feeling it would be chill.
I got there a minute after nine, and it felt as if the karaoke had been going for awhile. Someone was already up singing, and my friend Pat (co-owner of Absolute Karaoke) told me he had already sung "Winnie the Pooh." Rio was the KJ and she got things rolling early, which I thought was awesome. I understand the reasons places don't want to start the show until nine, but it would be great to have at least one option that gets things going earlier. A half hour is all I'm asking.
The bar had a comfortable amount of people there to start. Not too many, but enough to feel energy in the room. It was an older crowd, mostly people over 50. Most of them were in the bar area around the pool tables. There were a couple old-timers sitting on the karaoke side of the bar. One was a grizzled-faced man with a long white beard, the other was a jolly, drunk Asian guy (he kind of looked Filipino, but he wasn't), and it was them I targeted to try to impress.
Pat was hanging with three ladies at his table. I was thinking of joining them, but I really wanted to find a song, so I grabbed a book and sat on my own at the table behind them. I knew exactly what I wanted to start with. There was this early-'60s Buddy Holly-esque ditty (by Tommie Roe) I kept catching over and over again while I was on vacation. I'd hear it somewhere, it'd get stuck in my head, then I'd forget about it, then think of it the next day and go crazy trying to remember it--then I'd hear it again somewhere else. After the fifth time that happened, I finally wrote it down.
When Rio called me up I was super-nervous. I really wanted to get a rise out of those two old guys, but was worried I'd screw up. I'm as seasoned a karaoke pro as they come, but even I feel naked onstage the moments before I try a song I've never sung before. It wound up being fine. As I got through the first couple of verses I knew I had it, and it is an awesome song to deliver. I got the old Asian guy's attention, but gray-beard never turned his head once. One out of two ain't bad; would have been nice to get both, but still, this song was a thrill to sing. It's old, but nobody knows it, so I can totally claim it as my own. It's the best thing I brought back with me from the Philippines.
The rotation was mostly female singers that night. My favorite performance was by a gal at Pat's table named Getty. She told me she was nervous because this was only her second time singing and she was about to try a rap number. I never want to advise anyone on what to sing, but I was worried for her. I didn't know exactly what song she chose, but those rap numbers move real fast. When Rio called her name, Pat and I stood and watched to give moral support. The song wound up being the Sugar Hill Gang classic "Rapper's Delight." This may have only been her second time singing karaoke, but the way she delivered it, it sounded like she must have sung it ten thousand times in her car. It was flawless and so smooth that I could totally tell she barely needed to refer to the prompter. It's always funny to me when people discover they're ringers. She was very happy with her performance when she was done.
Around 11, Josh, the other owner of A.K., showed up and brought with him more chicks, and at that point I knew I'd be hanging around until close. He went the "waver" route and opened with a Depeche Mode number and followed it with an Erasure medley. He set out a tray of condoms at the KJ stand with their logo on them encouraging everyone to take one. He said "There's a lot of dirty microphones out there."
Pat, who absolutely killed with a dynamite rendition of Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," got his ass kicked by "Hands to Heaven" by Breathe. Someone asked him to sing it and he's fearless, but it was clear he had no idea how the song went.
Rio asked me to think up a duet for us to sing. The first thing I thought of was the Barry Gibb/Barbara Streisand '80s classic "Emotion," but Rio said her voice couldn't handle Babs that night. We wound up singing the song I'm always called on to sing with the ladies, "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around." She sounded awesome and I do a great Petty, but I need to work on the harmony.
The night ended on a great note. This white dude in his 30s in a Mariners cap, a white T, and baggy jeans started rapping freestyle to Kool & the Gang's "Get Down on It." It took a moment for Rio and I to understand what was going on, but soon realized he was really good. I've seen a ton of punks try to karaoke Eminem and just come off sounding like assholes, and recently heard Tom Hanks' son, "Chet Haze," make a fool of himself with his original raps, but this guy had tremendous flow. He sounded like a cross between Big Boi and Ice-T, and managed to drop in the phrase "panda piss" not once but twice. It was fun, funny stuff. I finally felt happy to be back home.