Last Wednesday at Harlow's Saloon (on Ballard Avenue) was a great exercise in how to turn a dead karaoke night into an awesome one. I walked in at 9:15 to a bartender and two lone people bellied up in a big empty room, and it took a moment to realize karaoke was even happening. The KJ was set up next to the front door and I'd walked right passed him, but as soon as I saw him and the singer on the floor I was happy to stick around. I had a good laid-back buzz going. All the snow talk that day got me feeling frisky (thinking I'd be calling in stranded to work the next morning), so I'd already spent a few hours with some Rainiers and an ouzo at the Red Door.
It's a little old place where you can get together, with KK.
I grabbed a book and took a seat at the bar. The two other people at the bar were regulars and did not look like they were involved in the rotation. One of them happened to be an incredibly attractive brunette with glasses. I snuck a gander at her as I looked for my song and she instantly reminded me of the young Kelly LeBrock. I decided do "Let's Go" for my first number. I sang the hell out of it, but it didn't deliver. As energized as that original Cars version is, I just can't seem to bring it to life on the karaoke stage. I tried it the night before at Fourno's and didn't get a rise out of anyone there either.
The KJ was a stocky black guy named Johnny. As I went back to the drawing board he made his presence known by delivering an unforgettable rendition of Uncle Kracker's "Follow Me." I've always thought this song was the worst, but a deep soulful African-American voice can turn any piece of shit into a quality-sounding gem. I went from hating the song to loving it within the first two verses, and it's all because of the style he brought to it.
There was only one other singer, so I had to scramble to find my songs during her performances. I remember her being really good, but can't remember her name or a single number she did. She definitely deserves recognition because without her it would have been just Johnny and I singing, and two performers are not enough to sustain a karaoke night. I would have been out of there within a half hour.
Since I was under the gun to find a song, I didn't have much time to dwell on what I had coming up. Somehow I got the idea to sing "Stuck With You" by Huey Lewis. Just as I was about to sing it, the other person at the bar left, so we were down to five total bodies in the room. I felt kind of self-conscious as I started in, because the song is pretty cheesy and my last number had been kind of a flop, but my voice was at optimal strength and it gave me the confidence to go big with it. It worked out great. By the end of the performance I could tell I had everyone fully engaged.
When I returned to my seat, I was greeted by a high five from the girl. Her name was Kaitlin. She asked if I ever did "I Want a New Drug" and I told her I'd sing it next. Johnny took it up 10 notches with a country number. He sang James Otto's "Just Got Started Loving You", and with that performance joined the great DJ Fehronemo as my favorite KJ in town to watch sing. They both have the ability to turn any song into their own spectacular thing.
We maintained that tight three-singer rotation for a couple more rounds. My second Huey offering was pretty good. The lyrics move fast and I stumbled on a couple verses, but it was fine. As Johnny dazzled with an awesome rendition of Nora Jones' "Don't Know Why," Kaitlin was ready to get in the mix. Her first offering was "Lose Yourself" by Eminem and she did a great job. It was fun--she had perfect timing and delivered it with attitude. I thought it was pretty funny because just last week I went off on a guy for singing Eminem, but here's the deal: A beautiful woman can sing whatever she wants. While she was up there the bartender casually mentioned she did have a boyfriend, so I knew to lay off.
I stuck with '80s power ballads the whole night. As I sang "Don't You (Forget About Me)", my buddy Lex showed up. Shortly after he got there, our buddy Brad came and met up too. He'd just gotten out of the Bob Schneider show at the Tractor Tavern right across the street. Other people started filling into the bar at this point. Lex sang James Ingram's "Just Once," and Brad sang one of his standards, "At This Moment" by Billy Vera & the Beaters.
After I got back from singing a pretty decent Erasure number, "A Little Respect," Kaitlin asked if I was down to do a duet with her. I agreed, and she decided we should do "Love Shack." I told her I had no problem with that. This dude at the bar attempted to chat her up. He was working a horrible angle, asking her what she was going to perform and telling her how much he couldn't wait to hear her sing. She shot him down pretty abruptly. It was hilarious. I was so relieved that wasn't me. The guy was a tool, which made it even sweeter.
The dude did stick around to watch our performance. I've probably done that song about five other times in my life, but I've never sung it alongside someone as committed to the female part as Kaitlin was. She was on fire. I matched her energy with a powerful performance of my own, but delivered it differently than I normally do. Usually when I sing the B-52's, I try to channel Fred Schneider and sing it as flamboyantly as possible, but with that dude watching, I decided to sing it like a man. I did it in the style of Springsteen, and it wound up being the best duet I've ever been associated with.
The end of the night finally brought the rotation to around eight singers. Kaitlin got this one gal to sing Christina Aguilera's "Ain't No Other Man," and that brought the house down. We predicted this hippie-looking Ballard dude would be good, and he wound up coming through with an awesome "Just Like Heaven." The hits kept coming as this cute blonde ringer named Kaylee nailed "Rhiannon." And Johnny sealed his dominance with an amazing rendition of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy."