Someone singing "Cult of Personality" by Living Colour could be heard from the street as I walked up the stairs to the Highline on Broadway last Tuesday. I was there to check out this thing they promote called "Cakearoke"--karaoke with vegan cake--and when I walked in I was so relieved to see I wouldn't be forced to eat any. For months, I held off on reviewing the place for fear there would be a table of assorted slices set up next to the microphone stand that I'd have to sample while singing.
I arrived around 11 p.m. and took a seat at the long bar at the back end of the room. On the floor were a solid 25-plus patrons. No one looked much older than 30. There was one big table of about 12 people that anchored that night's rotation, and all the rest were smaller groups of three and four.
Despite its misleading name, this event is far from a gimmick. They do as good a job as any place to make you feel as though you are witnessing an actual produced show. The tables on the floor are arranged to focus on their elevated stage, and they have this very enthusiastic host named River (also known as James) who gets onstage between every performance to stir up applause for the last singer and give a nice personalized introduction the upcoming one. KJs normally announce who is next from their host station, and a lot of them are set up right beside the stage. But that extra move to center stage added a spike of professionalism that captured my imagination. I pictured myself being at an awards ceremony or a celebrity roast.
I was pretty intimidated from the start. The first few performers were really talented. I recognized this one singer named Bruce who qualified for the Karaoke World Championships a couple years back with a spot on rendition of "Back in Black" by AC/DC. This time he showed his mellow side with a sweet and raunchy offering of The Stones' "Under My Thumb." Then there was this guy who sang Eddie Money's "Take Me Home Tonight" that was so good it almost made me forget about how much of a weirdo Money has turned into since doing that stupid Geico commercial.
The best female performance of the night was a cute skinny gal in a stocking cap and lavender skirt who went by the name Jildo. She went all-out with the Bruce Channel 50's classic "Hey Baby." My favorite male performer, Wilson, sang my usual go-to number, "Thunder Road," and he totally brought the house down with it. I wasn't planning on drinking, but realized right then that I had to pound my PBRs to in order to come through the way everyone else was that night.
Around 12:30, River finally put himself in the mix and entertained the crowd with one of his standards, Frankie Avalon's "Beauty School Dropout" from the Grease soundtrack. Shortly after his number I realized he had a co-host that took care of dialing up the songs. Her name was Mary and, along with a friend, she sang a duet of "Close My Eyes Forever" by Lita Ford and Ozzie Osborne.
I was a ball of nerves when River called me up to sing "Rocket Man," but it all worked out. The sound was awesome, and the Highline's stage is simply one of the best in town to sing from.
The Highline, 210 Broadway E, 328-7837, CAPITOL HILL