Empty Mic, Open Mouth
Welcome to Professor Birk's classroom.
Today's topic: Karaoke.
Thursday, January 4, 2001
Pronounce it however you want, "karaoke" still means "empty orchestra." (Linguists take note: The "kara" means empty--like "karate" or "empty hand"--and "oke" is a foreshortened version of "okeustra"--orchestra. Don''t you feel smart now?)
Most...ahem...karaoke scholars... agree that the craze began in Kobe, Japan. Once upon a time, a band failed to arrive at a hole-in-the-wall bar. The owner, in an attempt to sell a little more sake, threw on some old tapes of Elvis and The Beatles. Then, as the sake took control of the evening, he let the people get up on stage and sing along into the microphone and the fad soon swept through Japan. Even if it''s not true, it''s a good story.
But, grasshopper, lest you think karaoke is simply a pastime for besotted would-be singers, listen up: Students from Japan have given credit to karaoke as their favorite way to learn the English language.
"Singing along to Elvis is a lot different than studying Charles Dickens in a stuffy classroom," one student pointed out on the web. Duh.
Karaoke wasn''t such a big hit when it crossed the Pacific and came to America. Bars and clubs didn''t pick up on it right away and, without the booze to lower people''s inhibitions, karaoke wandered down the pathway to ultimate failure.
But it wasn''t just the lack of booze--the music wasn''t very good, either. Most of it was conducted over a Casio keyboard or other Muzak-esque symphonic instrumentation. This began to change when the vocal tracks were eliminated from the original music tracks, and screens were added that could flash the words of the songs to any lazy bastard who couldn''t be bothered with memorization.
Then, once upon another time, a bar (somewhere in the great Midwest, probably) began regular karaoke competitions. Meanwhile, Japanese students at colleges in the United States would hold their own sacred crooning sessions in dorm rooms and lounges.
The...ahem...art...of karaoke is a strange one. It isn''t a game just for professionals. You need no skill. At anything. Nothing at all. Talent does not stand between you and three-and-a-half minutes of complete fame.
The drunken madness known as karaoke is ripe in Monterey County. For the sake of your unreleased New Year''s demons, here''s where to go.
Tonight you can mingle with one of the best karaoke extravaganzas in town at Characters sports bar. DJ Marty hosts this show, but those who steal it are usually the ones flailing around the stage. One lady I saw walked up, beer in hand, and belched out Madonna''s "Like a Virgin" in a range that must have been close to baritone. The regular singers make it a complete performance, with costumes and a crazed look in their eyes like some kind of old shaman channeling Elvis, Prince, and the Oakridge Boys. The song list here is extensive, and many of the songs are best sung in groups, which takes the edge off of performing.
On Sunday comes the queen of all downtown karaoke nights--the unofficial competition at Britannia Arms. Prizes in the past weeks have included neon signs, fake dog poop, sweaters, and a card for a free appetizer at the bar every week for one year. With great prizes like that, how can you go wrong?
Karaoke Contest, Sunday, 9:30pm. Britannia Arms, 656-9543.
If you survive Sunday without having to hit the confession booth (again), Monday at the Mucky Duck will undoubtedly cook your goose. It is hosted by guitar player Bryan Diamond and his lovely assistant Sandrine. The songs heard most often are by Patsy Cline as sung by ''Rocco'' the crooning GI. (Sometimes it is hard to be a woman trapped in an ape''s body.) As with most karaoke nights, there is no crowd to please in terms of vocal range or soulful stage presence. Wild a cappella versions of "Freebird" are a main-stay at the ''Duck.
There is only you, a blue little screen, and whatever other mad patrons who might be ready to dance and sing along with you. What are you waiting for?
Karaoke w/ Brian Diamond, Monday, Mucky Duck, 655-3031.
If, however, you still haven''t been persuaded to dance to your own drum machine and make your own kind of music, you can catch some live music at Blue Fin Billiards on Thursday...no, wait. There''s a band at Blue Fin on Satur...oops, sorry. No there isn''t. It seems the new general manager at Blue Fin, Michael Livingston, has cut live music down to one night each week: Friday. This Friday, High Street, featuring Rob Melendez and Blaise DiGirolamo, are the lucky winners of the weekly open slot.
High Street, Friday, 9pm. Blue Fin Cafe and Billiards, 375-7000.
Across the Row, however, at Sly McFly''s, you can shake your thang on Friday to The MoFo Party Band, a Fresno-based blues group that features brothers John and Wild Bill Clifton (who were both sidemen with the late, great blues guitarist, Luther Tucker). On Saturday night, Bay Area blues harmonica player RJ Mischo returns to Sly''s.
The MoFo Party Band, Friday, 9pm; RJ Mischo, Saturday, 9pm. Sly McFly''s, 649-8050.