Monday Tuesday Karaoke in Utah

Richard plays a saxophone cover of 'hello' during karaoke night at Keys on Main in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016.Richard plays a saxophone cover of “Hello” during karaoke night at Keys on Main in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016.

It’s been interesting getting used to a different karaoke scene. Back in Chico, I knew where I could go out and sing every night of the week, even when it wasn’t practical to go.

Since I moved back to Utah nearly three months ago, I’ve gone out to karaoke four times with last Tuesday being the latest. Part of my challenge is that I now work most evenings, except for Monday and Tuesday. The pickings have been relatively slim, but I’ve still been able to find some gems.

Although my sample set for testing is limited, I’ve been impressed with the quality of the performers in Salt Lake City. Conversely, I was disappointed by the general unprofessionalism of the karaoke night I found in Provo on Monday. I’ve also been happy to take advantage of late-evening runs on the TRAX light rail and FrontRunner commuter trains, although it does end my evening at around 11:30 p.m.

Beginning with a Twist

My first time getting back on the karaoke horse was last month at Twist, located just north of 400 South and Main Street in Salt Lake. It was in what could be described as a small street or alley, so I didn’t know what to expect. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised when I walked up to the establishment. The entrance was raised and set back from the street. Patrons have to walk up some broad, shallow steps and past an enclosed patio to enter the restaurant.

Inside, the establishment was divided into three areas. The main serving area was the top-most level with the bar and kitchen. I didn’t immediately see the karaoke setup, so I headed down the stairs to a basement that included a smaller bar area and bar games, including pinball.

The basement area was too small to host karaoke so I headed up a second set of stairs and discovered a mid-floor that housed some restrooms. As I made my way around the space, I thought that it seemed a little risky to have so many stairs in an establishment that caters to people drinking alcohol, especially with the restrooms on a mid-level. Thankfully, some of my concerns were ameliorated when I discovered a second set of restrooms on the main floor — there really wasn’t a reason to go down the stairs unless a patron was partaking of games in the basement.

When I reached the top of the second set of stairs, which ended near the back of the business, I could see the karaoke setup. I didn’t immediately see the karaoke host, so I moseyed to the bar and waited, somewhat distracted by the large projection screen hanging over the opening to the basement.

The evening was off to a slow start, which is unfortunately pretty predicatable for most karaoke nights. Thankfully, the night eventually started and I was able to pick up a mic and have some fun.

My setlist was a mix of songs that are particular favorites and one Fourth of July song because the holiday had just passed. I warmed up to the karaoke host when he was surprised that he had Los Cadillac Fabulosos’ “El Matador” in his library. He was eager to sing it himself on a future night.

Here are the songs that I picked for that night:

  • “Mr. Blue Sky” by ELO.
  • “El Matador” by Los Cadillacs Fabulosos.
  • “America the Beautiful” by Ray Charles.
  • “Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room)” by Flight of the Conchords

The set up was basic — the by-now common laptop connected to a sound system. I don’t remember where the flat-screen monitor was on a stand or a table top, but it was an average situation with no serious demerits.

The crowd began to trickle in. Many of the first people to sing seemed like regulars and their friends. A couple of the regulars seemed to be fairly talented and I found myself thinking about the quality of performers possibly being a little higher in Salt Lake than relatively small Chico.

It was fun to sing again, although I’ve gotten a bit self-concious about singing after watching a recording I made at a live concert where I’m heard singing along with the crowd on a song. This self-conciousness has extended to when I sing along with the radio in the car. It’s not enough to deter me from singing or staying away from challenging songs, but it’s a good reminder that I’m still a rank amateur and these evenings are just for fun (especially when singing difficult tunes, like “El Matador”).

All too soon though, I noted I had to catch the light-rail back to my car before the system shut down for the night. As much fun as it is, I definitely I don’t want to be stranded away from home for the evening.

Unlocking Keys on Main

About three weeks ago, I stopped in a place across from Gallivan Center on Main Street that advertised karaoke on Tuesday — Keys on Main. As with Twist, I didn’t have a good idea of what to expect but the evening was ultimately a success.

The evening got off to a slow start — I guess it would be more noteworthy if a karaoke night actually started on time. There was a small group taking turns singing, so there was already a modest rotation by the time I added my name to the list.

As with Twist, there seemed to a handful of regulars joined by a small group of others. So far, I haven’t really seen a place since I’ve returned to Utah that was hopping. That’s probably because of the day of the week — two years ago, I went to a place off of Highland that eventually got crowded, but it was on a Saturday.

Whatever the crowd, the regulars were definitely solid singers. One fellow named Richard even brought a saxaphone to play Lionel Richie’s “Hello” as a solo and then joined Millie as a duet called “Millard.”

The set up at Keys was as professional as Twist and DJ Wes ran a pretty tight show. Instead of being casually set up in a corner of the bar, Keys’ karaoke set up on small stage that also accommodated dueling pianos (which were actually keyboards that were turned off, much to my disappointment). I definitely like having a stage to perform on, but any place that isn’t cramped or awkward is OK.

My song selection was based on tunes that I like singing, but haven’t had a chance to sing in a while.

  • “Little Lion Man” by Mumford and Sons.
  • “Fat Bottomed Girls” by Queen.
  • “Here For a Good Time (Not a Long Time)” by Trooper

Some of the songs have generally gotten a good response (like Queen), while others are just fun, like the Trooper tune. After I sang “Here for a Good Time,” a couple of guys said they really enjoyed it and wanted to know the artist. They were interested to learn that it was a band from Canada, which they reasoned why they didn’t know the song.

Again, I had to leave early so I didn’t get stranded. One patron was generous enough to offer me a ride to the train station, but I had plenty of time to get back to Salt Lake Central Station.

Disappointment in Provo

On Monday, Aug. 15, I decided to finally check out the limited downtown Provo night scene. While I’m happy to live in downtown, there’s only three late-night spots on Center Street and I have had no real compulsion to visit any of them. For example, City Lights looked appealing on the outside, I was turned off by photos of interior’s light wood paneling that screams family basement from the ’70s.

I’m not going to say which establishment I visited because what I found might get them in trouble (although there may be enough context clues for someone to take a big guess and figure it out).

I was pleasantly pleased when I first entered the business. It felt a bit like a dive, but I prefer places that are comfortable and a little lived in. I was excited when I heard somone singing on a back stage. The crowd seemed pretty diverse, although tending to be on the younger side. Overall, it was a pleasant surprise considering what I was expecting from Provo. 

I grabbed a beverage and headed back to see if I could sign up for a song, even though it was getting late. I stopped in my tracks when I saw that the karaoke host was using YouTube to play the karaoke tracks. I politely waved at the karaoke host when he looked my way, but I decided I wasn’t going to try to sing that night.

I’m generally positive about karaoke tracks on YouTube … at home. It’s exciting that several karaoke music companies post their music videos to YouTube. It can be great fun to do YouTube karaoke at a house party.

However, a professional karaoke event is not a house party. Some things that people can get away with at a house party can’t fly in a place of business. For example, playing a stereo or watching a football game is generally OK at home with a small group of friends. At a local business, the owner needs to have a license or face fees from licensing groups.

The main problem with YouTube is that it is generally licensed for private, personal use. I don’t know if Google has a YouTube that’s available for commercial use.

In some ways, it doesn’t matter as the KJ handled YouTube in an amateurish way. The YouTube status bar was often visible during performances and autoplay would automatically start another (unrelated) video after the singer was done.

On top that, the KJ would scramble to mute the sound when an ad came up. Overall, I wasn’t impressed with the host. He was obnoxiously enthusiastic and interacted with performers to the point where it was distracting. Toward the end of the evening, he jokingly cursed at the audience for not being engaged.

But seriously, YouTube karaoke could be trouble

I am not a lawyer, but my impressison is that karaoke hosts generally need to use tracks licensed for commercial use — they can’t just download them from iTunes. There may be some winking at these restrictions (I don’t know how many karaoke hosts or regular people who can vouch for every song in their library). However,  using YouTube as a core component of a professional gig seems like an invitation for trouble, especially if a licensing group does decide to look closer at an establishment or KJ.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. When I shared my concern online, one friend who’s a KJ responded: “Very unprofessional and they could get into some trouble if the right people found out.”

Back to Keys

I returned to Keys on Main last week. It definitely confirmed that the singers that I though were regulars were indeed regulars (although there was no sax that night and some people I thought were regulars were not present). The crowd was also about the same as before — filling less than a quarter of the seats in the large space. I don’t know if they anticipated more people — there were song sign-up slips on most of the tables, so perhaps there was a time when the place gets busy.

I drove into the city that night, so I didn’t have to worry about catching the last train out of town. I did have to watch my beverage intake and limited myself to one, which is for the best in more ways than one.

When it came time to pick songs, I stayed towards the tunes that I like singing and usually get the best reaction.

  • “Graduation (Friends Forever)” by Vitamin C.
  • “The Distance” by Cake.
  • “Africa” by Toto.
  • “Lights” by Journey

I was surprised to find that I haven’t sang “Africa” in a few months, considering that it became such a favorite in Chico. I started off with “Graduation,” explaining that I usually sing it at the end of the school year, but didn’t get to during the spring.

A couple of song choices were dictated by the fact that the songs I would’ve preferred to sing where either unavailable or unplayable. I would’ve rather sang Cake’s cover of “I Will Survive,” but “The Distance” was OK. I jumped to “Lights” when The Tragically Hip’s “Blow at High Dough” wouldn’t load (which is a shame given that the band was just ending what will likely be its last tour).

All in all, the Monday Tuesday karaoke scene isn’t too bad. It’s not hopping like it was most nights in Chico, but it’s something that can get me out of the house every once in a while. I don’t know if I’ll be making the trip every week, considering the time and distance involved (especially with curling league starting on Mondays), but it’s a nice option.

Sing, sing a song … or 226 of them

Singing at Quackers

I sing a song at Quackers Bar in north Chico in October 2008. Photo by Olivia Drake.

I challenged myself to sing 200 different songs during karaoke in 2011. At the end of the year, I estimated I sang about 226 songs at karaoke — that’s about 14 hours of non-stop music. Here’s the list:

I think I did right by many of them, although some were challenging. I sang many of the songs by myself, even the duets, although I preferred a partner.

And, yes, all of them were love songs.

I’m planning to expand this later with thoughts about specific parts of my playlist, but it was a great year to have a song in my heart. I got to meet many new friends, and renew or expand current relationships. I sang in five Chico nightspots, plus locations in Paradise, San Francisco and Salt Lake City. In Oroville, I had a live band backing me and performed on a giant ballroom stage.

Thanks to Spotify, I was able to keep track of the songs (based on my tweets, notes and other recollections). It’s not a complete list because I started it in September. Despite my best efforts, I don’t think I remembered all of the songs. Also, Spotify is pretty good, but not all of my songs were in their library (and sometimes I had to substitute a cover version of the preferred one).

I haven’t started a list for 2012, but if you have a song you’d like me to sing, please let me know in the comments.

Photo: I sing a song at Quackers Bar in north Chico in October 2008. Photo by Olivia Drake.


Is the party over for ’80s nights?

I recently attended ’80s night at LaSalles Bar, but it didn’t turn out as advertised when the DJ started mixing in dance hits from the ’90s and the aughts. Although that was fun in its own way, I was expecting ’80s music and didn’t appreciate the bait-and-switch (especially when there was another DJ out on the patio playing similar music). If there isn’t enough interest or desire to sustain an entire ’80s night, maybe it’s time to rethink the theme.

I’ll admit I don’t know exactly why the DJ started mixing in more recent music during a night ostensibly dedicated to Michael Jackson, Madonna and their pals. However, I found some possible insight in a Facebook item from a friend about the demise of a once-popular ’80s night in the Seattle area.

As the CHS Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reported, the host of the 17-year-old Seattle event, DJ Trent Von, noted a diminishing audience in recent years. He observed that the audience for such music is still out there, but not necessarily at a nightclub on a Thursday night.

That sentiment was echoed by Seattle Gay Scene writer Michael Strangeways who observed that theme nights go away when the likely audience grows older and drifts on to other activities (like careers or families).

Perhaps we’re seeing something similar in Chico. While the 1980s were arguably one of the greatest periods of pop music, many of the people now going to LaSalles or most Chico nightspots were born in the mid-to-late ’80s and came of age in the 1990s (or later). While people still just wanna have fun when they go out, maybe they think more of Katy Perry instead of Cyndi Lauper.

So what should places like LaSalles do? I don’t particularly care for continuing an ” ’80s Night” event when there are fewer and fewer songs from that era. Maybe a refocusing of the evening would be appropriate.

Although it sometimes sounds silly and wishy washy, perhaps radio stations are on to something when they promote “playing the hits of the ’80s, ’90s and today.” The way it is now, the music of the 1980s are just a part of the Saturday entertainment at LaSalles and the marketing should reflect that.


On a related note: I loathe the bait-and-switch when it comes to publicized events. In addition to an ’80s night that kinda isn’t, LaSalles also hosts a sorta karaoke night Sundays. I say sorta because the disc jockey spins dance music in between singers.

Perhaps it may be sometimes necessary to play a tune or two while waiting for more singers, but it’s infuriating if you’re patiently waiting for your turn to sing. It essentially doubles the waiting time.

Some of the other bars in town are guilty of this practice too. I stopped trying to sing karaoke at Buck’s Crazy Horse Saloon because the DJ did the same thing — interspersing dance music with live singers. It’s not worthwhile for me.

What do you expect for nothing? – Sept. 21

I took the title of this post from the song “Rubber Biscuit.” I don’t quite know who wrote it, but the Blues Brothers sang it once upon a time. It wsa exciting to see karaoke compadre Allen owning a disc of songs from various Blue Brothers performances.

I tried out Rubber Biscuit at the Bear on Monday. It was _rough_ because they weren’t any lyrics for most of the song. Instead there was often the phrase [Ad lib singing] which left it to me to try to remember what Jake and Elwood were singing back in the day.

I managed to get through song and I still had a blast. Many of my colleagues said they hadn’t seen a karaoke song calling for ad libbing before.

I sang more Blues Brothers songs at The Maltese on Wednesday. It was fun, but I really want to sing “Riot on Cell Block No. 9” next week.

Get ready to geek out

Just in case people couldn’t get more obsessed with karaoke, Griffin Technologies has a new toy.

Meet iKaraoke

It’s a mic that plugs into the base of your iPod so you can fade the vocal track on your favorite songs and add your own voice when piping the whole thing to a stereo. It looks pretty cool although I’m curious how they’ll be able to “fade” the vocals.

Notice the product doesn’t have a firm release date (Winter 2006) and a price tag. Clearly, there’s more to come.

The end of the world

Here’s another belated post. I wanted to post the playlist from the last time I sang at The Maltese with my former co-worker Ari. Sure it was over a month ago, but I tried to do a fitting tribute to the songs Ari performed since he started his wacky karaoke career.

  • Teddy Bear — To the best of my knowledge, this was the first song Ari sang at The Maltese. I thought it was a fitting way to begin the night.
  • Rocky Top — One of the 6 Tennessee state songs and one of the 15,000 University of Tennessee fight songs. Good song although it was rough on my throat.
  • Werewolves of London — OK, Ari never really sang this song. However, he said it had one of the best lines in music.
  • The Curly Shuffle — Why is this song in the playlist? Because it allows me to get down on the floor and spin in a circle while shouting “Woo, woo, woo, woo, woo.”
  • Eastbound and Down — I’ve been told it’s from “Smokey and the Bandit.” Sadly, I wouldn’t know. It’s still a fun song.

The best karaoke place in San Diego

Just to pick up on my post from last week, I have a _much, much_ better time at the second San Diego karaoke place I sang at.

After my 10-year reunion on Aug. 19, I drove around the corner from Shelter Point and pulled into the Captain’s Catch inside of a Ramada Limited. It was getting late in the evening, but I was able to sing TWO songs.

Sure the place wasn’t very crowded and the book was just all right, but people seemed to appreciate my music selection and were digging it. I sang Cake’s “Never There” and Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher.”

So, in my limited opinion, Captain’s Catch is the “best” karaoke bar in San Diego. Even if it’s not, it’s a million times better than the Lamplighter.

Shakedown – Aug. 19

SAN DIEGO — I’ll expand on this latter, but there were several things that detracted from the enjoyment of my night on the town Friday. These are just niggles and didn’t take too much from my night.

— While attempting to buy tickets online for Friday’s Padres game, the site wanted to charge me $6.50 in fees … for a $12 ticket. That seemed a little too steep for me. Luckily I was able to buy the tickets for no added mark-up at the stadium ticket booth. Used the saved money to buy a program.

— I spent nearly 3 hours at San Diego’s “best” karaoke spot, The Lamplighter, and didn’t get to sing once. Apparently the KJ lets anyone who “tips” him a sufficient amount to go ahead of others. I wasn’t going to play that game — especially after paying a $5 cover — and thus didn’t get to sing (which was going to be “Shakedown”). After all, tips are gratuity and what did I have at that point to be grateful for? Zilch.

While I didn’t pay, the person before me did and sang an hour after signing up (“Bohemian Rhapsody”). I had dinner at ‘bertos instead.

It frustrated me because I shouldn’t have to pay to sing (and I don’t in Chico). From a different perspective, I _do_ pay to sing. I paid the cover charge (for karaoke) plus two beverages and tips.

I’m sure it’s all water under the bridge for the bar. My complaint isn’t a new one and I’m sure the bar keeps running with those people willing to pay or those who are satisfied nonetheless.

However, I hearby challenge the designation of The Lamplighter as “the best” as ranked by several local publications. The KJ has a great book and the bar’s pretty nice, but  I have no desire to return after my experience and would tell my friends the same. Karaoke at El Torito is probably a better time.

Worst 111: Round One

The first round of the “Worst 111” karaoke countdown was launched at Madison Bear Garden on Monday night. I think it got a pretty good reception from the crowd although some of the songs were truely awful.

Some of the songs weren’t in the karaoke book, but I’ll try to catch up with part of the list on Wednesday at the Maltese.

111 – Rock Lobster — The B-52’s classic (but not as classic as “Love Shack”) was a little hard to master.
108 – Mambo No. 5 — I can understand why Lou Bega sold out on this song. The chorus makes the song. The melody? Not so much.
106 – Let Her Cry — It took a while for me to get into the song, but this Hootie and the Blowfish song really has some legs.
103 – Jenny From the Block — Kelly helped me with this song, but neither of us could capture the “magic” of J. Lo.
102 – Born to be Wild — I think I captured the Steppenwolf original better than Ozzy and Miss Piggy (whose version earned this place on the list). Maybe it was the two dancing women who helped.

That’s five down, 106 to go — minus the ones that aren’t in the books.

Counting down the worst

Starting tonight at Bear-e-oke, we’ll be singing as many songs as possible from the Top 111 Worst Songs. My colleagues and I dispute many of the songs’ placement on the list. While not the greatest, they’re still pretty good songs.

They were apparently voted on by the users of AOL Music. I kinda question their taste — some of the songs were probably picked because they were overplayed (like “One Week” from Bearnaked Ladies). I also don’t know how many people voted for the list — I can’t use AOL’s service because they want a Windows machine.

Alas, it still should be a lot of fun to go through the list. It starts with “Rock Lobster” by the B-52s and ends with “Who Let the Dogs Out” by the Baha Men. Good times.