I'm the last person to admit that there's fun stuff you can do in Chicago but not in Milwaukee, but last weekend, I found something that simply must make its way to Brew City: live karaoke.
My college friend Oscar wooed me down to the Windy City with the promise of this so-called live karaoke: that is, singing one of hundreds songs in front of a real, live band. He promised that it was even cooler than it sounded, and with that endorsement, I was sold.
Apparently, several Chicago bars are now doing it. We picked a pizza place / bar in Wicker Park called Piece, 1927 W North Ave.
The fun started at 11 p.m., and we jumped in line quickly to pick our songs. The list, while not as expansive as your standard karaoke bar, was comprehensive, including selections from new and classic rock, punk and metal, country and standards. Oscar chose Billy Idol's "White Wedding." First, I picked "Rio" by Duran Duran, then had second thoughts as I tried to imagine myself singing at Simon Le Bon's high pitch. I crossed it off and eventually chose "Sister Christian," by Night Ranger. Since "Boogie Nights," I've always giggled at that song, and I thought it might be just the tune to pump up this rowdy crowd.
As the 10 or so "singers" took the stage before me, I noticed that this band was really good. Two guitar players, a bassist and drummer (with one guitar player switching to keyboard when necessary), they covered the songs pretty dead on. I can't imagine that it's fun to play behind a bunch of drunken, off-key yahoos. On the other hand, if they take a zen approach, it could make for some easy money.
At about 11:30, they called my name. After a little liquid encouragement to calm my jangled nerves, I felt as ready as I was gonna be. They didn't provide a video screen like in traditional karaoke, just a small printed leaflet with the words. And of course, they couldn't find the words to "Sister Christian," and just started playing, leaving me on my own for the first verse. I fumbled my way through it until they handed me the sheet.
That's when I relied on some charisma to make up for my obvious vocal inadequacies.
I lost my place in the second verse, since they shortened the song somewhat for time constraints. Fortunately, the rest of the band jumped in and covered for me (that was a lifesaver). But after prancing around the stage, pumping my firsts and shouting "c'mon" and "all right," I got back on track as they wrapped up the rockin' guitar solo.
With just seconds left in my live karaoke career, I knew it was time to go out with a bang. I improvised, pointing to my friend and changing the line, "And you know that you're the only one to say OK" to, " And you know that you're the only one to say Oscar's gay." It drew a bit of a laugh, which was promptly stifled by my shout of "Good night, Milwaukee!"
Hey, ya gotta represent.
Oscar's critique was, "You had good stage presence."
Yeah, but how about my singing, I asked.
"You had good stage presence."
He was probably upset that I called him gay in front of a packed bar (and he isn't, but it would be OK if he was). Sorry, Oscar, I just couldn't pass it up.
This trend must come to Milwaukee. I understand that Cans (on our North Ave.) has done it occasionally, but it would be great to see other local bars give it a whirl. Something about regular old karaoke is cheesy and played out. But singing in front of a live band is thrilling, hilarious and fun. Next time you're in Chicago for a night out on the town, give it a whirl. And if it ever makes an appearance in Milwaukee, I'll see you there.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.