Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Karaoke Chronicles: Darwin's Waiting Room Bar & Grill

Charles Darwin once wrote, "In the struggle for survival, the fittest win at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment." I don't know if this quote is the mission statement for karaoke night at Darwin's Waiting Room Bar & Grill, but if so I wouldn't be surprised.

On Friday night, after an inspiring Serene Dominic show at Donna Jean's Libations in Glendale, my friends and I returned to downtown Phoenix to check out Darwin's, across the street from Hazelwood's First Place Bar & Grill. Hazelwood's, though tied with Darwin's in the superfluous long name category, was recently voted the BEST karaoke in Phoenix by our local liberal freebie, The New Times, and has become an impossible endeavor for karaoke enthusiasts that show up an hour into the evening and hope to squeeze in a song in their whopping fifty person rotation. So, we wanted to see if Darwin's was evolving to accommodate the castaways looking for a convenient alternative.

Unfortunately, we may have picked the worst night for it. Apparently, the owner was celebrating his birthday on Friday night and the joint was more crowded than usual. As soon as my party arrived, I turned in the Monkees' "(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone," and shortly afterward my friends (including Serene!) turned in their choice tunes. Then the waiting began.

Right before we scored a booth, the KJs blatantly announced, "We have 27 singers in the rotation! [That must be a lot of Darwin's, albeit it still pales to Hazelwood's 50 plus.] So, if you wanna move up, you know what to do!"

Suddenly, legitimately patronizing the bar wasn't enough to participate in the karaoke. Now, as a karaoke enthusiast, oblige me some commentary on the practice of tipping the KJ. Do you tip the waitress before your meal arrives? Do you tip your barber before your haircut? Do you tip the valet before he parks your car? Of course not -- right? -- because the tip often depends on the quality of service. If the waitress gets your order wrong, or the barber gives you a mullet, or the valet steals your car, this significantly affects your gratuity -- yes, that's "gratuity," which shares the same root as "gratitude," as in, appreciation after the fact.

So . . . why the heck should I tip the KJ before I sing? What if he doesn't play the right song, or the song track is damaged and can't be played, or the sound system fails, or [enter any other variable that might make the experience something other than the pure fun it should be]? If a "cover" is required to sing, announce that upfront. That may potentially trim the rotation, anyway, and folks that really want to sing will pay to dominate the mic. Otherwise, I say, hospitably announce your long list of performers and treat the crowd like patrons, not johns on Van Buren. Remember: every KJ is just one good band booking away from losing that gig. That's survival of the fittest.

If only my gripes ended there. Before long, we realized the rotation was taking forever because the KJs and their friends were singing every fourth or fifth song! Didn't you just say the rotation was longer than usual? This mic hoggery baffled me to no end, and while my friends and I did get to sing, sophomore efforts were looking grim. (Incidentally, I briefly lost my glasses during a head-banging rendition of "Stepping Stone," a problem I reckon Micky Dolenz never had!) In the end, I decided to play the system. After last call, I approached and highly complimented one of the ladies blessed with frequency in the rotation, then asked if she'd do me the honor of singing a duet. She quickly turned the song in, and two performers later, we were up. It would've been a crime had I not anticipated it in the first place.

The song we sang was Meatloaf's "I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)." Yes, that tune betrayed my penchant for parenthetical songs that night, more importantly it challenges the concept of the duet, as the female vocals are essentially a choral epilogue at the tail end of 'Loaf's signature six minute soliloquy of song. My partner was chomping at the bit for her turn, and perhaps for the most fleeting of moments, she understood how the rest of us felt that night, watching her sing time after time. Justice? Yes -- but more poignantly, survival through adaptation.

These variable make my first tryst at Darwin's Waiting Room Bar & Grill difficult to evaluate from a karaoke night perspective. Maybe the joint isn't as much about the waiting when the manager isn't celebrating his birthday. To be fair, the wait staff was attentive and the joint itself had that post-modern dive quality that's all the rage right now, so I would definitely give it another shot. Let's just get one thing straight, Darwin's: I may like to sing the Monkees' songs, but even the forefather of evolution isn't gonna make a monkey out of me.

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