Like everything else in life, a good bar crowd has several sub-categories. You have the determined drunks, the social smokers, the bored-as-shit designated-driver significant others, the pickup artists and the large dudes who speak exclusively in outdoor voices. There is a special subsection of this party category that is often overlooked, however: the karaoke singers. Disparate in sex, age, apparel and sobriety, karaoke singers are nonetheless distinct in bar culture due to their total and overwhelming lack of shame.
Even the most tone-deaf drunkard can revel in one of Halifax's most popular pursuits any night of the week. We humbly present our seven-nights-a-week guide to the city's favourite spots.
If Bo knows football, Maurice Aucoin knows karaoke. The man has been hosting shows in Halifax since 1992 and now enjoys a regular Sunday gig at the Halifax Alehouse (1717 Brunswick Street, 423-6113). The veteran musician (he also sings for The Persuaders) began hosting karaoke shows back in the day through his band's booking agent. He wasn't always a fan. "I felt really stupid when I first started doing it," he says. "I felt like a dork." But after one night on the job, he began to see the appeal. "I've hosted karaoke at almost every bar in Halifax at one point or another," he says. Nowadays, Aucoin enjoys hearing Tragically Hip songs and Midnight Oil's "Beds are Burning," but is less fond of done-to-death tunes like the Kid Rock/Sheryl Crow duet "Picture." "I've been hearing it for so long," he says. "I'm sick of it." Otherwise, the atmosphere is casual, with ample room to move the chairs and tables in order to make way for serious dancing. Aucoin advises first-timers not to stress. "The crowd is very accommodating and sensitive," he says. "Just go with it. Every night, there's always someone who blows me away." On Sundays you can also check out Laurie the Guy at Michael's (6100 Young Street, 454-6600), and karaoke in Lower Sackville at the Bounce Pub and Grill (552 Sackville, 864-5644) and at Our Friend's Pub (19 Norm Newman Drive, Dartmouth, 462-7827) with Belinda.
MONDAYS AND TUESDAYS
If you're one of those competitive types, Jackie Smith's night at Cheers (1743 Grafton Street, 421-1655) might be your number one jam: every show on Monday and Tuesday night features cash giveaways and prizes for those hardy enough to ascend the stage. And the prizes are for all participants; not just the good ones. "We used to give out prizes for best singer, and people accused me of being racist, or picking someone because they had big boobs, so we don't do that anymore," says Smith. Be warned, though---if you start having trouble and realize you can't quite hit the same notes Freddie Mercury did in "Under Pressure," you risk getting gonged---and a free t-shirt. All this friendly competition makes for a virtual bouillabaisse of kinetic energy. "The atmosphere is gonzo," Smith says. The bar remains packed from 11pm to closing time at 3:30am, which means you have may to wait up to two hours for your song to come up. In the meantime, you can check out the crowd's celebrity contingent. Smith says Matt Mays occasionally drops by to sing that perennial Bruce Springsteen favourite "Born to Run." Dartmouth-bound karaoke fans can also ride on up to Monte's (245 Waverley Road, 435-1770) on Tuesday nights.
Smiling old men, bikers, stand-up comedians, cowgirls and hipsters---you'll find all of the above at Bearly's (1269 Barrington Street, 423-2526) on a Wednesday. Mimi Andriopoulis's night draws out a colourful assortment of regulars---from "Big Caddy Daddy," who does a terrifyingly accurate impression of AC/DC singer Brian Johnson to "Those Fuckin' Bitches," a scrappy duo whose piece de resistance is the Violent Femmes' "Add it Up." "The kids are the best," Andriopolous says. He's not too particular about the songs you choose, either, which makes for a delightful mish-mash of genres, but it doesn't hurt to keep things moving. "I hate the slow rock ballads, the slow long Metallica songs and that shit," Andriopolous says. "People should realize that when people are on the dance floor, rocking out, they don't want to hear 15 minutes of 'Turn the Page.'" There are few experiences comparable to standing on the Bearly's stage, barking out lyrics to a roomful of half-drunk crazies pumping their fists. Truly, it approaches karaoke transcendence. We also highly recommend Kamikaze Karaoke with the delightful DJ Bear at Menz Bar (2182 Gottingen Street, 446-6969)---you can win drinks and hot dogs! Kruze Kontrol Karaoke at Club 1668 (1668 Lower Water Street), Mike Gough's karaoke at Parkside Pub and Grill (14 Highfield Park Drive, 464-1310) and of course, the omnipresent Laurie the Guy at Michael's.
"I got into karaoke as an economic choice," says Dave Smith, who has hosted karaoke at Oasis (5675 Spring Garden Road) for about six years. "I love the enthusiasm of the crowd and the cross-section of music I get to play." The crowds at Oasis are younger than at other spots, and its Thursday night wing specials means the beer is flowing early on. Smith often accompanies singers on guitar---we once enjoyed the balls-out performance of System of a Down's "Chop Suey" from a blonde teetering on spike heels as Smith shredded behind her. "Just go for it," Smith advises. "As long as you're trying and having fun, that's all that matters." You might even get a standing ovation---apparently it happens often. You can also hit up The Bounce, Jackie Smith's night at Rodeo Lounge (121 Ilsley Drive, Dartmouth, 468-6666), Mike Gough at Big Leagues (4 Forest Hills Parkway, Dartmouth, 462-2721) and, of course, Laurie the Guy at Michael's.
FRIDAY AND SATURDAY
The grand poobah of Halifax karaoke (and reigning Coast Best Karaoke Host winner) Laurie the Guy needs no introduction. Currently, he does karaoke six nights a week, with a weekend shift at the Lion's Head (5833 Sullivan Street, 455-0181). "I always thought karaoke would be a fad, so I figured I would work as many shows as I could till it dies out," he says. Laurie's shows are characterized by his song selection (over 25,000, searchable at laurietheguy.com), his good-natured banter with the audience and, of course, the props. Need a puppet to accompany your version of "Ebony and Ivory"? What about a Rasta wig---or a giant stuffed penis? "The singers love the props, and I'm on the lookout for new ones everywhere I go," he says. The host says that after 18 years, he keeps doing the job for a number of reasons. "I love being on stage," he says. "I'm not qualified to do much else. I like to have my afternoons free to go surfing. And the only reason I can still do this is the good people. I am truly thankful for that." Anthony Vanemberg takes over at Michael's on Friday and Saturday, while Mike Gough does karaoke at Dave Dolittle's (90 Tacoma Drive, Dartmouth, 435-5311).
5 Karaoke don'ts
1. All hosts say they have been given bribes by insistent singers who want to go up earlier. Laurie the Guy says women frequently flash their breasts at him especially for this purpose. Really, ladies? Anyway, they say it won’t work.
2. Every host we spoke to said they are pretty much sick of hearing that tried-and-true Kid Rock/Sheryl Crow duet “Picture.” Might we suggest going with an older (and better) country duet, “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man”?
3. For the love of god, no “Stairway.” No one wants to hear it. No one. Why doesn’t anyone ever do “Immigrant Song”?
4. Don’t jump too much on the stage. It makes the CDs skip.
5. This isn’t American Idol. The sloppier you are, the better. Let ’er rip.
Alison Lang loves karaoke so much she had it at her wedding.