Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Karaoke review: Karaoke benefit at Bengal Coast in Dallas
A karaoke meetup at a soon-to-close restaurant led to a chance meeting with a former member of Kool and the Gang.
I found the Dallas Karaoke Meetup Group while searching Twitter for local karaoke happenings. Their meetups aren’t frequent, so it tends to be an event worth planning for. And especially so in the case of the July meetup at Bengal Coast, a South Asian Fusion restaurant in the beautiful office building at the corner of Cedar Springs and Oak Lawn. It was set to be a benefit Karaoke show, with the $12 fee going to benefit the North Texas Food Bank. Mark, the organizer, was even able to get one of Dallas’ oughta-be famous faces, Sir Earl Toon, to be the Honorary emcee. More on him later.
But dark clouds rolled in a week or so before the Friday night event -- Bengal Coast announced that it was closing its doors for good, effective two days after the karaoke benefit. I dashed off a note to the organizer, but Mark assured me that the event would go on as planned — a last hurrah for the ill-fated concept. Trendy restaurants in Dallas have a short half-life, and this one was hampered by its location. From the street, it was almost invisible — it had to count almost exclusively on word-of-mouth in a notoriously fickle restaurant town.
The restaurant was beautiful, very low-key. And you could tell it had been managed well. That night, there were plenty of seats, but the server wasn’t seating any more people than could be adequately served by the limited wait staff — you’re not going to run at full staff when you’ll be closed in two days. That means that even as they wound down, they were putting service ahead of profit. I’ll have to be sure to visit the owner’s other restaurant, Bistro Babusan. It might be a while, though ... the new place is in Fairview, north of Plano. Ouch.
The karaoke crew for the event was Off-Key Karaoke, the same duo that runs the show two or three nights a week at McKinney Avenue Tavern, where I learned the joy of singing to a packed house. They did what they could — Bengal Coast was configured for conversation, not performance, and the room reserved for the singing tended to absorb sound. It was hard to get the balance right, I think, between the mike level and the background sound. But the DJs did what DJs do — pushed through the technical issues and gave everyone a great time.
I started out in my usual spot — off in a corner, watching the proceedings like a National Geographic correspondent camped out at a watering hole. But either by luck — or possibly by meetup host Mark’s gentle machinations — I ended up at a table with several other folks who were part of the meetup. That contributed to a great time! Sitting next to me were a couple of very interesting folks. There was Miranda Martinez, a Raw Food consultant just coming off a month-long fast. Her website, VivaRaw.com, contains resources for folks looking to get their bodies back to nature. And also, a karaoke DJ named Cliff, who I can’t find online, but he runs gigs under the name “Karaoke Therapy.” Both were wonderful singers and great company.
Miranda and I got the night started — she was second and I was third. I wish I’d written down the song she sang, but she had a wonderful alto voice. Since the room was pretty full — unlike a non-event karaoke night, the crowd started large and got smaller — I started with “Born to Run.” It went great, and Miranda was kind enough to take pictures! I now have pictures of my karaoke performance. You’ll have to judge for yourself whether I’m overdoing it ...
After our songs, Miranda and I compared our lists of duet songs. That was pretty cool in itself — we both had lists! We ended up singing “From This Moment,” the duet version with Shania Twain and Bryan White. She knew it better than I did, but I managed to catch up after a while. That was also when we both realized that there was a strange problem with the karaoke lyrics — they weren’t in sync! I’ve never seen this happen before, so I don’t know if it’s a problem with the hard drive-based karaoke system, or maybe a problem with the source discs. A number of singers seemed to be having problems, though, so I suspect computer problems.
By this time, Sir Earl Toon had arrived. Although he was once a member of the hit ‘70s/‘80s band Kool and the Gang, he’s not hugely famous — there were a *lot* of members of Kool and the Gang, a group whose musical legacy goes far beyond their relatively brief pop-chart successes. Plus, Toon himself is a low-key person, willing to come and lend a hand at an event like this one. That laid-back personality is probably what made it possible for him to compile something awesome: a cookbook, signed by a dizzying array of music industry celebrities. It was to be auctioned off at midnight and would be the pride of anyone’s collection. Autographs ranged from the current (like Weezer) to the still-current (Rolling Stones) to the departed (Frank Sinatra, Linda McCartney).
But as midnight got closer, I realized that there hadn’t been even one song by Kool and the Gang. My turn was coming up, so I figured it was time to fix that. I asked the DJ to change my selection to “Too Hot,” from late 1979 or early 1980. It was chancy ... I hadn’t heard the song in a while, but the time period was right, and as far as I could tell, the vocals would be in my range. I came up a couple of songs before midnight, and did a passable job on the mellow tune — a little shaky in parts from not having heard it, but solid enough.
Happily, Sir Earl was entirely pleased with my rendition — of a song that, as it turns out, he co-wrote and performed! I went over to shake his hand, and he invited me to sit down for a bit. He’s the perfect combination of larger-than-life and down-to-earth, and was as sincere a gentleman as you could ever hope to meet. The lady sitting with him even took some pictures of us — I hope I can get a copy someday!
I went back to my table, and Miranda left soon after — most karaoke singers, of course, *don’t* stay all night. After a while, the auction started, but the amazing cookbook didn’t fetch nearly the price I would have expected for such a trove of autographs ... the winning bid was just $300. But the lady who won wrote a check for a full $500 to the North Texas Food Bank. Very nice.
Folks started leaving after the auction, as things wound down and people started not showing up when the DJ called their names. I got one more shot in my slot, so I went for the mellow side with Englebert Humperdink’s “After the Lovin’.” That should have been all, really ... but name after name got crossed off the list as the joint emptied out. So I told the DJ that if I came up again, I’d like to sing something a little silly ... and sure enough, there was time for one last song.
I had just recompiled my Master Song List, and one song stuck out ... “Asereje,” the novelty song also called “The Ketchup Song” (after the singers, Las Ketchup). With hardly anyone remaining, it was a good time to be completely silly. Nobody listened and I couldn’t have cared less. It was as fun singing it to the empty room as it was singing it at the New Year’s Party. Even better, because it turned out I could pull it off completely sober.
It was a fun night — perhaps *because* I followed up the initial Tequila Sunrise with a straight-up Dr Pepper, eschewing the free booze samples from a vodka company. Miranda, the Raw Food coach, set an alcohol-free example that was easy to follow. The bartender helped, too ... he quipped that my Dr Pepper was the best drink they served at the bar. Because he himself was a recovering alcoholic.
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