Thursday, September 1, 2011
Karaoke review: Texas Star Club in Dallas
Dramatic stairs came in handy during the songs.
In the song “Rocky Mountain High,” John Denver sings about “coming home to a place I’ve never been before,” In a way, that’s what the Texas Star Club was like. The very first joint where I sang karaoke was a little dive called One Nostalgia Place, where the drinks were cheap and strong, everyone knew each other but welcomed a stranger with open arms, and where the karaoke was just a bunch of friends singing to each other. Texas Star was just that sort of place. If One Nostalgia Place was my karaoke graduation, then the Texas Star Club was my homecoming.
The Texas Star Club (on Facebook, no website) stands out, though, for its karaoke-friendly setup. Although it looks like a tiny place, it’s actually quite spacious inside. There’s a well-stocked bar, of course, plus several pool tables, and the usual tiny bathrooms — is there some sort of city ordinance restricting sit-down toilets to no more than one in any joint with a liquor license? And there’s no food, not even a pretense of burgers and cheese fries. That may be why there’s a required membership check before you can get in, and it’s 21-and-up, strictly enforced. I’m not up on the intricacies of the Texas liquor laws, but I’m pretty sure different rules apply if you serve food and can at least pretend to be a bar and grill. Texas Star doesn’t pretend; it’s a bar, period.
Not just any bar, though: The centerpiece of the club is the karaoke stage. You don’t see it when you first walk in, past the membership desk. You walk in, sit down at the bar, and look back towards the front — and there’s the stage. It’s perfect for karaoke, with a big dance area in front, and a chair and a table for you and your drink, should either be in danger of spilling. And stairs right in the middle for those dramatic forays into the audience.
I visited on a Friday, which is one of the four nights a week presented by Phantom Cobra Karaoke: Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Interestingly, Wednesday is a night when Phantom Cobra is in two places — Texas Star and The Goat, another great place to perform karaoke (or with your “real” band). Tuesdays and Thursdays are handled by “Mom & Pop Productions,” aka SingYourAssOff.com. Monday night is the only night that the Texas Star *doesn’t* have karaoke — they make up for it with $2 longnecks and well drinks. But six days a week makes this little hole in the wall one of the very few places in Dallas that could actually call itself a “karaoke bar.”
I had a great time, despite — or possibly because of — the bumps on the road. When I came in, I ordered a Tequila Sunrise ... but the very sweet bartender found that her orange juice dispenser was on the fritz! I told her I wasn’t worried, and ordered a rum & Coke — which was very good and quite strong. She definitely wanted to get the OJ working again, though, because she had regulars coming in who would be needing it. One would be ordering a Tequila Sunrise without the sunrise — just Tequila and orange juice. But another regular was a diabetic, and might *really* need the orange juice if her sugar bottomed out. That’s knowing your customers, not just as patrons but as friends. Fortunately, “Cobra” of Phantom Cobra Karaoke tends bar on the side; after he got the gear set up, he fixed their OJ.
And Phantom Cobra was having some problems, too. Karaoke, like any show-business venture, has its share of breakups, and a recent breakup with a former partner had left them with much of their library damaged or unavailable. But that gave me a chance to talk to Trisha Moore, the other half of the night’s karaoke team. She let me submit a list of songs, to increase the odds of finding one that was available, and didn’t mind picking whichever one she thought would fit in. The only disappointment, for both of us, was that the Cranberries’ “Zombie” was one of the damaged tracks — Trisha said it was one of her favorites to sing, but she’d never heard a guy sing it.
I started the night out — strange how that seems to happen a lot! — and sang “Love in the First Degree” by Alabama. iTunes had had a good deal on the group’s Greatest Hits album, so I’ve got a half dozen songs of theirs I’m going to try to work in. The biggest problem with their songs is that sometimes the parts overlap, or the background drowns out the singer (“Dixieland Delight” has that problem, though it actually helped me a lot when I was just starting). But “Love in the First Degree” has a straightforward melody that fits the format perfectly.
Then, I got a wonderful surprise — Robert O from Totally Twisted Karaoke came up and said hi! Turns out he lives in East Dallas, and the bar was right in his neck of the woods. He and his friend Morgan saw my Facebook post and decided to check out the Texas Star. I don’t think they were disappointed, and I know that Texas Star was not disappointed in them! I don’t remember what songs they sang, but they blew the house away, just like they do at Paradise Burger in Rockwall. I talked to Morgan a bit about singing a duet ... more on that later.
I got a couple more turns before 11 p.m., when I knew I’d need to get home for a busy weekend. I just let Trisha pick, since the song we were hoping for wasn’t available — she was sure things would get straightened out, so I’m looking forward to returning to sing “Zombie.” Instead, I sang “Some Fools Never Learn” by Steve Wariner, a slow but intense song of a wasted love and heartbreak that spreads like a virus. And I ended my night with Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page.” For the last verse, I try to play out the part, when it goes “Out there in the spotlight you’re a million miles away, and every ounce of energy you try to give away...” I don’t think I really had that level of acting going, but I did make use of those handy, dramatic stairs. Though I think I may have worried Trisha — she told me afterwards that she’s got a wireless mike available in case I feel an urge to go audience-mingling again.
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