Take a Bow
by Madeleine Saaf
“Too early?” I asked before suggesting we get a private room for an hour to wait out the deadzone of the evening, hoping to emerge to find a filled bar of eager performers as we happened upon most Saturday nights. We made our way to Room 9 and decided on the theme of “sad.” The hour went quickly; a few Carpenters’ songs later and we were ready to head back to the main room where I could review the performances I’d watched so many Saturday nights from the corner of the bar.
Upstairs we once again found an empty space. We took two seats at the bar and decided to wait it out until someone came and did a number. We listened to the instrumental versions of “Anaconda” by Nicki Minaj and “Take A Bow” by Rihanna but no one came to claim the mic. Two men waiting to get into their private room encouraged Lily and I to sing the song playing; perhaps we would have if we would have known it. Instead we sat, Lily with her Sam Adams and me with my Coke.
Eventually two women took the stools next to us. They were your average white female office employees, thirty-ish, both wearing white sweaters from Banana Republic/Ann Taylor/Anthropologie and dark wash jeans, both with nicely brushed somewhere-in-between-blond-and-brown hair and teeth that look like they were probably flossed a couple times a week at least. The women sipped on their white wine and flipped through the song menu. They made their choice and soon the tropical groove of the opening bars of Bill Withers’ “Just the Two of Us” rang through the speakers.
While the taller of the two sang the song, a foursome made their way through the door and up to the bar. It wasn’t clear then that the basic-white-women were the opening act, but towards the end of the song when one of the members of the new group yelled in a shrill voice, “Turn the mic up” a few times, it started to become clear that the true show had arrived. The bartender made her way to the Volume-Seeker and started speaking, gesticulating to a chalkboard sign over her shoulder that Lily and I had not noticed in the now thirty minutes we’d been seated. “We are currently in construction soundproofing the ceiling. Because of noise complaints we cannot turn the volume up.”
The emptiness now had reason. That reason was not enough to deter our new barmates. The first to take the unraised stage was Volume-Seeker. She was short, mildly rotund, and had her dark brunette hair pulled back into a tight, low ponytail in a way that made it clear she meant business no matter what that business was. Tonight that business was being a subpar karaoker and, as we later realized, a Grade-A bitch. Her song choice: “Party in the USA.” It was a solid choice, a number that can get the whole crowd nodding their heads and moving their hips like “yeah!” This crowd consisted of the two men and the woman Volume Seeker had strolled in with, the basic-white-women, two people who had been sitting at the bar this whole time but have gone unmentioned because they were there for bar part of “karaoke bar,” and then there was Lily and I. As a casual fan of Miley Cyrus, I was more than willing to sing along and attempt to help Volume-Seeker find the pitch and rhythm and words-that-were-printed-on-the-screen, all of which were completely lost to her save the chorus. Her crew even tried to help her a few times, but there was no saving this ship.
Next to grab the mic was Volume-Seeker’s friend, Bald Beard. Bald Beard was the Williamsburg 35-year-old archetypal man. He was 1) bald 2) bearded 3) wearing an incredibly tight white t-shirt that was short enough to show off the waistband of his Tommy Hilfiger underwear above his jeans. He had the kind of muscular look that implied he worked out but not in an obsessive way, probably more of a Soul Cycler than a CrossFitter. This all made his song selection perfect: “Angels” by Jessica Simpson. This was not the first time I had heard someone sing “Angels” in Beats Karaoke. This was not even the first time I’d heard a man sing “Angels” in Beats Karaoke. But this was the first time I’d heard a man sing “Angels” in Beats Karaoke well. Sure, he might have taken the chorus over the top, practically screaming through the slow the build of the line “And through it all.” His passion was palpable, perhaps not for the song but for putting on a show. A mic was not needed, but when the one he had in his hand died, Volume-Seeker was first to berate the bartender over the shoddy equipment. The song faded out before a new mic was handed over with a warning about keeping the screaming to a minimum, but Bald Beard finished micless like a champ, passing the baton to the other man who’d accompanied him to Beats.
If someone in this group looked like they were going to do a Lionel Richie song, it was most definitely man #2. Man #2 had a scrawny frame and oddly shaped glasses that indicated he was either a middle school chemistry teacher or he used to work in a video store and now sells audio gear for an upscale tech company. Man #2 did not disappoint, choosing Lionel Richie’s “Still.” He did not get further than the first verse, through which his posse kept nearly silent for the first time since they’d entered, before Volume-Seeker barked with a hint of surprise and contempt, “Holy shit, Gus, you can sing.” Lily and I, too, were surprised as his voice carried through the speakers and we kicked ourselves for not thinking of “Still” for our “sad songs” themed event earlier. Maybe it was that Gus was sad, that he was truly feeling the music, that raised his talent level so much higher than the rest of those at the bar. Maybe he’d loved Volume-Seeker once. No, that seems unlikely. Maybe he’d loved the other woman who’d come with them (This woman gets no moniker. She was so boring that not even an easy appearance based nickname could be created. She sang “Kiss from a Rose” directly following Gus and I took no notes because nothing happened and also I was still really affected by Gus’ performance.) and maybe he loved her, still. Who knows. Gus embraced the ballad and took it all the way to its conclusion, lulling the crowd into a melancholic euphoria.
The final song Lily and I experienced of this quartet was what I can only assume is the most overplayed karaoke number of all time (and I say that admitting that I have done it myself more than once) -- “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Before the song began, Volume-Seeker harassed the bartender once again, expressing her extreme annoyance over the fact that the microphones were not loud enough and how pointless it is to have a karaoke bar in which you cannot be loud. The rest of the group coaxed her away from the fear-stricken bartender as the song started up. Only a few notes in and Gus let loose.
“Guys, I’m gonna start doing the gazelle,” he yelled as he leaped into the air doing some sort of kicking move I suppose was meant to look like the movements of the animal. From there it turned into a shitshow. Volume-Seeker began stomping around in the way a small child -- no. Not even a small child would act this childish. She made her way over to the coffee table near the couches and pretended to flip it, taking on the face of an MMA fighter. Gus continued gazelling and Bald Beard threw every note of every word out of his mouth like a dart aimed at a bullseye.
“I want a real fucking microphone!” Volume-Seeker screeched. “I fucking hate
this place.” Volume-Seeker picked up that other lady’s leg and used it as an imaginary guitar. She then bit her friend’s leg. If Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, it has arrived and it is a short terrifying woman who ruins Miley Cyrus songs and makes grown bartenders cower. The tempo of the singing sped up as if they thought there was an actual band that would match their tempo. The science of technology evaded them and instead they just barrelled through the Queen song as if the music were not even there.
By the time the song finally ended, both the track and the vocals, Lily and I already had our jackets on and purses around our shoulders, and we headed for the door. Before we made it to the safety of the midnight street, Volume-Seeker took the microphone from the stool she’d left it on during her leg-guitar trance and forcefully threw it on the ground. As it crashed, she turned to the bartender and shouted with malice, “Mic drop.”