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August 8th, 2012 JOHN LOCANTHI | Culture Features
 

Singing in the Strange

Karaoke night as only Portland can do it.

culture_stripperaoke_3840A dancer performs at Devil's Point's famous Stripperoke. - IMAGE: James Rexroad
     
Tags: Karaoke
A bespectacled man stands in the back corner of the dimly lit stage, about five feet from the stripper pole. Nervously tapping the microphone against the white cast holding his right arm in place, he’s ready to start. Or as ready as he’ll ever be.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to take a short break while the dancer gets ready for the next song,” says the karaoke jockey at Devils Point.

Then the opening chords of George Michael’s “Faith” start playing through the speakers.

“Well, I guess it would be nice, if I could touch your body…” begins the man, only slightly off-key.

A heavily tattooed dancer enters stage left, a nun’s wimple and veil sitting atop her bikini-clad body. She holds a plastic baby doll. This is the second song of her set, so her top is coming off. The small, eager crowd cheers and makes it rain with dollar bills as she pushes their faces into her silicone pillows.

The singer keeps his composure admirably—right up until the stripper-cum-nun throws him off by rubbing his crotch with the face of the doll, which has an upside-down cross on its back.

Welcome to karaoke, Portland-style. This city has a giant songbook of wild and wonderful karaoke nights. Variety is king here. Look around town and you’ll find everything from traditional lounge fare, where the forlorn butcher “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” to exquisite renditions of indie B-sides. We’ve been tipped off that the New York Times is about to proclaim Portland the nation’s karaoke capital. Given the paper has called Kornblatts “one of the truly great New York delis outside the five boroughs” and proclaimed our city to be in “a Golden Age of Dining and Drinking” in 2007—we believe the rumor. Here are five karaoke nights that almost earn us such hype.


Stripperaoke
Along with the nun dance, at Stripperaoke I’ve also seen a singer’s voice crack during the chorus of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” as a beautiful topless dancer wrapped herself around his legs. The singers sing and the strippers dance, sometimes playing off the music, sometimes as an attempted distraction. The dancers rotate every two songs before going off to mingle and give private dances. Sitting at the stage costs $1 per song. The dancers’ attractiveness and skill may vary, but your experience will not: It’s a fun, hedonistic way to start a new week. 9 pm Sundays at Devils Point, 5305 SE Foster Road, 774-4513, devilspoint.net.


Karaoke From Hell
Most karaoke consists of random people singing in front of a glorified jukebox, so it’s refreshing to see a live karaoke band backing the singers. Both the singers and the musicians responsible for so many chords will miss a few notes, but it makes for a much more organic experience. Listening to a screeching rendition of “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” instead of mere recorded karaoke, it felt like I was watching an actual band playing a cover of an obnoxious song. 9 pm Mondays at Dante’s, 350 W Burnside St., 226-6630, danteslive.com, $2 cover. 9:30 pm Thursdays at Tiger Bar, 317 NW Broadway, 467-4111, tigerbarpdx.com.


Rock Band Karaoke
Yes, people still play Rock Band. This hybrid uses the Xbox 360 game to offer a different, and more competitive, experience. There’s still singing—even a handy graphic to let you know if you’re hitting the pitch—but you can also play those plastic instrument-esque things. And unless one of the guitar players is missing every note, only the singer’s performance is truly noticeable. Be warned: If you sign up to play drums on one of your favorite songs here, you just might see it butchered by some random asshole slurring his way through it. 9 pm Tuesdays at Ground Kontrol, 511 NW Couch St., 796-9364, groundkontrol.com.


The Danny Chavez Karaoke Show Feat. Rock’n Raymond
The Spare Room doesn’t have a stage for singers, just a dance floor. And it needs one, too. The first thing you’ll notice when walking into the lounge is a sprightly man standing behind the KJ in a sparkling vest and baseball cap, frantically jittering and dancing, occasionally strumming on an unplugged Guitar Hero guitar. This is Rock’n Raymond. While belting out John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good,” he slides on his knees over to women sitting at a table and shouts, “Come on, ladies!” The crowd was small on this night, but the Flava Flav of Portland karaoke still had the crowd singing along and dancing. 9 pm Mondays-Wednesdays at the Spare Room, 4830 NE 42nd Ave., 287-5800, spareroompdx.com.


Burlesque Karaoke
Every Thursday, Hamburger Mary’s encourages singers to put on a costume for karaoke. On the first Thursday of the month, they’re encouraged to take it off. Burlesque karaoke is a forum for an eclectic group of performers. There are women slowly stripping off their suits while singing onstage—seeking help unhooking their bras from the host, who rotated between a cocktail dress and a lacy thong throughout the night. Then there’s a woman performing an interpretive shawl dance to Evanescence. Before you know what’s happening, you’re watching the love child of Paul Stanley and William Wallace taking off his kilt while shouting, “Pour some sugar on me!” Come for the drag, stay for the burlesque. Regular karaoke 9 pm Thursdays, burlesque karaoke 9 pm first Thursday of the month, Hamburger Mary’s, 19 NW 5th Ave., 688-1200, hamburgermarys.com/pdx

 
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