The Last Temptation of 'Karaoke From Hell'
The devil may have the best tunes, but he definitely has the best cover band.
Hendrix at Monterey. When Dylan went electric. Those moments--when nascent legends touch the infinite--are rare. But a small crowd on a recent Thursday night witnessed something approaching genius. Backed by a much-practiced combo, an unheralded performer captured David Bowie's "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" with passion, range and all-conquering charisma. As gods would sing, if they practiced a bit.
Hmm. It's probably good music critics don't often review themselves.
This moment--my moment--of glittering infamy came courtesy of Karaoke From Hell, a movable feast organized by Portland music mainstay Tres Shannon. Karaoke From Hell features Shannon and a live band blasting through hundreds of songs on command, as hapless pretenders (like me) try to sing along. It resembles plain-old karaoke in the same way elk hunting resembles Whack-a-Mole.
For more than a year, regular performances have packed Dante's. Recently, the gang played a six-week series at the Woodshed, a family restaurant in Outer Southeast, enjoying fitful success. (One imagines a decline in requests for Buzzcocks songs.) They've just begun to play every Thursday at Polly Esther's, a franchise nightclub that's one part Romanian disco, one part teen-girl bedroom circa '86.
The transformations wrought by Karaoke From Hell impress. An unassuming fellow absolutely becomes Neil Diamond before our eyes. "Sweet Child o' Mine," warbled by two energetic and possibly autistic young things, wins wild applause. Mr. Grim Menacing Drunkard (a regular at every karaoke establishment) croons a lovely "In Dreams." Irritating elements of the usual karaoke scene-- embittered faux-frontmen striving for that note-perfect "I Will Survive"; awkward types who'd rather stumble through standards than make conversation with the office birthday party--are conspicuous by their absence.
Shannon prompts faltering performers, and the other musicians work to a given vocalist's strengths, matching the rhythms of the good ones and mercifully drowning out the bad. Singing alongside such experienced hands can be addictive. Dangerously so. Walking off stage after a triumphant performance, basking in an undeniable smattering of applause, it's nearly impossible not to consider starting your own band.
And that's the last thing anyone needs. Jay Horton
Go where eagles dare with Karaoke From Hell, Monday nights at Dante's (1 SW 3rd Ave., 226-6630) and Thursday nights at Polly Esther's (424 SW 4th Ave., 221-1970).
Jazz vet Tom Wakeling finds musical paradise in PDX.
PREVIEWIf you've ever wondered what a smile of true contentment looks like, ask Tom Wakeling about what he does.
"Ever since I was 8, I knew that I wanted to play music," the Portland jazz bassist says. And then he cracks a small, happy grin between the arms of his goatee.
Wakeling has traveled many musical roads since that childhood epiphany, playing with a long line of artists, including Arturo Sandoval, Mel Torme, Mose Allison and Diane Schuur. In each stage of the journey, he's looked hard for new revelations.
"I always try to listen, to develop a cohesive sound," he says. "I figure that if I don't like something--a song, a situation--then I just have to listen a bit harder." In addition to playing with jazz greats, this sonic meditation has enabled him to contribute to and gain from the orchestras of national touring shows such as Cats and A Chorus Line.
Despite his determination, the 8-year-old Tom Wakeling might have been surprised to learn that, four decades later, his self-ordained career would lead to Northwestern acclaim. His latest project, the Tom Wakeling-Brad Turner Quartet, was recently featured on CBC Radio's Jazzbeat, a show heard across Canada. The quartet just released Live at the Cotton Club, featuring performances at a now-defunct jazz bar in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The disc captures some amazing new variations on old standards, featuring a gracious rendition of Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." William Thomas' loose drumming bursts through, tenor saxman John Gross tears into every idea with unconscious abandon, and Turner keeps his trumpet heartwarmingly concise. And then there is Wakeling on the bass. He is insightful, often melodic, always complementing the full sound with individual grace, his bass an extension of himself. You can hear Wakeling and Thomas, joined by Steve Christofferson, at the Opus on Wednesday, Dec. 19, playing compositions from the recording.
Wakeling also plays with the Alan Jones Sextet. Jones' rhythmic layering melds with Wakeling's pulse, travelling above and beyond the bars while never losing track of where the tune resides. The sextet is intense, one of Portland's most explosive jazz phenomena.
"I am happy," Wakeling says, lifting another smile. "I have a beautiful wife, I'm teaching music, I get to play with amazing musicians. I'm doing what I always wanted to do." Troy Eggleston
Tom Wakeling, William Thomas and Steve Christofferson play Wednesday, Dec. 19, at Jazz De Opus, 33 NW 2nd Ave., 222-6077. 8:30 pm. No cover.
BRINGING YOU THE TRUTH ABOUT MUSIC
HISS and VINEGAR
THIS MEANS W.A.R.
The Portland Trail Blazers are in the midst of miraculous transformations. From bona fide NBA title threat to .500 mediocrity in one year! From guaranteed sell-outs to co-promotions with Portland State! Can you say "Cleveland Cavaliers"? Can you say "Bob Whitsitt for NBA Exec of the Year"?
Meanwhile, Blazers center Dale Davis is plotting a radical move of his own: from PDX paintman to multimedia mogul. You may have seen an SUV done up in an eye-searing American-flag paint job cruising the streets of BridgeCity. The gas-guzzler's emblazoned with the bold acronymic legend "W.A.R. ENTERTAINMENT," the smaller statement "World Ain't Right," and the incongruous-yet-patriotic "Sept. 11, 2001." Turns out that this festive vehicle represents Davis' music/film/sports management company, "the corporate conduit by which Dale expresses his love of music and film," in the company website's words.
According to the site (www.warentertainment.com; dig the "gunshot" sound FX), W.A.R. unites the 6-foot-11-inch Clemson grad (full name: Elliot Lydell Davis) with his brother and an old college chum in a project that's nothing if not ambitious. "In time," the website proclaims, "W.A.R. ENTERTAINMENT is destined to emerge as the consummate entertainment and talent stronghold. Both this generation and the next will learn, grow, and respect the world with a heightened sense of self through W.A.R.'s actualized movies, artists, and music production." W.A.R. apparently has deals in the works with filmmakers, athletes and musicians.
But the key question remains: Can Double-D guard Shaq?
FIREBALLS SCORCH "CRACKED-OUT BUMS"
Last weekend, local band Fireballs of Freedom fell into a saga of crooks, luck and frontier justice. As a holiday house party near Emanuel Hospital in Northeast PDX wound into the dawn hours, thieves jacked the band's van--loaded with the quartet's gear. Needless to say, guitarist Kelly Gately fell into a blind rage on discovering the theft. Gately takes up the tale: "I sat waiting for the cops for at least three hours. Finally, I decided to break the news to guitarist Paul Von Wenner. He wasn't home, but his roommate Mo answered. Mo consoled me for about 10 minutes, before suddenly saying, 'Wait, it's maroon and gray, right?' I'm like, 'What?!?' And I hear Mo take off screaming." Lo and behold, at that very moment the miscreants cruised obliviously past Von Wenner's Central Eastside domicile in the Fireballs' '87 Chevy. Hero roommate Mo and two fellow vigilantes pursued the van on foot, yanked the bandits from their seats and drove to safety--all while a stunned Gately maintained phone contact from miles away! "All of the gear was still in the van," Gately reports. "The only thing missing was a pair of Etonic running shoes. Believe it or not, the cracked-out bums left a can of oysters on the dash. Thanks, guys."
THE BIZ: OOH BABY BABY! OOH BABY BABY!
Remember the "Internet music revolution"? At least one Portland company does: CDBaby, an independent distribution company reportedly founded on a $500 stake in 1997, just inked a pact with ballyhooed web-rock site MP3.com. The agreement calls for CDBaby "to facilitate the fulfillment and customer service backend for artists who wish to sell their already existing CDs from their MP3.com artist pages." That sounds sort of dirty. What we think it means, in English, is that when MP3.com visitors dig some obscure band's digital bits, they can click their way to real-world product, which CDBaby will provide via its Portland warehouse. If that is in fact the case, kudos all around! If we have this wrong, well--y'all can facilitate our customer-service backend anytime.
Like Jello says--become the media! Email tips, lies and viciousness to firstname.lastname@example.org.