My buddy Darren will never be featured on a televised episode of American Idol — not because he's a lousy singer, but because he's not lousy enough. Granted, he won't be charting on Billboard or CMJ anytime soon, either, but that doesn't say shit about his ability to nail Bowie's "Space Oddity" as a karaoke duet with his girlfriend, Jessica. Mid- "Ground control to Major Tom..." tonight, however, the bartender at Bulldog Bar (3602 East Colfax Avenue) begins frantically ringing a large bell to signal his aversion to the current rendition. The song goes on, but the damage is done.
"Damn, Darren," I say when he returns to the table. "I think you just got gonged."
Sure enough, before beginning another song, the drunken emcee — who wears zip-up windbreaker pants with the fly down, a black leather fanny pack and one of those fast-drying, skin-tight muscle shirts — announces that, indeed, the bartender has final say on what sucks and can veto via his bell anything that he doesn't care to tolerate. We've been here for an hour, and this is the first we're hearing about this?
Besides, shortly after we arrived, MC Barn Door Down — who wouldn't recognize perfect pitch if it wore a name tag — had announced to the room, "It doesn't matter what you sing or how you sing it, you can't sound worse than I do." And he's nowhere to be found when someone's on stage, which means that when Darren's mike was peaking and crackling during "Space Oddity" because the levels were so off, no one was around to correct it.
Darren is absolutely livid with indignation. Were he a cartoon character, steam would be shooting from his ears and an ACME anvil would be about to fall on both the emcee's and bartender's heads. He slugs through almost an entire pitcher of Budweiser before calming down enough to talk. Conceptually, we all agree, Gong Show karaoke is hilarious. But the only way to make it fair is to ensure that everyone in attendance understands the rules and that all singers are held to the same standard. Neither happens tonight.
Earlier in the evening, when we thought we'd wandered into an irony-free karaoke night at the type of bar with a Sharpie-scribbled "One Drink Minimum" sign, the kind of bar that serves $3 Jäger shots and $5.75 frozen sausage pizzas all day, every day — the sort of bar where toothless townies with grease-stained hands, seasoned regulars in their Saturday-night, stretched-out-T-shirt best, and bearded, bespectacled hipsters all coalesce — we watched the emcee drink straight from a pitcher, fumble with the dials, and laugh as a friend of his humped and air-thrusted the stage railing while squealing high-pitched lines about fucking girls in the parking lot and the bathroom of the Bulldog.
Shortly after this performance ended, an older woman seated on a bar stool behind us said to the bartender, "Can you put up a sign that says 'No Repeat Songs'? I just want to make sure no one does that again." Yet now this same guy is up there, enacting the same antics to a different song.
Still no gong.
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So when volume and feedback issues become so disconcerting that Maggie fashions makeshift earplugs out of folded-over pieces of cinnamon-flavored Orbit gum, and after both Darren and Jessica have been sucker-punched by a bell no one knew existed, and a tone-deaf twenty-something struggles through three consecutive songs with no-fucking-gong? Well, we take our ringing ears and fractured egos out the front door, into a cab and to a place where double standards, blown-out speakers and bullshit bells will never find us:
To see where Drew Bixby has been drinking, go to his column online for an embedded map. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.