We gathered a few of our most karaoke-lovin' Research Assistants, including David Wayne, Chadwick, Cece and Erik, and headed over. As we pulled into the parking lot, we spotted the first harbinger of a fun night o' song: the karaoke host's black van, which was decorated with hand-lettered advertisements in red paint for his company. A guy and girl singing into a karaoke machine was lovingly drawn on the side, and the back bumper proclaimed, "This van stops at karaoke shows." How fantastic is that? After making a mental note that the van also stops at the What's Happenin' Lounge at 85th Street and Prospect on Friday nights, we went inside, where we were greeted with more promising sights. The stage itself was cheesily awesome, a rectangular frame decorated with white Christmas lights and lighted by a rotating, multicolored ball. Long, silver tinsel provided a backdrop. Other great signs: The place wasn't crowded, the songbook was pretty good, and the drink specials rocked ($2 wells, $1.50 Honey Browns, and the daily $2 PBR deal).
Then we met Bobby, the host, who benevolently presided over the whole enterprise with his lovely fiancée, Linda. Bobby, a tan, thin, older man festooned with tattoos, was vocally challenged (his rendition of a speeded-up version of "Funky Cold Medina" sounded more George Thorogood than Tone-Loc) but made up for that with his amiability. On the other hand, Linda had a beautiful voice. Appropriately enough, they met while doing karaoke in a Daytona, Florida, bar last February. "He was hogging the book, so I went to get it from him," Linda said. Luv blossomed, and not long afterward, Bobby moved to KC to be with her (awww!).
We asked her why their karaoke was dubbed "white trash." "We didn't call it that, OK?" Linda answered. "It was James' idea. He wants this bar to be a white-trash haven." (Co-owner James Brown says the WT concept was inspired in part by the karaoke song list.)
Well, we didn't get that vibe just yet, especially because the quasi-hipsters started flooding in after 11:30. That's also around the time we witnessed the best performance of the night: An older white guy in a red polo shirt -- who had sung "Kryptonite" earlier -- made his way to the stage and performed Sean Paul's "Get Busy" perfectly, Jamaican patois and all. We were blown away -- especially RAs Chadwick and David, both karaoke pros who aren't easily flabbergasted.
"I heart him," David said. "Someone's found a hero." We went to compliment Jerry, 47, on his outstanding performance. "I just moved to the area," he said. "To tell you the truth, I'm a karaoke host." A ha! He has MC'd events in Pittsburg, Kansas, and would like to start his own show in KC, so he's been scoping out the different karaoke nights at various bars around town. As we chatted with Jerry, we were interrupted by Bob, 43, a guy clad in a Harley-Davidson T-shirt. Bob, a machinist, just moved to KC from Higginsville. We asked him why he thought the bar was billed as "white trash," but the loudness of the performances (or the alcohol consumed) caused him to mishear our question and imagine that we'd asked if he was white trash. "I'm cool -- cool with people," he said. "Nothing bad about it." Well, he was very down with people, in that he asked a few of the females in the room (including the Night Ranger) to dance throughout the night. Sadly, no one took him up on his offer.
However, we really became intrigued when the goths walked in. We had seen them at WT karaoke the previous week, when we witnessed a Marilyn Manson-type guy (complete with long, black hair and a white, made-up face) try to order a navy grog at the bar. When the bartender couldn't serve it up, Marilyn snippily asked if he knew how to make a Mai Tai. (Um, a WT bar probably doesn't serve up a flaming volcano, either.)
Our second sighting of Marilyn, et al., provided some more fascinated entertainment for our party, especially because he was wearing a long-sleeved, black T-shirt with the shoulders cut out. ("So when did goths start shopping at Victoria's Secret?" David asked.) When he paused by our table, picked up a karaoke request slip and emitted an evil laugh before walking away (so random), we had to talk to him.
It turns out that Dhust, 22, was a DJ at Slam-erz, but he also works at the Plaza Bo Ling's (which, he says, has the best navy grog in town --good to know). We then asked him about the black collar with metal loops he was sporting.
"It's a bondage collar," he said. He's had it since he was 15 years old, and he's let only two people touch it, he told us. Only one other person has worn it: his current girlfriend of three months, Lauren (who was also at karaoke, clad in a red skirt that was basically two swatches of fabric connected by a row of 2-inch-long strips from waistband to hem).
"I used to be in a fetish troupe -- the Circus of Vampires," Dhust continued, telling us that he breathed fire and cut himself with a razor onstage. After telling us he'd made 213 cuts on himself, he pulled up his shirt to reveal a pierced nipple and a row of faint scars, each about a centimeter long.
We asked what he got out of it. "I'm one of those people who'll do anything for a crowd," he said. "I hate to say it ... I'm a vain Leo. What can I say?" He was then called to the stage to sing "White Wedding," complete with dramatic screaming into the microphone.
Well. What more can we say about a night filled with interesting people-watching? If that black van is a-rockin', we'll definitely be a-knockin' again.