Sing your ass off


A singer named Michelle belts out Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” at the West Second Street Bar.

A singer named Michelle belts out Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” at the West Second Street Bar.

Photo By David Robert

“You’re writing about karaoke?” said a friend of mine incredulously. “But you don’t do karaoke. Do you?”

In fact, I do not. Like any introvert worth the name, I have a deep and abiding horror of being the center of attention. Being pushed onstage in front of a bunch of drunken strangers, with a sweaty mic in my hand and gentle strains of, say, “Unchained Melody” blasting from the speakers, is pretty close to my idea of hell.

But if there’s one thing I’m willing to do, it’s watch other people make asses of themselves, and the temptation proved impossible to resist. Bullying a few friends into accompanying me to various bars around town, I set out to find the quintessential Reno/Sparks karaoke night.

If your singing experience is limited to warbling on karaoke machines in the living rooms of friends, you may want to start with a quiet, out-of-the-way place like Sidelines (1237 Baring Blvd., Sparks). A small, dimly lit locals’ hangout with a sporting theme, Sidelines’ bar and walls are decorated with sports trophies from years past. This is about as non-threatening as public performance gets. On a recent Saturday night, four people took turns singing doleful ballads, mostly ignored by the handful of unimpressed drinkers at the bar.

The song selection is fairly extensive, with a wide range of genres (including, oddly, show tunes and children’s songs), although pop rock singers are underrepresented in favor of country–Madonna got less than 10 songs, compared to two pages of Bonnie Raitt. Sidelines mostly caters to the beer-and-shots crowd. Take a handful of your buddies and the place is yours. Sidelines will host a karaoke party on New Year’s Eve.

If you like a little more enthusiasm in your audience, head over to Porky’s (3372 S. McCarran Blvd.), where the “King of Karaoke” gets things rolling every Saturday night. A sports bar and restaurant, the emphasis at Porky’s is on barbecue. If you’re in the mood for something light, just serve yourself from the complimentary popcorn machine by the jukebox.

The crowd was shy at first, and the DJ sang for most of the first 30 minutes. Eventually, the audience joined in, approaching the stage in twos and threes for such crowd-pleasers as “I Will Survive” and “Joy to the World (Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog).” Porky’s song list is conveniently sorted by both artist and title, so as not to overtax the beer-blurred memory. Country songs are strongly favored here as well, and when one man chose “Friends in Low Places,” the entire bar happily belted out the song, drowning out the singer.

“If I ever have to sing karaoke,” my friend said, “that’s the song I’m doing. You won’t even be able to hear my voice.”

For maximum exposure (or greatest embarrassment, depending on your point of view), try the West Second Street Bar (118 W. Second St.). With its downtown location, the bar attracts a healthy mix of locals and tourists from all age ranges–you’re equally likely to see a cowboy, a biker or a group of guys in Hawaiian shirts.

Always crowded, the place is as noisy as you’d expect. Twenty- to 30-minute karaoke sets alternate with blocks of dance music, and the national anthem is sung, in slurred but heartfelt voices, at midnight. Put your name in as soon as possible if you intend to perform because there’s usually a long wait. There’s a thick binder of songs to choose from, but most people have personal favorites; I know a couple of guys who sing nothing but “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and get mobbed by shrieking females each time.

Amazingly, the more you drink, the more karaoke sounds like a good idea. After an hour or so, I was seriously considering treating the crowd to my rendition of "What’s New, Pussycat?" Fortunately, reason prevailed (my friend’s, not mine), and I stayed off the stage. But next time, that drunken stranger making an ass of herself may be me.