Everyone has fantasized about being the lead singer of a rock 'n' roll band. Even the most uptight, Gucci-clad socialite would--if threatened with the exposure of her recent shopping spree at TJ Maxx--admit that she's pranced around the bedroom in her skivvies belting out a tune using a hairspray bottle as a microphone.
Being no exception, I was thrilled to learn I could live out my fantasy at the Underground Lounge, which hosts Rock 'n' Roll Karaoke every Wednesday night. Unlike traditional karaoke, in which singers stand motionless while reading lyrics off a video screen, Rock 'n' Roll Karaoke forces you to sing to a rowdy audience with only a lyric sheet as a crutch. And you won't find sedated Casio-keyboard versions of your favorite songs--here you're backed by a tight, competent band.
The two bands that rotate every Wednesday have built up a repertoire of about 65 tunes since the Underground Lounge started hosting the event last February. Ranging from the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK" to Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer" to Lionel Ritchie's "Hello," the eclectic selection changes every week.
After paying a $5 cover, you're handed the night's song list. Give the host your name and the song you'd like to sing, and he hands you a lyric sheet, giving you time to realize the lyrics you always sang to yourself in the car were dead wrong ("Wait, it's 'Wake me up before you go-go?' I thought it was 'Wake me up and make me cocoa!' ").
Studying the song list, I decided there wasn't one song I knew well enough to sing alone. So I bullied my boyfriend into joining me for a duet of Duran Duran's "Rio." It was a move I'd later regret.
The crowd, which ranged from jocks to those artsy kids you see outside the Punkin' Donuts at Clark and Belmont, wasted no time partaking of the evening's drink specials: $2.50 Jager shots and Moosehead pints and $3.50 hefeweizen pints.
By the time the first singer took the stage with a version of "Walk Like an Egyptian," the crowd was boozed up and rarin' to go. For the most part, the singers were surprisingly good, but there were enough people who screeched like a cat trapped in a vice to provide plenty of schadenfreude.
The band was kind enough to help out a few who were either too drunk or too nervous to remember their song's melody or to play softer for those whose voices rarely rose above a whisper. And when everything fell apart and a poor sap just stood there in catatonic fear, the audience shouted the lyrics to get the would-be rock star back on track.
When the host finally called our names, I downed the last of my pint and tried to push from my mind the memory of being booed the last time I took the karaoke stage. Resolutely, I stepped up to the mike.
I wish I could say I knew how bad we were. I couldn't hear my voice above the band, much less discern whether I was singing off-key. But judging by the woman in front who held her head as if fighting a migraine and the punk-rock kid who dropped to his knees in front of us in mock worship, my guess is we were pretty awful.
Our song's last chord was greeted with a smattering of applause, and as we sheepishly gathered our belongings and made for the door, I vowed that from now on, karaoke would never be more than a spectator sport.
Rock 'n' Roll Karaoke 10 p.m. Wednesdays Underground Lounge 952 W. Newport Ave. 773-327-2739.