Shout It Out

Three-chord heroes take the hokey out of karaoke

"Punk Rock Karaoke," reads the flier, "50 classic punk tunes, 1977-1985. We play. You sing."

When I think karaoke, I hear the Eagles' classic-rock perennial "Take It Easy" getting an unintentional but just pummeling. I see a mike-handling softy with Bud Light-fertile blood wearing a cowboy hat and sporting a pork-butt belly and offering up chix-dig-me winks and nods. I picture him extending finger pistols toward a potential lay. Hanging from the ceiling in front of the courageous crooner is a color TV used as a word prompt. He studies the TV screen for song lyrics. A DJ cues up vocal-free versions of radio ready-mades. Surrounding him are like-dressed men with a stretched look in their eyes -- the look of punishment accepted.

Women, too, are there, successfully drinking the circumstance of single-motherhood out of their night-out minds. Soon they will give all to Gloria Gaynor's Cheez-Whiz classic "I Will Survive," or some '80s Madonna strain.

Punk Rock Karaoke: Three dudes with big shadows.
Paolo Vescia
Punk Rock Karaoke: Three dudes with big shadows.

Of course, my experience with karaoke has been limited to west Phoenix and Tempe working-class bars on blurry nights after myriad beers. On occasion I have even made use of a mike and crucified a Cheap Trick number or two. But never was it much fun, even as a spectator.

Karaoke started out as a business-class phenomenon in Kobe City, Japan, more than 20 years ago. Primarily intended as a simple way for folks to ham it up in front of friends during lunchtime, karaoke soon became a way for average Japanese Joes to exercise pop-star dreaming.

According to Karaoke Scene Magazine, the word "karaoke" is an abbreviated Japanese compound: "kara" comes from "karappo" meaning empty, and "oke" is the abbreviation of "okesutura," or orchestra.

Anyway, never mind that karaoke, here's Punk Rock Karaoke.

Punk Rock Karaoke, as the group is called, is a Phoenix trio that churns out live music. Like the flier says, they play, you sing. And PRK is in-yer-face loud.

Each member of the band is skilled at big noise. Jim Bryant's destructo barre chords recall guitar heroes Ramone and Jones; Scott Bernat's rib-resonating bass notes are like Sid's, but with skill; and Buck Ellis' racket-hatchet drumming effortlessly hammers into place a good ring that takes the better part of a week to fade from your ears.


"You get to play the old songs that you grew up on that you loved playing or that you listened to," says guitarist Bryant over a beer at the Emerald Lounge in Phoenix. Bryant wears black horn-rims and has short, pitch-black hair, well-nigh a pompadour. He moved from Reno three years ago and works as a sales rep at Fender guitars in Scottsdale.

As with the two other PRK members, noisy, three-chord floggers such as Seven Seconds, TSOL and Agent Orange nurtured Bryant throughout high school.

Most of the PRK crowds are punk zealots who have been singing along to many of these tunes for years. And some get up onstage, leap about and spout lyrics with biting-into-lemon countenance. An off-key vocal often sounds right at home, particularly when backed with the typical punk wall of harmonic distortion.

"When I first moved here, I put out an ad saying that I wanted to find people to play punk rock, like Social Distortion and things like that," Bryant says. "Scott was one of the people that called. He was the only normal person that called."

Bassist Bernat interjects, "The main reason was we had an original band that we were starting and it was real slow going."

The self-employed Bernat is verbally unrestrained and peppers his conversation with literary, punk and old movie references. He has close-cropped blond hair and a rough complexion.

"The karaoke is a way for me to continue living my childhood, I guess," he continues. "It's a big rush playing these songs."

Drummer Ellis is a graveyard-shift postal worker and Sunnyslope High grad. He's a spirited skinner regarded by many as one of the best time-keeps in the city. He did time in an early '90s outfit called Boneyard, followed by three years in Sam the Butcher. Currently, Ellis mans the kit in another band, the worthy chick-fronted punk/pop band Balls.

"For me, Punk Rock Karaoke and Balls are equal projects," Ellis says through a mouthful of Bud foam. "That's how much fun this is."

Fun, indeed. A PRK show is a kind of stream-of-consciousness theater. Because it's live, there's plenty to ogle at. They offer no pricey set-ups with DJs who burp up goony patter, no wince-inducing Clint Black role-playing, and none of the dreaded songs we lost our dinner over while watching the Grammys last week. And because the singers are also part of the crowd, the crowd becomes part of the band, thereby removing any crowd/band barriers. Very punk rock.

A typical show features no shortage of tats, creeps, creepers and sweat. Now and then, a zaftig femme-dom type in a crotch-revealing mini will offer her middle finger to the mostly male crowd, then launch into a rousing version of the X standard "Los Angeles."

Like a large portion of their following, the members of PRK are all confirmed beer enthusiasts. The gigs are testament to this. Invariably, before the night is through, more than a few unlucky bastards will wind up hurling 30 bucks' worth of beer in some dark nook of the parking lot.

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