BEST KARAOKE 2006 | Solos | People & Places | Phoenix
Auditions for American Idol might be months and months away, but there's no reason you shouldn't start practicing now. After all, your pipes could definitely use some practice. Getting a much-needed warm-up by kicking it karaoke-style like Kelly Clarkson is necessary, but since nearly every two-bit tavern and gin joint in town features this mimicking musical mainstay, where's a wanna-be songster supposed to go? Head for the small side bar inside the wicked West Valley nightclub Hurricane Bay, where karaoke is king from Wednesday through Sunday each week. You'll have more than 10,000 songs at your disposal from ABBA to Zeppelin with a trio of overenthusiastic emcees who'll offer comical critiques of your performance without bitch-slapping you like Simon Cowell. Your hosts will also offer you a collection of crazy props including an oversize foam cowboy hat or an electric guitar to incorporate into your act. Just remember to stay on-key, all-star, and you just might be the next Taylor Hicks.
Divine Poetry isn't just the name of the Valley's hottest new spoken-word series. It also refers to the event emcee, lyrical poet, and organizer of sharp tongues, known simply as Divine. After Scottsdale's soul food and cultural haven Livingston's closed in 2004, the Bronx-born poetry diva created the open-mic function at the bare-bones Entertainment Alley. What the space lacks in decor a lone couch with torn upholstery sits center stage, and plastic folding chairs are brought in for audience comfort is made up during audacious readings and the occasional performance art piece. Seasoned veterans of the spoken-word scene, such as the hyperactive Manifest Destiny, who frequently performs multiple personality routines from his album Broke Ass Bus Ticket, as well as newbies of all ages and skill levels, congregate at the sessions every Sunday night.
Jennifer Goldberg
Question: What do you get when you mix cheap drinks, an open mic night, a cover band that calls itself Mother Trucker, and one of Tempe's favorite dive bars? Answer: The best fucking karaoke night in town. Every Thursday night, members from local band the Zen Lunatics hit the stage at the Yucca Tap Room to back drunken wanna-bes living out their rock-star dreams. The song selection is excellent think Radiohead, Janis Joplin, Rolling Stones and CCR but don't expect the usual karaoke fare. If "Friends in Low Places" is your drunk-guy-with-a-microphone standby, this might not be for you. And take note: Most people who take the stage are actually pretty good, so the tone deaf might want to resign themselves to their Pabst in one of the corner booths.
Valley word-slingers needing to score some fast cash, look no further. Just put down the latte, scribble some chapbook strophes, and hightail it down to the $100 winner-take-all Anthology Greater Phoenix Poetry Slam. On the last Wednesday of every month at the Paper Heart, 10 performance scribes read three poems of their own creation, with winners determined by five randomly chosen audience members. Each month features a heavy-hitting guest poet, such as the urban folk rhymester/singer Blair, who is the 2002 National Poetry Slam champion and a featured artist on HBO's Def Poetry Jam. Poets who have gone home with fatter pockets include the edgy veteran Bill Campana, the growling Patrick Hare, and policeman-by-day, word-sleuth-by-night Corbet Dean. Newcomers are welcome, and there is no registration fee. Get slammin'.
Living in Phoenix, we've learned we need to create our own holiday traditions. No sledding, no skating, not much bundling up by the fire (damn those no-burn days). That's why we're happy to have such a fantastic local Nutcracker to look forward to as the holidays approach. Ib Andersen, creative director of Ballet Arizona, has a wonderful interpretation, full of Tchaikovsky's music as well as all the Nutcracker moments you remember and some you're glad to add to the repertoire. Our toddler was dancing in the aisles not popular with the staff at Symphony Hall, but she did get a chuckle from the audience and we're sure we'll be first in line when she's old enough to audition for the show.
Who can blame you for hating karaoke? No one with any sense wants to hear people who can't sing attempt to wade through "Mack the Knife" or hit the high notes in "Lady Marmalade." Karaoke is the worst of those '90s fads that refuses to die, especially in Phoenix. But this most annoying of unhip holdovers is having a happy rebirth in a quiet corner of East Osborn Road. Every Friday night at Linda's, where the daily specials (all of them tasty) are handwritten on colorful recipe cards and attached to the menu with a paper clip, Joanne the Karaoke Singer mesmerizes the early dinner crowd with an uncommon talent and a towering hairdo. Seated next to the cash register, flanked by a wee karaoke machine that spits out prerecorded pop tunes from the '50s, '60s, and '70s, Joanne serenades diners in a throaty whisper that's barely audible over clinking flatware and customer chatter. From beneath a foot-high blonde bouffant, this willowy miss of indeterminate age talk-sings her way through a cavalcade of quiet hits, occasionally arching an eyebrow or shrugging a shoulder as if to say, "Here I am, although I'm not sure why." We're not sure, either but we're always glad when she is.
Nutcrackered out? Or looking for something to do the rest of the holiday season, other than stand in line to see Santa? We hear you. Which is why we're here to recommend The Snow Queen. An original production by France Smith Cohen, director of Center Dance Ensemble (the resident modern company at the Herberger), the retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen classic has changed over the years with better sets and costumes but remains the same beautiful story, told through music and dance. It's a nice holiday tale with not a touch of Christmas, featuring (like Nutcracker) a large group of local children, many trained at Dance Theater West, a local ballet school.
Geeky teenage boys aren't exactly the most hard-hitting hombres walking the face of the Earth. Usually, the toughest they'll get is standing up to mom and dad about violating the sanctity of their fortress of solitude (read: the basement). So imagine our surprise at overhearing said dorky dweebs talking serious smack during one of the many gaming nights held at both Samurai Comics stores throughout the week. While playing collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering or role-playing games like Mechwarrior for prize giveaways and comics swag, these aggressive adolescents spew out such taunts as, "I'm gonna smoke you like a fat chronic blunt," or "You wanna bet your PS2? That shit's gonna be mine, beeyotch." It's the kind of trash talking normally associated with hip-hoppers engaged in an East Coast-West Coast feud, and not pasty-faced white boys who probably needed to call their moms for a ride home.
The concept-meisters behind Sugar Daddy's and Dos Gringos must've been channeling the spirit of Al Capone when they conjured up this classy-yet-covert club, secreted away in a tiny Tempe strip mall. A simple antique lamppost with glowing red lights and a bouncer's station outside a nondescript utility door comprise the entrance, where patrons provide either a password or skeleton key obtained from the joint's Web site in order to gain admission. After wandering down a dank corridor equipped with security cameras and monitors, they're led into a swanky, red-drenched lounge and danceteria, where dope DJs like J. Nasty and M2 spin hip-hop tracks. While being completely legal, the clandestine atmosphere adds a sense of lawlessness for the crowd of college kids, fashion plates, and buxom beauties who flock here to sip Cristal and other high-end libations and dance the night away. Ol' Scarface would be proud.
By the end of BOP, we'll have planted repeated mentions of our wonderful botanical garden, but we must take a moment to celebrate our all-time favorite Valley tradition, the luminarias. Each season, we're the first to get our tickets, the first to pull up to the garden and start the holidays with a leisurely stroll through the garden grounds, lighted with hundreds of luminarias. The experience is complemented by live music a variety, some holiday, some not encountered as you walk the garden paths. The grounds are lighted just enough, the sky is starry and (if you're lucky) chilly, and the feel of Christmas in the air is never so sweet as at this event, held several nights throughout the season.

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