Karaoke Korrespondent: (Almost) Wonderful Tonight

A lawless night in Kirkland with Clapton, Derek, and the Dominos.

Last Wednesday, I checked out Valhalla Bar and Grill in Kirkland, a new spot where my friend Steven Butler hosts. Although there was next to nobody there, I found it to be a great place to sing—a long, dimly lit room with high ceilings and a big wraparound bar in the middle. The karaoke stage is the dance floor. Disco and laser lights establish a club atmosphere. The best feature is a stage cam that occasionally interrupts the 60-inch lyrics screen above with a wide image of the singer's performance.

In the two hours I was there, only five people sang. It was me, Steven, my buddy Juan, Steven's friend Rachelle, and this dude in his late 40s named Frank sitting at the bar.

Rotation 1: Steven started with "Let Her Cry" by Hootie & the Blowfish. His vocal abilities have really come a long way since that first time I saw him, two years ago at Atlantic Crossing for the Karaoke World Championships. He sang with control and was totally in key. If that contest ever comes around again, I'm confident he won't have to strip to his underwear—Risky Business style—to secure a spot in the state finals again.

I tried Cream's "Badge," a number I'd never done before, and was reminded how well I do Eric Clapton. I decided to stick with just his songs for the rest of the night. Rachelle's warm-up, Patsy Cline's "Crazy," demonstrated she had skills. Juan's first offering was CCR's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" and it was solid. Frank sang "Fire and Rain" by James Taylor. He had a decent voice and used the plug-one-ear technique to stay in key.

Rotation 2: Steven delivered another strong performance with the Classics IV oldie "Spooky." My next number was "Wonderful Tonight." It started out shaky. I was too focused on reading the screen. The moment I remembered I actually knew the song by heart, I went on to crush it. Rachelle's second number was some Liza Minnelli number from Cabaret. Show tunes should be stricken from all karaoke books. Juan tried Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville" and Frank proved himself to be a wild card, coming through with a randomly great rendition of the Emerson, Lake, & Palmer classic "From the Beginning."

Rotation 3: Steven kept rolling with some Creedence of his own, "Lodi." I challenged myself with the original Derek & the Dominos' "Layla" and the fast pace proved too much for me to handle. Juan, too, got in over his head with "House of the Rising Sun." Rachelle redeemed herself with Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful." Frank did Clapton's "Cocaine." I was a little annoyed that he jumped in on my theme, but since Steven sang the artist Juan sang, I couldn't make a fuss.

Rotation 4: I set out to outdo Frank and succeeded with a rock-solid "Lay Down Sally." Then Frank committed the ultimate karaoke no-no and sang "Wonderful Tonight," repeating a song someone else had sung. It made me wonder if he was trying to me show me up. But it wasn't nearly as good as mine, so I shrugged it off.

Rotation 5: Frank finally gave up on Clapton and ended his night with Otis Redding, "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." And after Steven goofed off with the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive," I put everything I had into my final performance: "Tears in Heaven." It was anticlimactic. The song is a total bore to sing.


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