This week, ferreting out the sordid details and inner workings of Boise's karaoke scene lead me to Bad Irish, where the tone-deaf and tasteless can make the bartenders miserable from 10 p.m.-2 a.m. on Sundays, right after Team Trivia Night.
Bad Irish has some good stuff going for it: a stage, a nice marble room, a real TV monitor and a pretty decent sound system with decent quality microphones—the importance of which cannot be overstated. Bad microphones crap out when you sing loud or when you move them around, and they certainly don't respond well to being swung around, Roger Daltry style. Bad Irish's book was organized in the standard by artist or by title sections, and was easy enough to navigate, though it did have "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", by Queen, misfiled under Queen Latifah, as well as a number of other typos whose power to frustrate and bewilder only grows with each successive Jaeger shot.
The song catalog was functional, though selections were oddly fractured. "Insane in the Brain," but no "Hits From the Bong." "My Best Friend's Girl," but no "Just What I Needed." "Listen to Your Heart" by Roxette, but no "Joyride" or "It Must Have Been Love."
There were three Otis Redding songs, but no "Dock of the Bay." However, the catalog earns well-deserved points for having "Rock Lobster," instead of only the insidious and oversung "Love Shack."
The only problem with the setup at Bad Irish was that the sound system wasn't turned up nearly loud enough to move beyond the lounge or easy listening phases of the drinking curve. It could have handled five freshly laid-off salesmen, swaying arm-in-arm slurring "The Piano Man" or "Take This Job and Shove It," but were one of them to dedicate "Master of Puppets" to his former boss, it would have been woefully insufficient.
However, that would have been unlikely as the k-crowd at Bad Irish seemed to be more of the American Idol ilk, possessed by the paradigm that karaoke singers should be good, rather than just loud. Someone actually put their heart into "It's All Coming Back to Me," by Celine Dion, which is f#$%ing awesome, but not in any sort of literal way.
I should point out that calling that night's group a "crowd" is a bit of an exaggeration. Aside from myself, there were only 15 other people in the bar, which is big enough to accommodate several hundred easily. And though half of them were singing, a pretty large percentage, it was a pleasantly short wait for my turn. The downside, is that despite the nice singing area, that 15 people isn't much of an audience to perform to. And on top of the low attendance, they weren't tremendously engaged.
It's highly likely that the crowd's relative disinterest had to do with the overall feeling of k-night at Bad Irish, which was that it was a space filler rather than something truly cherished and cultivated as a cultural institution. This can be said of a great many karaoke nights at a great many bars, that doesn't make it any less detrimental to the craft. Yes, this is the eternal divide between art and business. But they don't have to be mutually exclusive. Good artistic practice is what people want, which is what attracts business. When it's phony, when it's forced or artificial, people can tell, and they don't embrace it as fully. They don't seek it out. They don't tell their friends. They don't drop as much on drinks just to bask in its presence. No matter how far down the artistic totem pole karaoke may be, it still counts, and those devilish details that make or break the total experience felt as if they were casually being swept under the rug at Bad Irish.
If I had to write a one-sentence review, it would go like this: "A decent place to sing if you happen to be there that night, but not worth going out of your way for." Though I'd be really tempted to add... "comma yet."