KSCR@CMJ: A woman transformed

The first in a series of articles from the KSCR contingent at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City.

We all have a pretty strong idea of who we are as social creatures -- how outgoing we are, which lines we'll cross -- but there's an interesting mix of energy, encouragement, and ample liquor that can help us discover how inaccurate our self-images can be, how different a person can be hiding inside. That was certainly the case for the crowd at Arlene's Grocery last night.

In the Lower East Side grocery store turned rock venue, Monday night is karaoke night, but calling what happens at Arlene's karaoke is kind of like calling Times Square an intersection.

Arlene's offering differs from the familiar Koreatown karaoke experience in two ways:

  1. You've got an audience -- no, a crowd. Not a bunch of Japanese businessmen trying to drink away the day either; these are the kind of diehard rockers who always seem to pose a few articles of clothing during an extra-wicked solo. And they're all cheering for you.

  2. Forget TVs and tinny PAs; you're accompanied by a full live band that'll play you through any song in "the Bible," a 4-inch binder filled with lyric printouts, from memory.

Giving amateurs the chance to song real rock classics in a real stage at a real rock club with a real audience is the vocal equivelant of Guitar Hero: you get caught up in the simulation. Otherwise shy patrons vanish into themselves and become Nikki Sixx or Blondie or Johnny Rotten.

Case in point: Julie from Belgium. Small, stylish, thick European accent, first visit to Arlene's, first time on stage. Say goodbye to Julie and hello to Bono, circa 1992.

Some regulars did pitch-perfect versions of Rage Against The Machine or The Clash without so much as a glance at the lyrics book, but it was the performers like Julie, the live-band karaoke virgins caught up in the electricity of the moment, that really set the room on fire.

And we, the audience, eat that shit up. From the second you grip the mic you are our personal Jesus. When you say, "Rock," we say, "How hard?"

It's the kind of magic that stays with you long enough to make the late-night trip back uptown on the Hydra-headed New York subway system pass by like a dream.

Check out CMJ Music Marathon here. Got a band you want us to catch? Restaurant that can't be missed? Leave us a comment!
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