Last night Studio B hosted New York mag’s third NYxNY Indie Rock Karaoke jam. Following in the steps of previous installments with of Montreal and the Thermals, this one featured Ted Leo + RX, with emceeing duties falling to the joyful Andrew W.K. As usual, it was memorable: Ted delivered a fun, full set of his principled punk shots and tried out four promising new tunes (including one he described as “blackmetal dancehall,” adding “my life is now complete”), but the night really took off when we shifted into karaoke mode. The combination of Ted and Andrew’s charismatic, celebratory shenanigans was positively combustible. But still, I’ve been trying to figure out what it is about these karaoke sets that make them such a great time.
For one, it helps when you have a band like the Pharmacists, and a band leader like Ted Leo. Ted’s one of those guys — positive, whipsmart, talented — who engenders instant love, regardless of how well you know his material. He’s a lover of covers, a lover of people and politics, and so a perfect ringleader for what is essentially a democratic, DIY celebration of great, bygone music. If you didn’t know the song, Ted was there to bail you out (but seriously, know the songs, guys). If you did, Ted paid you back in hugs. After each tune last night Ted collected his props from the departing karaoke singer then rushed over to the setlist, visibly psyched and beaming to dig into the next tune. When you have a band as enthusiastic (and surprisingly versatile — “Reelin’ In The Years” came off with as much charm as “Minor Threat”) as the Pharamacists pulling the strings, the stage is set.
Not everyone was great. (“Dancing With Myself” was particularly a disaster, why would you take up a coveted slot to sing a song you don’t know? Said Ted diplomatically: “At least they got the ’Sweat!’ part right.”) But that element of surprise, the inability to predict who’ll truly engage with the song and who will make a mockery of the opportunity, makes the room explode when someone actually does the material justice with their familiarity and talent. Hat tip to the kid who did the Outfield’s “Your Love” (which I’ve been listening to all day), to the guy nailing Iggy’s shirtless contorting on “Search And Destroy,” the “Minor Threat” man (Ted was in love with that guy), and especially the woman who fawned over Andrew’s good looks and “backwards aging” before crushing it on Aretha’s “Respect.” A few lucky kids got to sing Ted Leo songs with RX backing them (“Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone,” “Me And Mia,” and a girl named Colleen singing, well, this). The girl doing the Boss’s “Dancing In The Dark” didn’t deliver the strongest performance, but when she called up a guy to play the night’s Courtney Cox, I felt a little closer to the Reagan years. In a good way.
TED LEO + RX