This story was updated at 3:20 p.m. March 8, 2010, to state that Empire Dine and Dance has been hosting Kill the Karaoke for about six months.

PORTLAND — Karaoke is not just something done as a dare — not in Greater Portland, anyway.

Rockin’ out into a microphone traditionally has been done at birthday parties, bachelorette parties and after-work get-togethers. But around Portland, it’s just part of a normal week’s fun.

That said, there is nothing normal about the brand of karaoke that takes place at Empire Dine and Dance in Portland late Wednesday nights.

At the Congress Street pub, Kill the Karaoke has been going strong for six months because of one strange twist: Singers perform in front of a live band.

“People come up to me and say, ‘That was so much fun,’ like they’re surprised. That’s the first thing I usually hear,” said Tom Hall, a guitarist with Trainwreck, which performs with willing singers.

The band’s song list includes about 150 titles, and Hall said they’re always learning more. Notepaper for writing suggestions is scattered around the upstairs bar and stage so interested singers can ask the band to learn their favorites.

The songs vary from AC/DC’s “Back in Black” to Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me To the Moon.” ” ‘It’s a Wonderful World’ by Louis Armstrong is a favorite. It’s not just alternative (music),” Hall said.

Last week, there were 40 people who came to listen and belt it out, and 23-year-old Conor Tubbs did just that with a rendition of “Sex on Fire.”

The Kings of Leon song had this “American Idol” wannabe stamping his feet, swinging his arms, pointing at the audience and belting notes with his eyes closed.

His singing as well as his enthusiasm grabbed huge applause.

“It’s a blast. It’s better with a real band,” Tubbs said afterward as he ordered a drink at the bar. “They are really easy to follow. I’ve auditioned for ‘American Idol.’ This is what I want to do with my life. This is a good way to get in on it.”

Tubbs said Hall paces the band and helps sync it up with the singers if their words wander.

The only tough thing about Kill the Karaoke is that there isn’t a computer screen that shows the lyrics. At other karaoke gatherings around Greater Portland, it’s more of the traditional public singalong, with the lyrics shown on an easy-to-follow screen.

At the Flask Lounge in Portland, they take it even further: There’s a 60-inch plasma television that allows performers to stand next to their tables and sing. Flask owner Jessica Nolette said this helps them feel comfortable.

“There are a lot of regulars who come in consistently and want to sing every Saturday. We get a wide variety of people. People really enjoy it,” Nolette said. “There are regulars who it’s clear spend a good part of their life doing karaoke. They get really, really into it.

“For example, there is one gentleman who brings a blow-up guitar.”

Nolette says there is no shortage of talent in Greater Portland, and the man with the fake guitar numbers among them.

“I would say 80 to 90 percent of the people are actually good singers,” she said.

At Champions Sports Bar in Biddeford, they make sure you sound good — and as a result, the Sunday night karaoke session is more popular than the Thursday night one, said owner Mark Blake, drawing as many as 100 people every week.

Why? Champions uses a special sound system that enhances a singer’s voice. Think of it as the teen idol method for the masses.

“It makes every singer sound like a rock star by changing the level of the music and adding different effects to their voice,” Blake said. “The audience gets what they came for.”

 

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com