Toronto Karaoke Review: Milwaukee's w/ Jason Rolland
The sign on the front caught my attention even before I saw the schedule from my other karaoke sources: "The only Karaoke that doesn't Suck". Well, with a statement like that I HAD to review this place. So, on to see whether this place & MC does or does not suck.
I arrived early because the MC's web site http://www.jasonrolland.com indicated that the start time was from 9 PM to 1 AM, but his venue is from 10 PM to 2 AM. The food services were a pleasure. I must say the food quality was exceptionally good. I'd go there again just for the food. Service, very attentive. Now, on to the karaoke itself.
The Good: The food at Milwaukee's was excellent. I'm giving the highest food score I've ever given a karaoke bar/restaurant to date. The equipment was in excellent shape, excellent sound and wireless mics are a great touch. If you want temporary fame, you may get your picture on Jason's website. If a song like "American Pie" is too long, he'll fade it out, which is appreciated. While I love the song, it runs too long when you have other waiting in line.
The Mixed: The facilities are a bit awkward because the restaurant configuration makes it difficult to reach the karaoke stage on a crowded day unlike Hollywood on the Queensways which has the best karaoke configuration I've ever seen. The selection is mixed as well, not because of the selection itself, which is exceptional in content and variety, but because parts of it are either labeled "banned" or Jason will decide he can't let you sing a song you select for various reasons.
The Bad: (Note this venue is closed and the MC has reduced his restrictions in other venues where he performs, will verify in coming reviews) The only part of this karaoke venue that "sucked" was the Host himself. When Jason started things up, he began be indicating that the first song had to be a FAST selection. From there on the restrictions kept on coming. Never had I seen an MC who censored his own selections either on his books or verbally to his patrons. You feel like he's saying "Its my karaoke and you'll sing if I want you to". This is in violation of BASIC karaoke rules established in Japan, the motherland of karaoke: Participation is paramount to all else. Anything that interferes with people's willingness to participate is in violation of the spirit of karaoke.
This is exactly what Jason does with harsh negative comments if you don't follow his clapping rules and disallowing songs from his play list at his discretion even if it isn't "banned" in his books. (in my case I was told singing Barry Manilow may cause problems for a bunch of 19-20 year olds from Rochester, NY) You see a great selection with some song you really want to try, only to be told "not allowed" Would you feel comfortable submitting a song only to have it rejected by the Rolland censorship committee? (If I wanted that I'd sing in Russia or China)
In public karaoke, host conduct counts for a lot. I felt I'd sooner come for the food than for the MC. Telling people that some songs may cause riots also doesn't speak well for the safety or security at Milwaukee's. If Milwaukee's wants to make it patrons feel safe, I suggest they don't have riot warnings given by their karaoke hosts for song selections.
This is difficult for me because there are some very good things going for Milwakee's with Jason Rolland: The Food is excellent at reasonable prices, the equipment is first rate and the pictures on the web site are a nice touch. The site itself (which is NOT part of scoring), is as restricted as Jason's karaoke rules themselves which I'm sad to say doesn't surprise me: Your selections may be pulled if Jason decides it doesn't suit his taste or taste of the other patrons which left a VERY bad impression as does repeated negative reinforcements of rules. Implying a song selection may compromise safety and security in the restaurant doesn't help either.
At first glance, you like what you see, but you can't feel comfortable unless you are there primarily there to drink and/or only want to sing fast songs done in the 90's or later exclusively. To me, this kind of restriction DOES suck. If you want a place where you can feel free to sing your heart out and feel good doing it, I suggest you go elsewhere. I'll be checking a few of his other venues to confirm whether these song restrictions are because of the MC or the restaurant owners.
Facilities: 8 (Adjusted after viewing feedback and reflecting on other places)
Equipment: 9.5 (displace by Peter Rock Radio...see review)
Location 8 (St Andrew Subway, walk a bit Northeast)
Song Selection: 6 (Had to adjust for censored and potentially censored songs)
Wait Time: 7 (scaled for public venues)
Host: 6 (control freak, makes you feel like you are on the Chinese Internet)
Food Prices: 7.5 (won't break the bank)
Food Selection: 7 (covers the basics)
Food Quality: 8 (really good food for a karaoke restaurant)
Final Grade: C
Nice place, great equipment but Host puts a wet blanket on your song selection at times, have to worry about pleasing the crowd.
Tuesdays: 10 PM to 2 AM
220 Adelaide West
Toronto, Ontario M5H 1W7
Additional note: 2005-08-03. The MC took offense to this review and started flaming at a site I help organize. (I had no idea my reviews had such an effect) Any objective comments or disagreements are welcome, but flaming or blatent (and especially condecending) advertising attempts are not. If one feels a comment may be unjustified they may ask for clarification. One person even convinced me that the stage was better than average so I increased the score on facilities from a 7 to an 8 upon further reflection. The MC score stands. The flaming remarks I got plus attacks on our member's musical tastes removed any doubts I had about who was doing the censoring there. The MC took full responsibility for that.