Sunday, May 15, 2005

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 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 website is all flash/javascript and although it WILL run on other browsers the web site tells you it won't work on anything but MS Internet Explorer which reflects poorly on the web developer who did this site. Firefox has gained popularity because it doesn't have a web security vulnerability known as ActiveX/VBScript. It will work if you go to on FireFox and Safari. As an IT professional whose done web development I'll just say for the record that there is no good reason for a site not to work on both of these browsers. Flash and Javascript work on all major browsers. Incidentally Jason, IE is only number one because MS stuffs it down their OS, but Firefox, Mozilla, Safari and Opera browsers are more secure (and becoming more popular) because most spyware out there takes advantage of ActiveX/VBScript vulnerabilities.

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.

Summary scores:
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.

Venue Information:
Tuesdays: 10 PM to 2 AM
220 Adelaide West
Toronto, Ontario M5H 1W7
(416) 368-1017

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.


At 1:51 AM, Blogger Jason Rolland said...

For the record I don't think I was Flaming I was just trying to explain that my Karaoke is not for Everyone. It's geared towards a younger and more relaxed folks.
SLOW Barry Manilow is not a crowd fave at my shows.

At 7:06 PM, Blogger Karaoke James said...

Niether of you gents know me, but I stumbled across this blog looking for a gig. Yes I am a host. I just read this article and I feel that "IF" the comments posted were accurate, they should stand. Also, as a host in 3 venue's I take a very different attitude. My patrons are mature enough to appreciate ALL styles of songs. They applaude whether I encourage them or not. It's about "karaoke love" and not about the host. My fear would be that if you were to rate my karaoke hosting abilities it would be classed as boring. As I said, karaoke is not about me, it's about my patrons and how to get as many people up to the microphone as possible in the time window I am allowed. I don't use any "filler". But I do use state of the art technology that rivals any host. I play music video's along side the singer lyrics and encourage mad love, karaoke love.
AS a matter of fact, I almost never sing, because my shows are a constant stream of singers and an even flow of different genre's. I don't need to sensor, UNLESS, someone is singing something that I know will personally offend another patron, instigate bad feelings or cause drama. Again, it's about karaoke love.
In defense of Jason, he may know his group better than the reviewer and may have his reasons for not playing Barry Manillow. Personally, I encourage the singing of the cheeziest songs possible to make the night as fun as hell. Constanltly singing Metallica, Hip-Hop, Rap, or other mean spirited styles can really piss on an evening. So, when you hear my 76 year old patron Yetta singing an old Perry Como, or Sara (20 something) belting out a stellar version of Disney's "Part of your world" it makes for good balance or Fung Shui. Bottom line guys, lighten up, it's karaoke. Have fun with your reviews and Jason, have fun making your group happy. Don't let words get to you. There are worse things happenning in the world.
Cheers. Please visit me at

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