Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Karaoke Review: Fox & Fiddle w/ Pete Rock Radio

** Best Karaoke Video Show 2006 **
** Best Digital Audio Effects 2006 **
Reviewed September 26, 2006

We have a new first at the Toronto Karaoke Blogspot: A karaoke venue tailored to the University student crowd. Since this venue is near the University of Toronto it makes sense. Now MC's like Jason Rolland also try to tailor to similar crowds but this MC has a twist all his own. Some may say its better as Pete has what I like to call "Karaoke with Bite". "Tell me more, tell me more" you say? Absolutely.

The Good: Pete opens up his show with the familiar phrase "This program contains adult subject matter". Well he isn't kidding folks so if you have any problem with rated 'R' material including jokes, sounds and possible still pictures well...discression is advised. This is certainly the first rated 'R' karaoke I've ever witnessed. But he has bar none the best audio effects (Jeff of Big City Music Services had good use of echo in appropriate places but nothing like this): Various voice recording, sounds of funny and sometimes gross nature. He even had a recording of William Shanter reciting "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". He uses a digital projector on a screen to show the words for songs behind the singer and funny pictures which he does to great effect. Its a riot and a karaoke enhancement I'd never see done in public karaoke before. I would occasionally ask people in private boxes to elect the cheesiest video but the laughs from Pete's video system are second to none. Bravo!! He also uses wireless mikes (hey, people actually do this) and a first rate speaker system that never overloads. You will sound wonderful here and Pete keeps the music & voice levels at reasonable volumes and balance (unless you don't know words in which case he may through in a funny remark or two ). Overall Pete has a good sense of humor and he keeps it fun. Again, a few rated 'R' and X' pictures (1) and comments (many) come up, but for University students, this is tame compared to what you usually find in the frats of my old alma mater. We don't take off points for restricted or adult content here (and Pete does a good job for the expected audience) I must stress (as does Pete at the beginning of every show) the nature of the expected jokes. On to the restaurant itself, the food is quite decent in quality, services is excellent once they see you (it was unusually crowded when I was there). The layout was actually excellent: Tables arranged so you can get to the stage easily. The stage itself had a wooden floor section which is great for dancing and easy view monitors in front and above. The screen behind had both words and humorous pictures from the Digital Projector overhead. You'll feel like a star here. To me this is a great relief since the Hollywood on Queensway stopped their karaoke show. They had the best stage of any venue so its good to be able to suggest another place with a really good stage. The food is also excellent here and prices are bit better than average.

The Bad: The one weakness of Pete's system (And I noticed this for employees of Canadian Karaoke as well regardless of MC), is the time it takes between songs. I'm guess they are using some Apple iTunes or similar MP3 Program with video. This is all well and good but it takes longer to setup songs (you can tell this system by the fact they have no real numbering like on older karaoke systems). Being in the IT biz, I understand the flexibility these tools allow and commend Karaoke MC's for taking full advantage of them, but when you have a big crowd these increased wait times get noticed and MC's using this equipment sometimes have to "vamp" comical anecdotes to fill in for time it takes to queue up songs. So as a suggestion (and this is the second company now) find a way to allow these computer apps to store a queue of songs so people don't have to wait too long. We all like commentary (especially good/funny commentary between songs, but ideally one should keep turn around times between 1-3 minutes. These MP3 based "karaoke" systems seems to average 3-5 minutes between songs. Given that this is the second company I've seen with this problem with similar song playing methods, the software is definitely a factor. As an IT consultant (I'm not an MP3 software specialist however, is there such a thing...?) I'm happy to offer suggestions provided I can see what software you are actually using for no charge. Some songs in my opinion also go a bit too long especially with the song change times. I don't agree with Jason Rolland's "banned" list but one thing he does better than anyone else is he keeps singing times reasonable: Anything longer than 5 minutes he fades out. Something Pete here and MC's from Canadian Karaoke can learn from. So basically the wait times between songs are the only real negative side but I fear this will be increasing common with some of these new "numberless" systems coming into play on the Karaoke scene.(at least without proper remedy...drop me a line if you'd like any technical/scripting suggestions, especially mac users: you may not know how much power you have with AppleScript). It would be great if MC's using this Mp3 player computer on their laptops could keep singers within 5 minutes as some songs can go as long as 10 minutes unchecked.

The Mixed: Food selection was a little odd. The place feels like a British pub the selection feels more like from the USA: Large selection of sandwiches, Mexican dishes, salads, but limited British pub food (4 dishes). The song selection is decent: ~6300 (received e-mail indicating ~7000 from Peter) songs and has an excellent choice of recent hits which is not so common with Karaoke companies with this number of songs.(I put it in the mixed section because Jeff of Big City Music Services blew away my score ranks with his 13264 (last count) songs in his collection which I cannot ignore. To Pete's credit his has an excellent number of modern hits: ACDC, Dixie Chicks and Radiohead are only a few examples and most Karaoke Hosts don't have good modern selections unless they have at least 8000 songs so Pete, good choice on balance on available quantity and selection from all major genres for Karaoke music. No one should feel left out by any generation gaps here.

Summary: Pete Rockwell brings a unique edge to the Karaoke world as well as the best (and only) picture comedy show of its kind Toronto Karaoke (so far...) and certainly the best sound effects offered by any MC to date (you may notice unusually loud fart sounds but be puzzled by lack of odor). With top quality sound equipment including wireless mikes, a great dance floor on the stage and excellent food, its a good place for karaoke, especially if you enjoy University Student type of humor. I am officially giving Pete Radio Rock Karaoke the "Humorous Video Show and Sound Effects Award" which I was compelled to create for this new way of adding more fun to the karaoke experience. Its well worth the possible wait times you may have to endure if you go on a crowded night. There is room for improvement but overall an excellent place to enjoy Karaoke. Humor is good although not quite as good as Jeff of Big City Music Services but Pete is the youngest Karaoke MC I've seen so far and has great promise. Given time he may pass Jeff in the humor department, especially with his visual aids.

Summary Scores:
Facilities: 8.5 (Good stage, well planned path to the mike and lots of room in the back for additional participants)
Equipment: 9.8 (Highest score rating, knocking Jason Rolland's score down a few notches. Equipment as good as his PLUS great video! Decided we needed room for someone beat it which I think unlikely, especially on the video side which is something normally seen only in private boxes. Come all challengers!
Location: 8.7 (close to St. George subway station. Lots of street parking available on side streets. Possible free parking on residential streets if you don't mind walking a few minutes)
Song Selection: 7.5 (added points for good selection in modern songs which is rare for MCs with selection in the 6k range)
Wait Time: 7.0 (Average due to queue times of the software, sometimes singer up as long as 9 minutes which should be clipped by MC a little if longer than 5-6 minutes)
Host: 8.8. Pete's video elements are a riot. Good taste and timing for many pictures related to choice of song (and song switching times). Great sound effects as well. Jeff has a little bit of the upper hand in experience with his jokes, musical and political trivia (would do well as a professional comedian) but given Pete's age, time may well make him Jeff's equal or better. You won't be disappointed.
Food Prices: 7.6 (Decent, slightly better than average)
Food Selection: 7.5 (good selection but not quite what you expect in a pub, Sandwiches and Mexican food have more choices than British pub fair)
Food Quality: 7.8 (Quite good)
Service: 8.5 (very attentive, they look after you well)

Final Grade: B+/A- (Very strong finish. Almost beat the Groundhog because of its stage and equipment. This is a VERY solid venue and Host. Reduced wait times, increased selection or more experience to add a greater variety of joke topics (which WILL come in time I have no doubt), would make this place a solid A-. 2 or more of these would make this the first A venue to be reviewed.

Update (2006-11-10): I just received an e-mail from Peter Rockwell who clarified a few things:
1. He has roughly 6480 songs. Upon receiving a few points of clarification I recounted them carefully. (I was given a number of 7000 so I suspect there are new additions not in the books yet)
2. He isn't as young as I thought he was :D...ah well...shows how well I can judge a person's age but I'm pretty certain he hasn't been around as long as Jeff or Peter Styles so I'd say he's still pretty well polished for his experience in comparison to these old veterans.
3. The wait times I mentioned were apparently NOT due to Peter's software (although it is for Canadian Karaoke entering songs using iTunes) but is a conscious decision based on the style of his show)

Venue Information:
Fox & Fiddle
280 Bloor Street West (Bloor St. West @ St. George)
Toronto, ON
(416) 966-4fox (369)
Tuesdays & Saturdays 10 PM - 2 AM

Pete Rock Radio Karaoke
Site: http://www.peterockradio.com and http://www.karaokeisstupid.com


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