Friday, October 20, 2006

Karaoke Review: Jimmy's Pub w/ Neil Harris & "The Nightowl"

October 10th, 2006

At long last I'm starting to get outside of the downtown core and headed out west. This place was recommended to me by a Toronto Karaoke Meetup member and I was looking for more "fresh blood". With new territory often comes new styles and approaches to karaoke and Neil was no exception. He is what I call one of the "crooner"s of karaoke MC world. If anyone is interested in cool kats in Karaoke, read on.

The Good: The selection is one of the most extensive I've had in a pub. Very wide. Many traditional British pub dishes, sandwiches, Mexican entrees, Steaks, Ribs, Chicken dishes, salads, pizzas and appetizers. (even escargot). Pastas, Greek food and Stir Fries are also available with less variety and an All day breakfast. Nothing like a Bacon & Eggs for dinner, eh? Prices for food are very reasonable. On another topic, the wings I had were exceptional so Tuesday night are a great time go where they are half price. Service was the best I've ever had in any restaurant. Very fast, very attentive and actually quite friendly. (They even gave me an ETA on the food). Neil as an MC makes you feel right at home. His style reminds of a bit of Frank Sinatra: Voice and performance as smooth as silk, very relaxed and mellow. He's not an MC that gives snappy comic remarks that many MCs downtown often use. but his commentary between songs is pleasant and he adds a few funny lines here and there. Neil could add a few more but not much as it could break something that works well. Like other MCs he wants people to participate but he eases you into it gradually. I could almost picture myself at the Cafe from the well know movie "Casablanca". He adds a little incentive with small prizes given out to random participants but people will be drawn more to the relaxed commentary and no pressure invitations. Its different approach than any other MC I've seen to date and it takes a really cool customer to pull it off. Neil is the PERFECT MC for groups with people new to karaoke who may be a little shy about trying it out or for people more mellow and laid back. His selection is significantly above average: Around 8800 songs and he's adding on regularly and takes requests for future venues from his participants. There is a good mix of new hits and old with minor gaps on both ends. No Supertramp but large selection of others and one of the new MCs who actually has A-Ha. Whatever your preference you won't feel left out with what's available. Neil is also a real stickler on sound quality for his shows and does his own audio editing for each song. Its a labor of love for him and it shows. His Equipment is in top shape and I saw what appeared to be new mikes. Although the music levels initially slightly overpowered the singer this only happened when he was singing himself so I can only assume this was just an initial sound check because afterwards the levels were excellent. The quality of the sound on his music tracks is significantly above the norm. In an age where more and more people are settling for cheap MIDI sound its nice to find someone who understands that poor quality music track really does detract from the experience. Wait times were very reasonable. Neil does something unusual in his rotations: He has people do 2 songs each turn. This is technique could work well in crowded room but could also backfire if someone selects a particularly long song and could slow wait times. I may be inclined to go back later to see what the results of this are in a packed room.

The bad: The only thing that could qualify as "bad" is the orientation of the stage: it faces the entrance so the singer cannot see the audience at all. Only people going in and out. The audience can only see you from the side view. Even though I sat fairly close, I didn't have a clear side view. As a stage it was wide enough and you could dance on it if you so desired but the orientation is a distraction to what could be a really great experience.

The mixed: The main course I had was quite good but the salad was average. The biggest mix in this bag was the atmosphere: The lighting nice which adds to Neil's charm but because of the stage I've put the atmosphere in the mixed category. I can't say its a bad stage setup but facing the entrance while singing is extremely awkward especially if you are new to singing on stage. Jimmy's is not ideally setup for a Karaoke show but from what I could see it was difficult to do much better with the pub's configuration.

Summary: Neil Harris is an MC in a class all his own. His calm smooth approach could relax the most nervous participant and he makes an effort to warm up to people which his audience appreciates. His attention to the quality of his music tracks stands out and the extra effort to do his own mixes really adds to the experience. While Neil is not a comic, he is a true entertainer in the karaoke business and pays careful attention to his participants he and he listens to feedback which perhaps is the most important thing a karaoke MC can do. Jimmy's is an exceptional pub with great select, good food and amazing service but its configuration is not ideal for karaoke stages. Even with the uneasy stage orientation you will have fun at with Jimmy's with Neil's unique easy going style combined with exceptional music tracks, excellent equipment & selection plus a smoothness unmatched anywhere. Its not for the party animals, but if you want a place you can relax and feel right at home with karaoke (as opposed to a more aggressive approach) Neil's a great choice. One thing that did stick out at me was the song books are not in exact order because of his additions. Consequently you have regular selections, new additions and more new additions (literally) in order by artist or song title. Makes it harder to find things within the 3 sections so if they could be consolidated that would be a BIG help.

Summary Scores:
Facilities: 7.3 (Nice ambiance which is at one with Neil's style. The Stage is the only negative aspect. Unfortunately facing the entrance rather than the audience is a significant distraction)

Equipment: 8.5 (normally I'd give an 8 but the music tracks are part of it and Neil's are exceptionally good in terms of sound quality. You'll feel like your in a recording studio with most of his tracks. Good balance and new mikes also add to this as well.

Location: 7.5 (Not quite on a subway but if you go to Wilson subway station and take a westbound bus its a 5-10 minute bus ride from the station. Enough free parking for people if you go by car)

Song Selection: 8.3 (Its exceptionally extensive with almost 9k songs and he adds to them regularly. I had to take 0.2 points off because finding songs is a little time consuming due to the fact he has song divided in 3 sections: regular, new additions, and more new additions. Regardless, its an exceptional list so everyone should find something they like)

Wait Time: 8.5 (wait times are quick. The fact that Neil has people do 2 songs at a time is interesting. I'll have to go back and see how this works on an exceptionally crowded night).

Host: 8.2 (Not a lot of comic remarks but enough to keep one smiling. Neil's commentary between songs in general makes you feel relaxed and right at home. He's perfect for nervous newbies or people who want relaxed karaoke. Neil has a Frank Sinatra twist to his style that I've seen nowhere else. Its unique and it works surprisingly well)

Food Prices: 8.2 (prices were very good. You won't go broke here)

Food Selection 9.0: of all the pubs/clubs/ restaurants I've been too this place had the best food selection I've see so far. Bravo!)

Food Quality 7.5:( Great wings, exceptional main entrees, Salads need some work)

Service: 9.3 (Best service I've ever had. Even better than upscale restaurants I've been to). Fast, courteous, attentive and even with a smile. I almost felt I was being served too well)

Final Grade: B+
There were so many good things here I really wanted to give this play an 'A-'. The one really bad item sticks out enough to lower the grade though. If the configuration could be changed in a few small ways (face an audience rather than the door please!) it would be a unique and amazing experience. In many ways it already is. I've know I've said this many times but I'm just so surprised how well Neil makes a laid back approach work and his selections and quality of sound tracks are exceptional. He's worth checking out for these aspects alone. If he can get his books in proper order this excellent song selection can get a few more point percentages. The prizes he gives out to random or new participants add some fun as well. His 2 songs per turn approach will appeal to many people who are worried about wait times. In a crowded it could add time but perhaps he'll adjust when the need arises. I'll certainly be back to find out.

Venue Information:

Jimmy's Pub
1805 Wilson Avenue
North York, ON M9M 1A2

Tuesdays: 10 PM - Closing

MC/KJ Information:
Neil Harris
Neils Karaoke with "The Nightowl"

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