Saturday, November 04, 2006

Karaoke Review: Neutral Nightclub w/ Steve-O and Margaret from Songsmith Karaoke (aka Karaoke Cult)

October 17, 2006

Recently I'm getting referred to more places by the Toronto Karaoke Meetup Group (Thanks Mo) and I take their recommendations seriously. This next venue takes me in one of the soho areas of Toronto known as Kensington Market. I generaly try to come early to karaoke venues when doing a review. I was told 10 PM but the place doesn't open until the stroke of 10 and the actually show generally starts between 10:30-11 PM so I'd come around that time. Although the formal address is "College Street" you have to find the entrance on Augusta on the west side next to a camera store and sushi shop. You'll see a hand-made wooden with "Neutral" with a cross as the "t". The entrance gave me a few doubts but since a karaoke fan recommended it I was hopeful that there was more to judging this book than its cover.

The Good: The facilities are larger than you'd think at the door. The decor is a bit on the dark side and I discovered the reason was many customers who come to this place are into the goth motive. The place was appropriately decorated to match. The stage was well set with an excellent view of almost the entire area. (some couches in the back corner were the only exception where people probably wanted privacy anyway). Possibly the best stage I've seen since Hollywood on the Queensway (see review) stoped their karaoke shows. Watching Steve and Margaret do sound checks was encouraging. The selection will grab your attention. Lots of modern and alternative music to choose from (again fits in with goth moods), plus many old favorites. I counted about 11290 and the largest collection (the only collection I've seen so far) of songs from the musical, Spamalot. On talking to Steve he said they had 20000 songs but I need to confirm that as it wasn't in the books. Either way an impressive selection and probably the best alternative music collection I've seen to date. If I can confirm the 20k songs I can reassign Jeff's best karaoke bar song selection award. This is a nightclub so there is no food but the drinks are reasonably priced (like most things in the Kensington Market area)

The Mixed: While the equipment was large, impressive and in good shape there were issues with 1 or 2 sound overloads when one mike faced the other even though they were two feet apart or more. Probably because of the mike sensitivity levels as well as the volume being pumped out of the impressive looking speakers. The idea is karaoke meets nightclub and the volumes are set appropriately which has possibilities but I thin its a delicate balance to do well. Even though singer/music balance was very good (they did extensive checks before they began) when I first went up I could barely hear myself. The 2nd round of singers was better when the volumes were taken down a notch presumably because after hearing the levels in the room it was decided it need adjustment. The MCs performance left me with mixed feelings as well. The performers were announced well enough but that was about it. MCs having great voices or even great equipment is good, but in my view its not quite enough. You need to engage you're audience and I know Steve has personality as I've seem him entertain very effectively at another Karaoke Venue when he was a participant. There was little to no interaction this evening with Steve's audience as an MC. Perhaps this is because its a nightclub and Steve may have been holding back to be consistant with the nightclub ambiance. I still think there was room for more personality. Hopefully if Steve reads this he and Margaret wil give my comments some thought because there is great equipment, excellent selection a LOT of potential if the right balance with all the elements including the MC's personality can be achieved. Wait times were quite good and there were no delays in song queues or rotations (save when a monitor had to be replaced but I'm certain that was a freak occurence). One final note here: While the books were available by Title and by Author, the "Title" book still had a mix of Author organization which was a little disorienting for me so I stuck to the books by Author which was more straightforward.

The Bad: Nothing struck me as "bad" here. Just more audience interaction would help, especially if the place is not full yet.

Summary: We have another unique setup: Karaoke meets nightclub. It has great possibilities now that I've seen it done and it could be a great combination with minor improvements. The selection is either a new record or a close second. Hosts are very attentive to sound levels and the stage configuration is supurb. You'll feel like a real entertainer here IF you can hear yourself as I felt initial volumes were a little too high (was rectified later). While we karaoke lovers enjoy entertaining we also like the MC to entertain as well. This place is unique not only for its nightclub setting, but with a scenery and atmosphere highly suitable for the goth crowd who are sure to be pleased with this venue. If you are a karaoke fan who is dying to do lots of alternative or modern songs, this is probably the best place to go.

Final Grade
: B

Facilities: 8.6
Equipment: 8.0
Selection 8.6 ("By Title" books somewhat confusing)
Food Selection: NA
Prices( Drinks): 8.0
Location: 7.7 (little hard to find the first time, off College Streetcar stop at College & Augusta, free and paid side parking available)
MC: 7.4 (Steve and Margaret are attentive MCs but they should put more of their personalities into it even if it is a nightclub. Steve is quite capable as I've seen him entertain effectively singing at another MC's venue. I'll be back in hopes of seeing that ability applied at future Neutral shows)
Wait times: 8.5
Service: NA

Venue Info:
MC: Songsmith Karaoke with Steve-O and Margaret
Neutral Nightclub
349a College Street
(at Augusta) Kensington Market
Toronto, Ontario M5T 2V8

Every other Tuesday Evening
Next show from date of publication: November 14th, 2006
UPDATE: Starting November 14th, 2006 Songsmith Karaoke (aka Karaoke Cult) will be at Neutral EVERY Tuesday night

MC Info:
Songsmith Karaoke
Stephen Chadderton - MC
(416) 565-1659
MySpace Account Link

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