Thursday, December 14, 2006

Karaoke Review:One Eleven Yorkville with Peter Rockwell of Pete Rock Radio Karaoke


After reading my first review of Peter's Performance at the Fox and Fiddle he invited me to check out his new venue at Yorkville. Having already given him an exceptional review I had no worries about Peter's performance as a karaoke host. So the only thing to really take into consideration is the venue itself.

The Good:
The venue is different from any I have been to because it wasn't typical pub but a Russian Restaurant/Bar. I was greeted by a very friendly waitress at the door. I'll say this for them, the staff appeared to know how to make you feel welcome. The furniture didn't hurt either: Soft Couches, soft padded chairs and small tables and low but visible lighting made One Eleven a very easy place to relax before facing a new work week. The menu had a nice selection of Russian dishes and desserts. Its a very intimate place. Although the place is smaller than a typical pub for Sunday nights this is actually ideal as you don't generally get a large crowd on that day. The stage set Pete arranges near the piano fits in well and creates an effective stage area. Peter gives his usual comic additions between and during songs with his usual knack for timing and witty charm. The wait times are better than average, which is what one would expect given the limited capacity of the restaurant

The Mixed:
The only thing I would call mixed here is the food pricing and possibly the space. Again, for Sunday a smaller place is ideal in my experience as you don't get the empty feeling I'm all too familiar with when I check out a place on Sunday evening. The food pricing is on the high side but the selection and preparation is par to fine dining so although the food prices are a bit expensive, its quality Russian food which is rather exotic, at least for me.

The Bad.
I could find nothing that was bad here at all. (Isn't it nice when this section is short and sweet?)

Conclusion: This is a quality venue with one of Toronto's better MC's. There are few enjoyable places you can do to with a quality MC on Sunday. This is definitely one of them. Well worth checking out if you can sleep in on Monday morning. ;-) If your budget is limited you may not want to come for dinner but the desserts and drinks are within reason.

Final Grade: B+

Summary Scores:

Facilities: 8.8 (Excellent atmosphere, great furniture, seating space may be a little limited unless you share a table or couch.)
Equipment: 9.4 (The video setup isn't as good as the Fox and Fiddle but its still very well done with the sounds and the lyric monitors work well)
Food Selection: 8.2 (Its a fair selection of Russian Meals and a great selection of desserts)
Prices: 7.0 (The prices are bit high. This is no place to go for a cheap meal but the food is excellent)
Location: 8.7 (Yorkville is an easy place to access through Bay Subway station. Plenty of paid parking in the area but free parking is not available anywhere nearby)
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: 8.5 (Well above average, some improvement in change times from when I last saw Peter in action)
Host: 8.8. Good taste and timing for jokes and sound effects as well. As I indicated in my last review of Rockwell, you won't be disappointed.
Service: 8.7 (Fairly fast and exceptionally friendly service here. Yes, the Russians know how to make you feel at home)

Venue Information:

Peter Rockwell, Pete Rock Radio Karaoke
One Eleven, 111 Yorkville Avenue
Toronto, ON
(416) 850-9471
Sundays 10 PM - 2 AM
Pete Rock Radio Karaoke
Site: and

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Monday, December 11, 2006

The end of a Karaoke era. A Master MC Retires, December, 2006

An master karaoke MC at the end of his career. A tribute to Jeff Zedic.

Having watched karaoke venues seriously for the past 2 years I've noted the things that make a Karaoke MC good or bad. The think I look for most is what makes a Karaoke MC Fun. That's what is all about ,right? Its with a happy and heavy heart I write this because this year I believe I found the best example of a truly fun Karaoke MC. So fun in fact several other professional Karaoke hosting companies (I'm not giving names but you know who you are), have sent their MC fledglings to watch him. Jeff Zedic has for the last decade been an ideal example of what a Karaoke Host should bring to the show. Happy because I had the opportunity. Sad because I only heard of him 7 months before his decision to retire. Many of you may have heard that Jeff Zedic is finally retiring and moving abroad. I write this good-bye in hopes it may inspire another MC to achieve or surpass the standards Mr. Zedic has set in the Karaoke MC World.

So what are the qualities that make an ideal MC? Attention to sound for one thing. I find many MCs lacking in this area. Besides Neil Harris, Jeff Zedic is the only other MC I've seen pay as much attention to his equipment and the way it functions in the room. Watching Jeff give pointers to his replacement, I heard him iterate several times the importance of listening for sound in the room and applying discrete sound effects to enhance the singers. The listening is constant and it always showed but I only truly appreciated it when I saw other MCs with less attention to this kind of detail. This applied to Jeff's equipment. I've often emphasized that wireless mikes are a nice touch. Jeff actually took the trouble to tell me the reasons he didn't use wireless mikes is it affected the quality of sound. I've seen people use quality wireless mikes (although good ones are around $800 apiece I'm told) but you have to respect anyone not wanting to risk lessening an already sweet sounding system.

Song selection is one thing Jeff Zedic always had. I was happily surprised when he blew my scoring system for song selection right off the scale. The song totals as of December, 2006 were 13964 songs with more being added. The second official selection published in any books are 9000 songs (once duplicates are eliminated). Jeff has no duplications of any kind and the selection spans over MANY genres. No one of any generation is eliminated or "banned" from participation.

The hardest part of the Karaoke MC job is engaging the audience. Most MCs don't engage nearly enough for a multitude of reasons. And its hard. Much harder than you'd think. Sometimes its having enough trivia in your head to avoid repeating the same stuff too many times. Sometimes its a sense of timing. Other times MCs just aren't assertive enough or rely on their band of "home boys" to get things started. The thing that made Jeff Zedic stand out, even without his top quality equipment, selection and attention to detail, is the way he can engage any audience. His mix of music & political trivia along with jokes about members of the audience (sometimes a little risky) and occasional play acting with the singers just keeps you engaged and laughing all the way to the mike (or even at the mike if you are lucky). His cowbell will certainly be missed by many. He probably could have been a comedian had he decided go in that direction. The creativity,energy and work required to keep an audience engaged for more for 4 hours is unimaginable when you think about it. Peter Styles, Peter Rockwell both do an amazing job, but Jeff is a touch act to follow which is why he had such an extensive following.

So, Jeff, thank you for 10 years of bringing fun, frolic, humor and harmony to karaoke lovers in Toronto. One can imagine that after 10 years its time for a change. I wish you well on your journey to Europe but you will be missed by Karaoke Participants in Toronto, both singers and MCs alike I'm sure (after all how many Master MCs are there in Toronto). My apologizes for holding out of this, but I had to be sure, but you officially get the Karaoke MC Of the Year Award for 2006.

Bon Voyage and thanks again for all the fun karaoke nights.

Jonah A. Libster
Toronto Karaoke Blogspot Writer

PS: Karaoke at Mayday Malone's and The Groundhog Pub will continues with the same equipment and a new MC, Jeremy Siklosi. While he is a little new to this gig, he is making an active effort to measure up to his mentor. Review to follow shortly, as I watch him progress.

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Karaoke Review:The Rivoli with Carson Foster from Kickass Karaoke


MC: Carson T. Foster Kickass Karaoke, Sunday Nights (Every 2nd & 4th Sunday of the Month)

Another place recommended by a Toronto Karaoke member and here we are again, checking out a new place. Rather than the traditional pub or bar we have a pool hall with restaurant below and a small bar. Lots of pool tables available. Hopefully the karaoke is equally impressive.

The Good:
The ambiance of this place is rather pleasant. Pretty easy to relax here. The restaurant specializes in Asian Fusion. I grabbed some Pai Thai which was actually quite impressive. Not only was the quality of the food exceptional but the quantity was enough I almost didn't finish it. (almost...). Service was very reasonable . The selection was fairly good with mixes of Thai, Indian, Japanese and Vietnamese dishes. Large variety of salads with a few sandwiches available (including burgers).

The Mixed:
The quality of the food was the best part of this venue. The karaoke unfortunately wasn't as exemplary. The setup for karaoke wasn't bad but given the narrow walkway to the stage and the distance of the farthest table, you could be walking a stretch to reach the mike. Which brings me to the next part: There was only one mike (most people have two). The MC started over 30 minutes late and waited for the group before doing ANYTHING! This MC has a bit of an attitude as well: He has his policies on this request forms which is all well and god, but some of them I have never seen anywhere else and the unique policies were for his convenience at the expense of the participants. His rules are as follows:

1. I take requests from a given person in the queue at one time when the person sings then they can give me their next request. Its fairer and I ignore this rule at the top of the night.
2. When someone gives me a bunch of requests put one into rotation an d the rest on the side until they sing. Then filter them as they sing. Sometimes I misplace a request. Sometimes I may change the request order if I feel a certain song is more appropriate at a given point in the evening. Better for the singer to hang on to them. I have limited space and fewer brain cells. (No other MC I've ever seen has difficulty in keeping requests in order, even when "bunches" are submitted.
3. I do try to get people who haven't sung in a given evening a chance to come up and participate. After that they're back in the rotation like everyone else. (this is fairly standard)
4. If a staff member of the bar or presenter puts in a request I do give them preference. After all it's their party. (Hmmm...does that mean the owner/presenter will "party on" if the customers come and don't buy anything? Someone should remind him that we, the customers, are the ones who foot the bill in the end).

Oh, to topt off rules 1, 2 and 4 which I don't totally agree with, this MC will only start when there are 3 requests. Now I've said this many times but I guess I can't say it enough: a good MC will know how to work a crowd even if its a slow night. This fellow didn't seem to want to even try to warm up the audience. I guess he is accustomed to karaoke die-hards like myself. Even if the room is filled with karaoke fans, sometimes they need the MC to "stir things up".

In addition to the one mike I mentioned earlier (instead of the customary two) the lyric monitor is horribly placed. Not only was it too far to see without stepping off the stage to the left, but when people passed their requests they had to step in FRONT of the monitor to reach the MC. This is really distracting. Its almost impossible to feel comfortable on this stage unless you have the words memorized. The monitor and outer casing have definitely seen better days. Fortunately the speakers were decent and levels well adjusted which is the only reason equipment is in the "mixed" section instead of the "bad" (although I was tempted with the monitor placement which was a new low for this karaoke reviewer). The stage (save for the monitor) was well placed although it was fairly small. About average for most karaoke pub/bars. There is not dance area however. The music selection was a bit on the low side (5966 songs) but just enough to be considered an average selection. Note: disk in the "900" range have "various issues" such as non-synchonized text (which usually isn't accurate anyway), or background noise. On the plus side there is a good balance of modern and oldies music. The book format and construction is one of the best I've seen. Too bad the contents are not as impressive. As an MC Mr. Foster isn't bad. He keeps the crowd going fairly well, once its already going. Again, my view, part of an MCs job is to get the crowd going, even if they are slow to start. He rotates the new people in and the wait times are fairly reasonable.

The Bad: There was nothing really bad here, save the monitor placement which I feel I must put here as it was an all time low in terms of readability.

Conclusion: I don't know its a coincidence but everytime a karaoke hosting company has some "cool" name there is some let down. Jason Rolland (whose business slogan was "the only karaoke that doesn't suck" but I think he's toned it down a notch), and now Kickass Karaoke. The food was the best part of my experience by far. The karaoke wasn't bad, but the selection was barely average, the equipment was less than average, and the MC I feel has a bit of an attitude with his regulations. A few parts of them were good but most of them I felt were excuses for less than average attention to the participants and leave a bad taste in one's mouth. I wasn't alone: I talked to a few karaoke hard-core fans and they agreed that Carson has a bit of an attitude. Its a good place to go on Queen Street West if you want a big quality meal, but in terms of overall karaoke experience, I've been to better, even on Sundays. (See the review of One Eleven in Yorkville). I know this will upset some of the Kickass Karaoke Fans who come here, but sorry, gotta call them as I see them.

Final Grade: C+

Summary Scores:

Facilities: 7.8 (place is quite nice but stage walk is potentially awkward)
Equipment: 7.0 (Worst monitor placement witnessed to date, one mike, very worn monitor case)
Selection 7.4 (Bonus for good design/layout)
Food Selection: 8.3 (Lots of Asian fusion, with a few western platters for those of us who are less adventurous)
Prices: 7.8 (a little on the high side, but the quality and quantity is excellent, drink prices very reasonable)
Location: 8.0 (Queen/Spadina, easy to get to via streetcars, paid side parking available)
MC: 7.0 (Had good points but policies on requests are less friendly than any other MC I've seen to date which was a significant downer on the overall experience)
Wait times: 8.5
Service: 8.3 (quality service with the quality food)

Venue Information:

Carson T. Foster, Kickass Karaoke
The Rivoli, 334 Queen Street
Upper Level (Pool Hall)
Toronto, ON

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