Monday, December 11, 2006

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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