Changing Tunes

Changing Tunes

I was anxious heading into my first karaoke night at The Cellar on Treadwell. I feared I’d encounter hours of off-key wailing followed by audience ridicule or, worse yet, long intimidating silences broken only by the occasional bold soul.

What I found instead was a boisterous and welcoming scene that supported every participant, even when their vocal chops were, to borrow from Winston Churchill, much to be modest about. Ed, a regular who sang a full-throated rendition of “The House of the Rising Sun,” told me, “We’re a family.” He discovered The Cellar’s karaoke night, held every Wednesday from 7 to 11, a few years back while searching for food after a live show at neighboring Space Ballroom. He encouraged me to perform my favorite belt-it-in-the-shower song, Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees,” and I’ll only need at least a dozen more soaking wet rehearsals to work up the nerve.

The dozens of performances that did happen that night, capably shepherded by host DJ Robb, ranged from Top 10 earworms—The Black-Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling,” shouted out by a duo calling themselves Rebel & Mammadukes; Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb,” sung by Naomi, part of a group Ed referred to as “The Once-a-Month Club”—to obscurities even Google couldn’t identify. I was delighted to hear monthly clubber Sarah bounce through the 2005 All-American Rejects hit “Dirty Little Secret,” a song I’d nearly forgotten even though it, too, made the Top 10.

There was plenty of torch rock and emo, some of it courtesy of Maddie and Belle who sang both as a duo and as solos, offering Avril Lavigne’s “Alice,” Pat Benatar’s “Invincible,” Evanescence’s “The Weight of the World” and Sleeping with Sirens’s “All My Heart.” But then—holy mood shift, Batman—Maddie laid out a blistering “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that would lift even Kurt Cobain’s depression. Solo act Leona’s choices also leaned toward the torchy, including Evanescence’s “My Immortal” and Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down,” though she, too, pulled a switch with Keith Urban’s “Blue Ain’t Your Color.” My vote for best chanteuse went to Katrice, who crushed Heart’s “Alone” while acting it out.

Still, hands down, the showstopper of the evening was monthly club member Mike’s rendition of Adam Sandler’s relentlessly profane “At a Medium Pace,” an exercise in courage that had most of the audience in hysterics and the rest gobsmacked. That included Naomi, who went up next with the preface, “How crazy am I to do Miley Cyrus after that shit?”

Credit should also be given to a fellow named Mancer for owning the stage: He took it 10 times (yes, I counted), more than anyone else. I found myself suspecting he was a ringer, planted to keep the night humming along—but whether he was or wasn’t, I enjoyed his hard rock and goth/metal repertoire: Generation X’s “Kiss Me Deadly,” Jawbreaker’s “Kiss the Bottle,” Atreyu’s “Clean Sheets,” Suede’s “Animal Nitrate,” Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine,” Danzig’s “Her Black Wings,” AC/DC’s “Night Prowler.” At one point, he found himself in a kind of mano-a-mano duel with Jared, a giant of a man who countered with VNV Nation’s “When Is the Future?” and Friends of the Nephilim’s “Preacher Man.”

As for the rest, there were sprightly go-rounds of Panic! At the Disco’s “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” (by birthday girl Olivia and friends Riley and Torie), Foo Fighters’ “My Hero,” Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun,” Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” and Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike,” a rollicking run-through that inspired Cellar co-owner and bartender Pete to jump onstage and join in with Ed. Looking back has gotten me thinking about other artists I would’ve liked to hear—Tom Petty or David Bowie or The Replacements. Surely one of these karaoke veterans could have crushed Prince’s “Kiss” or “Nothing Compares 2 U.” No matter; the point was to get the audience in a good mood and singing along, which we did.

To put some skin in the game, I’m definitely prepping my Thom Yorke tribute, which I expect will be aided by a little liquid courage and an order of Huggie Bear Wings, a house specialty covered with a honey butter glaze sure to soothe my vocal cords. Or maybe I’ll do Wilco’s “Shot in the Arm,” although—as Jeff Tweedy puts it—I’m going to need “something in my veins bloodier than blood.”

The Cellar on Treadwell
295 Treadwell St Bldg H, Hamden (map)
Weekly Karaoke Nights: Wed 7-11pm
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Written and photographed by Patricia Grandjean. Image features members of “the once-a-month club.”

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