This Week in the Mercury


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Karaoke-A-Thon Day 5: Voicebox

Posted by Laura Hudson on Tue, Mar 22, 2011 at 10:22 PM

Portland resident, ComicsAlliance editor, and insane karaoke addict Laura Hudson continues her 7-day karaoke marathon, hitting up a different Portland hotspot every night and reporting her experiences back to Blogtown.

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There's only one private room karaoke venue in Portland, so if you want to do karaoke but don't feel comfortable giving solo performances in front of dozens of strangers at bars, you're going to Voicebox. And you should, because it might the only private room karaoke game going in town, but it's also a good one.

The great thing about Voicebox is also the worst thing about it, depending on your perspective: It takes away the audience, and replaces them with your best friends. The focus is much more on a communal experience, something you'll notice immediately if you try to stand up and sing from anywhere besides the seating area, the only place the screen with the lyrics is really visible.

If you really get off on the thrill of performing for a large and somewhat anonymous crowd, it's unlikely that you're going replicate that excitement by singing in front of a handful of people you already know. But if getting up on stage to sing fills you with paralyzing, existential terror, chances are you going to be a lot happier at Voicebox.

Private room karaoke is probably the only reason I got into karaoke at all, since my first experience — standing in front of a microphone at a crowded bar — was basically terrifying for someone who wasn't used to singing in public. It wasn't until I moved to Japan, where almost all karaoke takes place behind closed doors, that I realized it could actually be fun. Everyone did it, even if they weren't “good” singers, and the focus there was less on generating star performances and more on taking part in an elaborate, drunken sing-a-longs with your friends in the context of many, many pitchers of beer. If that's the sort of experience you want, Voicebox is the place to get it.

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It's also a great way to work up to regular karaoke — kind of the vocal equivalent of creating a garage band that never leaves the garage, except that instead of playing guitars badly with your buddies while surrounded by musty concrete floors and discarded bicycle parts, you get to mess around musically in a plush, private room while waitresses bring you alcohol and bowls of gummi worms. (Don't be expecting a full bar, however; while they have an extensive menu of sake, their other drinks are primarily limited to wine and beer, and BYOB is strictly forbidden.)

Be aware that this speeds up the song rotation something fierce and usually means singing a lot more often, as it removes all the asshole strangers singing songs you don't care about, and replaces them with a much smaller number of more familiar assholes. It's not a bad idea to write down a few ideas for songs before you go, both to avoid the awkwardness of dead air and spend less of the party with your nose in the songbook.

For more advanced karaoke enthusiasts, Voicebox also a great place to practice new karaoke songs before debuting them in a more public space. The idea of practicing karaoke might sound a little weird, but it's a lot better to find out that can't actually hit the high note in “Take On Me” or that you don't really know all the words to “Bad Medicine” when you're in front of a few of your friends, rather than dozens of people you don't know.

One very critical caveat: Voicebox charges an hourly rate per person, a fact that you should discuss emphatically with your friends before you arrive. Fridays and Saturdays are the most expensive at $7 per person per hour, while weekdays dip to $4 per hour, and large groups can get slightly different rates. It isn't too bad if everyone chips in, except that if they don't, it adds up and you can get stuck holding the bag. I once got slammed with a $150+ bill after one particularly epic birthday party there, since people kept dropping in and out, and failing to pay their share either because they didn't realize the room charge existed or didn't care.

In this way and many others, your experience at Voicebox is only going to be as good as the friends you bring, so bring the best.

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