Rockaraoke
Sunset Tavern, 784-4880, Wednesdays.

IT'S A WEDNESDAY night at the Sunset Tavern and I'm onstage with my band, the Legendary Red Lesters. I take a long drag off my cigarette and blow smoke contemptuously at the crowd. It doesn't matter that their upturned faces are obscured by the glare of the lights--it's as if this stage were the beach; I am ROCK, and I can actually feel the waves of love crashing over me.

With studied nonchalance, I grab the microphone and glance over to Rusty, my guitar player, who gives me a subtle nod. Our connection transcends words, and I know it's time. The band tears into the beefy, bloody chords of our biggest hit, and I open my mouth to release the song bubbling inside me. "Oooooh, I've got double vision!"

It's Rockaraoke, come to kick karaoke's oh-so-'80s ass! The tinny backup music has been replaced with a real band; the bouncing ball has been swapped with the fact that you could sing "Cheap Sunglasses" in your sleep; and the cheesy video is gone, because (without the annoyances of hauling stuff in and out of a van, contracting crabs, or cultivating a drug problem) you are the show now, baby.

The night that I gleefully slaughtered my favorite Foreigner song, the interior of the decadently red Ballard bar was decorated with grinning Seattle Times and P-I workers sporting jaunty little "Guild and Proud" buttons. "We're all done with that shit. Now we can just get drunk," chortled ex-striker Danny, who moments later joined about 15 of his cohorts onstage for a truly cathartic version of "My Sharona."

The evening is the bastard brainchild of Sunset owner Max Genereaux, along with George Aragon and Rusty Uhrie, (veterans from the popular disco cover band Hit Explosion), and seasoned musicians Matt Fox and Ryan Mefferd. "These guys are human jukeboxes," Max says. "And they're developing their playlist from audience response. They just say, "Tell us what you want to sing and we'll learn it." Hopefully that means that they'll have learned my moving standard, "Ode to Billy Joe," when I come back for more of the spotlight's addictive magic next week.

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