10 p.m. Saturday
121 E. Sheridan
Four minutes of rock stardom is still four more minutes than the average person ever gets, and a swaggering blonde made the most of the spotlight by roaring through a fiery cover of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine.”
“Oh, Christ,” another prospective rock star muttered as she watched the stage. “Please, God, say I am not going after her.”
With the last dying notes drifting from the amps, the blonde gave a gracious bow to the hollering crowd, and a name was called out over the sound system. The rocker-in-waiting grunted an expletive, forced a smile and made her way to the stage for her turn at momentary glory and rock ‘n’ roll fantasy, courtesy of Oklahoma City’s live karaoke band, Metal Nutz.
Karaoke is definitely a polarizing prospect, as overly practiced ringers often share the stage with tragically unprepared novices who take on pop standards set to a backup track. But when three musicians culled from the local rock scene are playing behind a nervous singer who’s unleashing his or her inner “Idol,” a whole new dimension is brought out, both for the performer and public.
Mike Mosteller came up with the idea during a trip to Atlanta, where he stumbled upon a band performing live karaoke.
“The crowd was just eating that shit up,” he said. “I lived a thousand miles away and knew I had to put something like that together in Oklahoma City. So I grabbed a few musicians I knew and off we went with it.”
The trick, Mosteller said, was to cobble together a large catalog of popular songs that appeal to a wide audience, so participants are able to find a suitable tune. The band’s available track list wavers between 30 and 60 cuts, depending on Metal Nutz’ ever-evolving lineup. The classics are well represented by songs from acts like Judas Priest, Bon Jovi, Garbage, Joan Jett, Led Zeppelin and Stone Temple Pilots.
“The concept is cool, because you get to play a lot of cool songs that you normally wouldn’t be able to do, because you’re limited to what your singer can actually handle,” said guitarist Mike Huffman. “You can’t replicate the vocals in every good song, but if you’re doing karaoke and you really want to play Pantera’s ‘Walk,’ then anybody can get onstage and butcher the hell out of it and no one cares because they are having fun. The best are the guys with the button-ups and khakis who get up to sing Tool. It puts a smile on my face every time.”
Mosteller said the band adds songs to its repertoire that stand the test of time, as well as tunes the musicians feel they can do justice to live. Because Metal Nutz was originally just a guitarist, drummer and bassist, many popular karaoke cuts were left out.
“That’s always been our biggest hindrance: A lot of the bands we want to cover have two guitars or a keyboardist, or some other musician that we don’t have,” he said. “Journey will at least be remedied for our next show, because we are working with a keyboardist prodigy who can fill those holes immediately. We’ll finally be able to bring in some Journey and Nine Inch Nails songs.”
There are, however, some numbers that will never make it into the Metal Nutz catalog, regardless of how many times it is shouted out any given night.
“We’ve had ‘Free Bird’ requested 10 times already tonight, and we just can’t do that,” said bassist Brian Daniel. “It is just something with our pride that won’t let us do that damn song.”
Metal Nutz won’t take any requests that aren’t on its menu, and soundman Stephen Tyler is in charge of which karaoke-goers go up and when. Tyler said that opening the show is always difficult, since no one wants to go first and audiences aren’t quite certain of the concept.
“After about the first two minutes of the first song, people recognize that someone from the crowd really did get up on the stage and play with an actual band,” Tyler said. “After the ball gets rolling, it’s pretty nonstop. You just need to wait 10 minutes for some drunk guy to get up there and make a fool of himself.”
What’s needed for a participant to successfully tap into an inner rock god? The Metal Nutz players agreed that a good karaoke performance is more about energy and presence than pitch and accuracy. From the musicians’ side, it’s more about fighting the normal flow of a group by not paying attention to the lead singer.
“After five years, we’ve learned to just ignore the singer,” Daniel said. “If we just stick with each other, we can muscle through anything.” “Charles Martin