Live band karaoke returns

Another night of ‘total rockstar performances’

Rory Ellis is a guitarist providing the music for amateur vocalists at Live Band Karaoke. (Photo by Keeley Braunstein-Black)

Karaoke, derived from the Japanese words for “empty orchestra,” is a staple of bars in East Asia. In the last five years, karaoke’s popularity has skyrocketed around the world for people who want to show off their vocal chops – or lack thereof – in front of friends and strangers alike.

On Feb. 4, the Good Will Social Club will put a twist on the classic event, trading in the jukebox for a group of live musicians. Dubbed Live Band Karaoke, the event lets people live their rockstar dreams and perform karaoke live for the Good Will audience.

The first Live Band Karaoke was put together in 2015. Host and guitarist Rory Ellis’ (Hut Hut) sister asked him to play a fundraising gig in support of The WRENCH at the Good Will.

“I used to do a party trick where I’d grab a guitar or sit at a piano and get people to call out pop songs,” Ellis says. “Eventually, I realized that people playing guitar at parties is really annoying, so I stopped, but I had developed a fun but useless kind of mental database of pop music that was always expanding.”

Shortly after being asked to do the fundraiser, Ellis reached out to drummer LOST AND  Rob Gardiner (Kandekt, Fold Paper and Figure Walking) to perform with him. The two were later set up with bassist Justin Alcock (Foxwell) to form the band.

Since their first performance in 2015, Live Band Karaoke has become a massive hit. The Good Will has repeatedly asked them to come back and put on the event for new audiences.

“The Live Band Karaoke following has certainly grown. When we started, I was worried that nobody would sign up, and we’d just stand there embarrassed on stage,” Ellis says. “These days at our Good Will shows, there’s usually a bit of a mad rush to sign up and people begging me to squeeze them into a full set.”

The performers of Live Band Karaoke limit the setlist to around 100 potential songs ranging from pop tracks like “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson to heavier songs such as “Search and Destroy” by The Stooges – one of Ellis’ favourites.

Although the band is limited to what a three-piece ensemble can produce, Ellis tries to make the mix as eclectic as possible to cover more of what people might want to perform.

In general, that’s a mix. “Some of the singers deliver total rockstar performances, but mostly it’s enthusiastic amateurs,” he says.

Without a machine to display the lyrics, singers can often get lost. Ellis says he’s happy to lend a hand and help them along.

“Even if the singers are seasoned karaoke pros, a lot of the time it’s their first time singing with a band, so I end up doing quite a bit of support,” he says. “I love karaoke, and I’m not a great singer, so I identify the most with people who are kinda trying something new by coming up and singing.”

The next Live Band Karaoke show is on Saturday, Feb. 4 at the Good Will Social Club (625 Portage Ave.). The event is free. Sign-up starts at 8 p.m. Singing starts at 9.

Published in Volume 77, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 26, 2023)

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