On March 12, Arlene’s World Famous Live R&R Karaoke Band will end its weekly run at Lower East Side venue Arlene’s Grocery in Manhattan, where they’ve been playing for more than 13 years
For nearly 900 shows at the venue — they also played on Friday night for three years besides all those Monday night shows — anybody could sign up and get called up to be the lead singer for the always tight and on-the-money band, which consisted of mainstays guitarist Paul McGilloway and drummer Mark Marone, a former Billboard modern rock chart manager, as well as about five or six different bass players and as many emcees through the years. Currently, those slots are helmed by, respectively, Ivan Bodley — who has played with a host of R&B acts including Sam Moore, the Shirelles and Solomon Burke, according to his website — and Shannon Conley, a former lead singer of tribute act Lez Zeppelin
Down through the years, the band — the self-proclaimed longest running house band in the country — has been cited by various publications and media as one of the must things to see on a Monday night in New York City. Even celebrities and rockers couldn’t resist taking their turn fronting and/or playing with the band, including Jim Carrey, Sebastian Bach and Moby. The band also went heavily into the corporate route, playing private parties for such companies as Google, Facebook and Nike, according to their website, as well as multiple times playing for the Saturday Night Live after show/after-after party, sometimes hitting the stage at 5 a.m. During their tenure at Arlene’s, the band also ventured onto television, appearing on the Bravo network’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
At the weekly Monday night gathering, audience members get to sign up for a chance to sing a tune — “Unleash your inner rock star” is a part of the band’s logo — picked from over 200 songs, ranging from T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy” to Jane’s Addiction’s “Mountain Song,” Danny & the Juniors’ “At the Hop,” Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker,” Glenn Danzig’s “Mother,” Rick James’ “Super Freak,” Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business,” “Alice in Chain’s “Man in the Box,” the Clash’s “London Calling,” Dion & the Belmonts’ “The Wanderer.” the Romantics’ “What I Like About You,” AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie,” Diana Ross & the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love,” Jethro Tull’s “Hymn 43,” the Coasters’ “Yakety Yak” and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.”
On Monday, March 5, the second to last show at Arlene’s, the Stanton Street club was packed, as many longtime regulars returned from as far away as Florida and Los Angeles specifically to take the stage, probably for the last time, at least at that venue. Also on hand were more than a few singers from bands in New York’s local rock scene. Before the show starts, about 20 people waited on line to put their name and song down on the list. The show began with a recording of the 10 commandments that must be adhered to while attending Arlene’s karaoke night, where the audience is referred to as the congregation.
Morgan “SuperMorgan” Liebman, lead singer for local hard rock outfit Snake Canyon and co-promoter of the FBomb tribute night at Arlene’s, told Billboard he hadn’t been to the Arlene’s R&R Karaoke Band show for a few years and thought he would come down and enjoy the event one last time. Within the hour, he was up on the stage, leading the band through Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades.” Other regulars got up and confessed that they too hadn’t been to the show in a while; and a few regretted that if they had attended more regularly, maybe the band’s run at Arlene’s wouldn’t be ending.
One such singer, Paulie Z, said he flew in that day from Los Angeles just to bid farewell to the band’s tenure at Arlene and to sing with them one more time at the club. In a gracious move, he let the band pick the song for him to sing, and they chose Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart.” “This song is a good choice because this is an ending, and it’s taking a piece of my heart because all good things eventually end,” he said. After rocking that song, it was noted that Paulie Z was getting up early in the morning for a 7 a.m. flight back to Los Angeles because he was performing on Tuesday night at the Whisky a Go Go as the new lead singer for Sweet (“Fox on the Run,” “Ballroom Blitz”and “Little Willie”).
While the karaoke requests on Monday were dominated by hard rock songs — the singers chose more than a few Guns N’ Roses and AC/DC songs — one of the best received tunes of the evening was a rendition of Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by a young lady who said her name was Sylvia, who got the audience singing and dancing along with her.
Another singer who said he drove up from Florida to sing Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ “Give It Away” said, “Don’t be sad this is ending; be glad it happened;” while a little later a singer got up to sing U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” and admitted that this was his debut at the show, but added, “It’s never too late to have a first time, even if it’s the second-to-last time.”
For those who were sad about the ending of Arlene’s World Famous Live R&R Karaoke Band’s run at the venue, emcee Conley — who backs up those singers whose vocal abilities don’t quite live up to their ambition to be rock stars for one song on Arlene’s stage — reassures the congregation, “That’s all right, the rock lives on forever.”
The Arlene’s World Famous Live Karaoke R&R Band’s last show at Arlene’s Grocery on Stanton Street this Monday night will begin at 8 p.m. But the band also said this won’t be their last show in general, as they hinted at more news down the road.