Thursday, April 16, 2015

A howling good time in Chicago

In "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", Donald and Daffy challenge
each other to a piano duel.  Image credit here.
At the western end of 42nd Street in New York, just before you get your feet wet in the Hudson River, there's a little place called Tobacco Road.  It won Best Dive Bar in 2011, and deserved the accolade for sure.  A former bikini bar, Tobacco Road would never win prizes for its decor but it was here that I discovered Shake, Rattle and Roll - New York's fun and silly Dueling Pianos show.  They've since taken their act on the road, moving the pianos down to the cool Tribeca neighbourhood, but that's just geography really. Shake, Rattle and Roll is still the good-time evening out, where you're entertained by super-talented musicians who enjoy sharing good laughs, music, and drinks with a likeminded audience.

I didn't just randomly wander into Tobacco Road that night though.  My interest in the musical craziness that is Duelling Pianos actually began years before, in Chicago.  So just recently, when I was back there with my parents, I took them to where my rowdy, beer-fueled musical education began - Howl At The Moon, on West Hubbard Street, just off Michigan Avenue.

I have never seen a Dueling Pianos show in Australia (maybe we don't have it) so I had to give Mum and Dad the heads up on what to expect.  In Dueling Pianos, there are two pianos up on stage, facing each other.  The pianists take it in turns to play songs that the audience has requested (you do this by writing down your song request on a small piece of paper, and leaving it on the top of one of the pianos).  Adding a few dollars on top of each request helps ensure that your song works its way to the top of the playlist.  If one pianist starts playing a song you don't particularly like, or if you'd just rather hear a different song altogether, you can put some more money on the opposite piano and the other pianist may well start playing your song, basically cutting off the first song.  The duel is on, and it's like musical warfare!  Things can get pretty feisty, and dollar bills and song requests fly back and forth, but the crowd really gets into the spirit and the sing-a-longs alone are worth it.

We showed up at Howl At The Moon on a really frosty Sunday evening and there wasn't much of a crowd at all.  Cover charge wouldn't kick in until later, so we got in for free and we settled down to the business of beer-drinking and brainstorming our song list.  Before long, the small but enthusiastic collection of music fans in the room had started to warm up and we had pulled together a fairly impressive list of diverse requests.

Obviously this wasn't the first time my parents had been exposed to the depths of musical talent in Chicago. After all, we'd hit up Buddy Guy's Legends Bar on Friday night, and The Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues that Sunday morning (where I had been years ago).  As a result of all this, my parents had come to expect big things from Chicago musicians.  But I don't think any of us really anticipated just how talented the Howl At The Moon artists were going to be that night.  Just when you start admiring how well they play the piano, they switched around to accompany each other on drums, or even the guitar, and they were equally brilliant at everything they touched.  From Michael Jackson to AC/DC, and Sir Mix-A-Lot to Van Morrison, the artists managed everything we threw at them, and all without sheet music!  How?  Incredible.

Whether you get to Howl At The Moon in Chicago, or you visit Shake, Rattle, and Roll in New York, you're bound to enjoy Dueling Pianos.  Amazing musicians play the songs you want to hear, while you sing and dance along with a noisy crowd of fun people.  What's not to like about that?!