With a penciled-in mustache, huge dark sunglasses, green velvet smoking jacket and '70s-style wig, Jose Sinatra stands out in a crowd of Pacific Beach 20-somethings. At other places around town, his band, The Troy Dante Inferno, usually backs him up. Tuesday nights, however, the local singer stands alone as the host of Blind Melon's "Rock Star Karaoke."
His "God's gift to women" shtick-full of mock self-worshipping and sexual innuendo-separates the event from other karaoke shows. Whether exchanging words with him while making song requests or sitting back watching his opening performance, the patrons seem to enjoy his antics almost as well as belting out their own renditions of the standards.
"He should write down his stuff," says Andy, a patron from Claremont on a recent Tuesday. "Have you been down to the comedy show at Moondoggies? Those guys aren't funny. He's funny."
"You either love me or you adore me," Sinatra explains from his seat at the bar while sipping on a Heineken and adding requests to his list. He then returns to the stage to warm up the crowd with a sketch involving a tape-recorded scene from Star Trek, calling it a commercial from the "narcotics task force."
"That was William Shatner before he died of a tragic drug overdose," he explains, setting the tone for the evening. Throughout the night, Sinatra introduces singers by fake names and made-up stories.
"This is "Cool Vibe,'" he says, "singing "Friends In Low Places,' a song about oral sex."
Sinatra, who so obviously thrives on entertaining, doesn't try to dominate the show. On this night, he sings only the first song of the evening-a slightly altered and very dramatic version of "At This Moment."
As on his band's soon-to-be-released second album, Knowing Me Again, Touching Me Again, his performance proves him talented musically as well as comically.
"It upsets me to be labeled as the singer with the god-like vocals," he says, responding to compliments on his performance. "I'd rather be known as a vocalist who happens to be god-like."
As with most karaoke shows, "Rock Star Karaoke" plays host to the typical wannabes, but on this particular night, the audience saw more than the traditional cheesy displays of inebriation. Using the karaoke format to their advantage, several people brought their own music and performed original material, including a male rap duo called Higher Minds.
As refreshing as this was to see, musical skill is neither required nor expected at "Rock Star." It can be just as entertaining-or even more entertaining-to watch someone get in front of a crowd and butcher a song, especially if they sing it as if their life depends on its execution.
Some, however, take bad singing to another level. Sinatra tells a story of one woman in particular: "She comes up saying, "I'm gonna show these people how this song should be sung-I just hope my voice will hold out because I've been in the recording studio all day.'
"So, I think, what a fucking supercilious shit," he says, shaking his head. "She gets up there and she's among the worst people that have ever set foot on the stage."
If that's not bad enough, she's constantly over his shoulder asking how many songs until she's on again, an obvious pet peeve for Sinatra. "One song goes by and she comes back, "How many more?' It's like she just woke up and started her life again-Groundhog Day with Bill Murray."
The woman was finally "gonged" off the stage by bartender and "Sordid Tales" columnist Edwin Decker. The drum cymbal-turned-gong comes in handy during times like this, though Decker explains he uses it with caution.
"Bad singing is part of the karaoke experience," he says. "If I gonged everyone who sang badly we'd be looking at a blank stage all night. I don't gong people who take their singing seriously. I try to gong people who are there to have fun, won't have their egos hurt and have had ample chances to sing all night. It's supposed to be fun."
Sinatra echoes this sentiment: "The whole idea is to have fun, and by the end of the evening even the good singers are in their cups and usually start coming onstage in groups and the whole table will come up together and slaughter a song.
"But it's fun, people do have a really good time."
Jose Sinatra hosts "Rock Star Karaoke" at Blind Melon's every Tuesday except the last of the month, and at Winston's every Sunday except the last. 9:30 p.m. till close. Free. 858-483-7844.