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Come Sing for Mama 

Wednesday, Apr 29 2015
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Like the Dead Sea Scrolls, the karaoke list at Bow Bow Lounge requires a little deciphering. The various books are not identical, the songs are not alphabetized by artist, and hundreds if not thousands of songs don't even list the artist at all. "One" could be U2, Metallica, the Bee Gees, or possibly Sky Ferreira.

But if you can navigate your way through that, and the remote is working, your reward is instant gratification, because there's never more than a one- or two-song wait to sing. Overseeing this house of near-instant gratification is Mama Candy, a gruff middle-aged woman with long red nails and a flower in her hair, who's as easy with the dismissive backtalk as she is with the free pistachio refills. She favors sequins and smiles when you buy something. If she likes you, she'll pour you an unsolicited shot.

Mama Candy is perched on a stool behind the bar when I walk in, positioned as far away from the sound system as possible. The joint is hung with cheap LED Christmas lights, but the, actual bar has a beautiful lacquered panel with an allegorical scene from Chinese history. Because this is the boundary between North Beach and Chinatown, Bow Bow is home to an odd mix of Cantonese crooners and stranded European tourists and not much else — which is fine since after the 20th person shoehorns herself inside the bar, there isn't room for more.

A barback who couldn't weigh more than 90 pounds appears out of nowhere with ice just as a group of recent comedy school graduates floods the bar. One sings "Janie's Got a Gun" but doesn't know the tune, essentially rewriting a new melody around Aerosmith's lyrics. She sounds like Roseanne dynamiting the national anthem. A drunk guy who looks like Rahm Emanuel drops the mic as he finishes an Uncle Cracker song, and there's now a lot of feedback, so now we're all restricted to selections from the least-organized book because it's synced with a different mic. I'm totally confused, but I get up and do George Michael's "Faith," anyway.

"You good, honey," Mama Candy says, glasses at the tip of her nose. "Mama buy you a shot."


Karaoke City

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Mel-o-dee Karaoke: 'Gem of the East Bay'

The Mint: All Karaoke, All the Time

Monday Night Karaoke in Japantown's Hostess Bars

Ballads Are a No-No

Karaoke Kounterpoint: You are hereby found guilty of crimes against humility.

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About The Author

Peter Lawrence Kane

Bio:
Peter Lawrence Kane is SF Weekly's Arts Editor. He has lived in San Francisco since 2008 and is two-thirds the way toward his goal of visiting all 59 national parks.

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