McGillicuddy’s debuts “Band-Aoke Thursdays”

As the bar crowd murmured loudly around them, Marc Lowe and John Steffens worked silently to set up an electric piano and a laptop computer. At first, not many of the patrons of McGillicuddy’s Restaurant & Tap House seemed to notice the spectacle.

A group of men dressed in suits and ties kept to themselves at a small table opposite the bar, while others seemed absorbed by a New York Rangers game – even though the bar’s TVs are kept silent. The smell of bleach from an earlier mopping still lingered, and bar-goers trod Cuddy’s rough, worn wood floors transporting pints of Guinness or bottles of Budweiser to their tables — much as they do every night.

Lowe and Steffens’ appearance at McGillicuddy’s came as part of an experiment — “Band-Aoke Thursdays.” The bar itself had billed the two’s act this way — “like karaoke, only better.” Under the stage name, The Lounge Lizards, the two men get up each week to perform a repertoire of more than 1,000 songs. Wannabe karaoke superstars take to the stage with Lowe and Steffens to read lyrics from that laptop and sing. That diverse catalog of lyrics includes show tunes, old jingles, and pop radio hits from the last six decades.

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“We do everything from the ’50s, to boy bands, to commercials,” Steffens explained.

When asked what the strangest song The Lounge Lizards know how to play, Lowe paused and then smiled. It is ‘N Sync’s “Bye bye bye.” The two men learned the song as a joke because Cuddy’s bouncer bet them they wouldn’t do it. They won that bet, and the bouncer had to sing every silly word of that saccharine boy band tune.

“But, like I said, that’s kind of what we do,” Lowe said. “We try not to take ourselves too seriously.”

Lowe and Steffens have been in a slew of cover bands in the New Paltz area for roughly a decade before meeting through a mutual friend. “The joke is, I’ve pretty much been kicked out of every cover band in town,” Lowe said with a grin.

The Lounge Lizards have played “band-aoke” at McGillicuddy’s before last week, but more on a as-needed basis — and not every Thursday during bar-going prime time.

“We’ve been here for a couple of years, just doing special events,” Steffens said.

Part of the charm of The Lounge Lizards comes from their ability to help out struggling singers. Steffens and Lowe will sing along and prompt vocalists who can’t remember the words.

How frequently do people forget the words? “Often. And as the alcohol flows, they often need more help,” the pianist said, adding that The Lounge Lizards try to make the process as inviting and accessible as possible. “All you need are vocal cords and a sense of flow.”

As Steffens adjusted his mic and settled down behind the keys, Lowe took a final pre-show look at the crowd before slinging an acoustic guitar with a pink fuzzy strap over his shoulder. As the chords to “Wonderwall,” the infamous ’90s hit by Oasis, rang out, people turned their attention to the stage.

“Today is gonna be the day, that they’re gonna throw it back to you. By now you should’ve somehow realized what you gotta do,” The Lounge Lizards sang.

As they did, you could almost hear someone, somewhere in the back of the bar — perhaps slightly silly from a few pints — working up the courage to sing along.

For more information about the events at McGillicuddy’s, head to www.cuddysny.com. You can find The Lounge Lizards in person at Thursday nights at the bar — at least until the end of the semester at SUNY New Paltz. Look up the band online by searching for “The Lounge Lizards” on Facebook. You can book the band for special events, like weddings or parties, by e-mailing Marc Lowe at markjlowe@yahoo.com. ++

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