So, as part of the several celebrations of Sissy's birthday, a group of pals went to Keys on Main in Lower Queen Anne for an evening of Dueling Pianos. I had seen shows of this type before: pianists at twin keyboards, playing music, singing, engaging in repartee, telling jokes, taking requests, collecting tips. Having just come from a dinner at Canlis, the paradigm of a swanky joint, I was hoping to continue a great evening with some entertainment and the company of friends.
To put it mildly, it did not turn out as I had expected. Perhaps it was just the jarring transition from the rarefied air of "Seattle's fanciest, finest restaurant" to what was essentially a dude-bro bar, but the tone and timbre of Keys on Main was a real let-down. Here's a catalog of disappointing qualities.
Loud: I'll be the first to admit I am not a connoisseur of music, but it seemed to me that the most prominent component of the skill sets of the pianists was volume. They did play some of those really-fast-banging-the-keyboard bits like Jerry Lee Lewis, but the rest of the time the music seemed pedestrian. And it was always extremely loud. I don't think this is just age talking; it was literally impossible to converse with Coco, who was sitting right next to me, much less have any kind of celebratory interaction with the table and the guest of honor.
Crass: It became evident quite quickly that if you wanted to get a particular song played, you would have to pony up some serious cash: even early in the evening, people were dropping twenties on the piano along with their request slips. So, if you had a request, you needed to be rich enough to toss off a big tip, or drunk enough to overspend. That system didn't serve to generate a sense of good-time community.
Intemperate: The attitude and remarks of the pianists made it clear that a goal of the evening was to consume a lot of alcohol. Comments like an encouraging "Oh, you're louder than before I took my break - that means you're drinking!" and a chiding "This table is too quiet - you're not drinking enough" established that consumption - indeed, overconsumption - was the point of the exercise. Not just having a good time per se, but getting drunk and having a good time. To me, this seemed like a deliberate strategy to feed both the bar and the tip jar (see Crass, above), but I think it is also an authentic part of the culture of which this club is a part. I'm no teetotaler, but I've also responded to enough bar disturbances to prefer to keep a healthy distance between me and a roomful of drunks.
Heteronormative: The tenor of the evening was all boyz will be boyz and wimmen are the sexay! The only attempt to establish hip, progressive Seattle credentials was when the pianists went out of their way to denigrate country music ("This isn't Tacoma!"). From an early request exhorting male patrons to come to the stage by saying "All the real men stand up!" to one performer pointing out a sailor on leave and relating how he "was in last night and left with like seven women," the evening could have been a scene out of Mad Men as far as gender roles and relations went.
Sophomoric: This heteronormativity was expressed in the most juvenile of ways: Get a woman to come on stage to sit on the piano and say that you're sure "it's not the first time she's sat on some hard wood." Get a woman to come on stage and invite her to sit on your "big, black instrument." Get a woman on stage and sing about how many men she has sex with for money. Get a woman on stage and make her shake her boobs doing the hokey-pokey. Get a woman on stage and make her bob her head so it looks like she is giving oral sex. Snigger, rinse, and repeat. If this stuff was ever amusing, it must have been in the junior high cafeteria.
Not funny: That "big, black instrument joke"? He made it twice in the space of ten minutes. Not only was the material deficient, but the performers were, too. Trying a little too hard to be clever, they did not engage me or make me want to spend any more time in the room with them.
Now, I am well aware that taking this attitude is going to make me the skunk at the picnic and I'll certainly be hit with accusations of being a wet blanket or a stick-in-the-mud. And that's exactly what would have happened to any woman who was called on stage and did not play along with the puerile, sexist shenanigans that passed for entertainment last night. Fine. "Anyone has the privilege of offending who is willing to bear the odium," as Rex Stout wrote, and I am perfectly willing.
I'd planned on ending with some inclusive things, like YMMV, or to each her own, or it was just not my tribe, but really, I think this was just a nasty, poisonous place and it's hard for me to say anything remotely positive about it. Which is why I left early, if anyone who was there was wondering.
Happy birthday anyway, Sissy.