Current Issue #488

Beer and Other Sins: It’s always 3am at La Sing

Superficial constructs like ‘time’ and ‘pitch’ mean little in this windowless karaoke bar in the western CBD where countless nights out on the town have met their end.

Somewhere between the first notes of The B-52s’ Love Shack and the Backstreet Boys I found clarity.

It was early on a Saturday night, though the specific hour did not matter because La Sing, that karaoke bar at the bitter end of Gouger Street on Adelaide’s west side, exists entirely outside the space-time continuum. Though it opens from 9pm until “late” every day of the week except Mondays, it is always 3am inside its windowless walls.

I was perhaps two beers in, or maybe three, trying to make sense of the place while watching the swirling neon lights sweep over every surface of the bar. The music blared at an ear-splitting volume while silhouetted figures turned on the dancefloor against the tacky galaxy mural painted on the wall behind. I took in the portraits of Audrey Hepburn, the cheap furniture, the token disco ball and marvelled at how there was nothing coherent about any of it.

The more I looked, however, the more I came to understand that was entirely the point. In a city often trapped by its limitations, the storied Adelaide institution that is La Sing is a place without restraint. Within its walls, no one will ever tell you to tone it down. Pick whichever song you like, from whatever era. Dance if you want to. Go high, or get low. Wash it down with an ocean of liquor, or none at all.

Be loud, be good, or be coarse – just don’t be a dick. That is the only law of La Sing. Respect the stage, the music and the others. Commit to the part. When your song ends, so do you. Don’t drop the mic. Beyond these rules, you are free to play.

None captured the spirit of the place on that Saturday night more than the bride-to-be. Nearly six-foot-tall, with long-blonde hair and a clip-on bridal veil, she was off-key, entirely out of tune and glorious in her pink, glittery heels. Having spent the last hour pounding cocktails she was simply going for it.

Glass in hand, she had taken to the stage to give a rendition of Rihanna’s We Found Love. Two lines in, she beckoned for her bridesmaids to join. When they dutifully obliged, they had kickstarted the dancefloor.

And as her song wound down to a close, the bride had a message for her audience.

“If you found love in a hopeless place,” she yelled into the microphone, “That’s important because the place that we live in is fucked up.”

She paused for a moment, thinking about what to say next. “So good on you,” she added, before stepping off.

There were two bridal parties in the room that night, though they had slowly begun to merge. Sitting in what counted as the private section, they knocked back drinks and trawled the catalogues for pop classics. During one couple’s clearly well-practised duet of Summer Nights from Grease, two women from one bridal party asked two from the other to join them for the Spice Girls’ Wannabe.

Halfway through that slingshot trip back to the 90s, four rockers turned up, taking their seats in front of the stage at table one. They flicked through the laminated song books while a woman in a leopard-print skirt from table 11 left her date to sing a ballad. She had a voice like Celine Dion, a trait that did not go unnoticed by the man with her, who watched intently through his thick glasses, clearly spellbound.

After that came the skinny white girl from table four. For most of the night her picks had been defined more by enthusiasm than ability, at least until Shaggy’s Boombastic played. From somewhere deep within came the bouncing baritone required to carry it through.

It was around then that the older rocker from table one broke the ice for the newcomers. On stage, the man with salt-and-pepper hair, tight-fit skinny jeans and a grey, loosely buttoned shirt with the sleeves rolled up, took hold of the microphone with all the confidence of an experienced vocalist.

“It’s so good to be here in Adelaide,” he joked. No one, however, was listening – until the music played.

When the opening notes to ABBA’s SOS came over the sound system, the man began his cover of the heartbreak anthem with intimidating ability. With the chorus, he hit the high with feeling, singing the question, “So when you’re near me, darling, can’t you hear me? SOS.”

And at that moment the song peaked, both bridal parties and the constellation of groups at the other tables answered back. The bride-to-be, the woman in the leopard print skirt and the kids who had been semi-ironically selecting rap songs all night, every single person joined together as one.

In that one moment, they were all perfect strangers, happy and free.

Royce Kurmelovs

Royce Kurmelovs

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Royce Kurmelovs is an Australian freelance journalist and author of The Death of Holden (2016), Rogue Nation (2017) and Boom and Bust (2018).

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