Photo cred - schizophonia

Montrealers are a pretty open-minded bunch. We’re the type of city that once hosted a public fisting demonstration, but that’s just the tip (teehee) of the iceberg. Spend a bit of time around town any night of the week, and you’ve got a pretty good shot of seeing the diverse sexual orientations, genders, and identities that help make the city what it is.

Even still, something like Bareoke seems like a particularly novel event. The concept is fairly simple: sing songs along with a backing track, just like normal karaoke, but you have the added option of being able to take your clothes off as you belt out your favourite tune. Despite the straightforwardness of the premise, it’s one that promises a wealth of possibilities, and, once I heard about it, I knew that I had to experience it for myself. I wasn’t sure if I’d have the balls to show my balls, but I was fascinated to find out who would. I enlisted a few friends (and fellow public nudity agnostics), and we agreed to attend last night’s rendition of the shindig.

After completing the prerequisite preparation necessary for my journalistic endeavour at BDP, we arrived at Cabaret Playhouse around 11, still wondering what we’d find. The two topless women belting out Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” onstage quickly put an end to our ignorance: it was clear where the night was going. Maybe I shouldn’t have been as taken aback as I was by seeing nude people in public at an event designed to encourage, well, public nudity, but there’s a certain jeu ne sais quois to witnessing something like that which no amount of mental priming or pre-drinking can adequately prepare you for.

Photo cred - Mark

Regardless, we knew there was no turning back from the hedonic musical experience once we’d gotten that far, and we further steeled ourselves for the night ahead by heading to the bar for a round of tequila shots. Blood alcohol content levels raised and the unique flavour which only rail tequila can offer embedded on our taste buds, we headed towards the stage, now more properly prepared to embrace the journey that would be our night at strip karaoke.

Following the girls was a performer who exemplified a type that would prove to be a recurrent trope throughout the evening: a category of Bareoke goer I’ll refer to as SSG (Sad Single Guy). The SSGs were lone wolf dudes who’d come to the event without the intention of taking their own clothes off, but who seemed more than content to stand near the stage and gawk at the women who did. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the SSGs composed about a third of the performers, dampening the enthusiasm of the crowd and making our group feel guiltier and guiltier about the clothes that suddenly started to feel heavy on our bodies.

SSG #1 had chosen Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness” for his stripping-free strip karaoke song, and “sadness” was the only way to describe what we felt as we watched him lifelessly mumble the lyrics to the tune. His “stripping” was limited to removing the hoodie he’d seemingly worn only for the sake of having something to take off without approaching the actual showing of skin. Even sadder than him was SSG #2, a bespectacled man standing directly in front of the stage whose shirt read “I need a hug, but I’d settle for a blow job.” My friends and I looked at each other with cringe-y expressions, unsure of whether coming to Bareoke had been a wise decision.

Photo cred - North Gregory Hotel

The act who followed him managed to be even more discomforting than the SSGs. Simply put, he looked liked the sort of guy who epitomized the flaws with an event like strip karaoke: his trench coat, large glasses, and unruly beard would’ve been enough to make parents not want him anywhere near their children, and his presence at an event designed for public nudity uncomfortably befit his appearance.

Regardless of his intentions, the audience was more than happy to support his performance. Ignoring the “karaoke” part of “strip karaoke,” he wordlessly took his clothes off to the tune of Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration,” revealing a glittery thong whose design appeared to be based on a disco ball. Hoots and hollers came from throughout the room as he removed the thong, and their volume only increased when he lay down and spread his legs, seemingly worried that we hadn’t seen enough of his anatomy. The worried looks I shared with my friends made our feelings apparent, but the crowd’s enthusiasm showed that they disagreed. Bareoke’s Facebook page described the event as being for “exhibitionists, voyeurs and karaoke aficionados alike,” and the behaviour of the attendees revealed their full support of the statement.

Fortunately, the next few performers increased our enthusiasm for the night, and they demonstrated the good it could bring. The pedophile-y dude was followed by a sweater-adorned brunette girl whose reluctant tease to the tune of The Pretenders’ “Brass in Pocket” demonstrated the opposite end of the nudity comfort spectrum. Still, there was something undeniably charming about her aversion, and the audience’s approving roar at her stripping down to a t-shirt and panties by the last verse show that they agreed.

She was followed by a man who undeniably stole the show, and one who made us realize that it was time for us to experience Bareoke in a more, um, personal way. I couldn’t decide whether I was more impressed by his muscular physique, elegantly worn Bono cap, or unabashed flaunting of a kilt, but he was clearly a strip karaoke force to be reckoned with. The kilt came off even before the vocals to “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough’” began, and my inhibitions went along with it. I knew it was time for my shot at musical public nudity stardom, and, after a bit of back and forth, I convinced my friends to join me onstage for back-up.

After a few adorable francophone couples provided an entertaining interlude consisting of French pop songs and a man who pretended that the mic was his junk, it was our turn. I’d chosen Destiny Child’s “Say My Name,” hoping that the words of the family Knowles would provide the last bit of necessary encouragement.

Whatever Beyonce and co. couldn’t offer, the friendly crowd was more than happy to provide. They hooted and hollered enthusiastically as we removed clothing item after clothing item, ultimately deciding to leave our underwear on. They didn’t seem disappointed at all at our collective agreement to stop short of full nudity, and we left the stage proud of the step we had taken towards public exhibitionism.

Despite our reluctance to get entirely bare, other performers had no such hesitation, and it was fascinating to see how people’s comfort levels evolved over the course of the night. The “Brass in Pocket” girl found the inspiration she needed to take her shirt off from the audience’s excitement and Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” Over a short period of time, the night had clearly helped people to become more and more secure about their body images, and, for that reason alone, it provided an invaluable service to potential exhibitionist Montrealers from around the island.

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