DAY 13 – June 20th at Pho Cao in Tempe
by Rachel Enger aka Rac Hellion
This night Suze and I were joined at Pho Cao by my good friend Teresa.
What is Pho Cao?
Pho Cao is a Vietnamese restaurant/bar with an amazing space for entertainment. The place is named for its gracious owner and host, Victor Cao. The restaurant boasts a favorable reputation for excellent Vietnamese food, especially the pho (a noodle soup consisting of broth, rice noodles, herbs, and choice of meat – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pho).
Honestly, as a vegetarian I have tried few of their menu items (mostly the vegetarian egg rolls, and a vegetable version of sushi). Did I mention they have a fresh sushi bar at Pho Cao? Yes, they do.
I am looking forward to coming to Pho Cao with a healthy appetite sometime, to be schooled in Vietnamese food and recommended items for vegetarians, as I am not well versed. Most of the time, I am there to sing, kick back, and have fun. I order my drinks, and sometimes food. Then carry on.
Pho Cao is a little tricky to find, although its neon sign is quite visible from a main drag through the heart of Tempe. It’s well worth it to take time to find it though. Suze and I have spent more than a few nights here, well after the 22 days of consecutive karaoke were completed.
Night Clubbing Okay, so you really have to go to Pho Cao to appreciate the awesomeness of the space. You enter what seems like the back of the building from the parking lot. Directly to your right is a long bar with seats, attended to by a very capable and accommodating bartender. She can fix up anything. To the left is the main restaurant area, with seats and tables, and at the far end the sushi master’s elevated prep area. There is a patio on the side of the restaurant.
Then there is a whole other room. Past the bar, you round a corner, and spy the ample stage at the far end. Directly facing the stage, at the other end of the large room is a screen where the karaoke lyrics are projected. In between the stage and the screen are various round dining tables, and leather sofas with coffee tables in front of them. Lined up on one side there are also a few booths. Lots of options for relaxing as you enjoy the music. It is dark in this room, adding to a night club atmosphere. There is also plenty of room up on stage, and in front of the stage for dancing and various other antics. I like hanging out in this large “living room” with good friends and new acquaintances, ready to take in – and take part in – the entertainment for the night. Let the show begin!
The KJ this night was Phil Johnson with Starz Karaoke. Phil handles the rotation well, seamlessly working in new singers, and keeping everything running smoothly. Plus, he sings divinely in a strong tenor voice – a real treat. We first met Phil on Day 7 at Fuller’s in Chandler. Phil always keeps the atmosphere festive and fun.
Phil keeps his console on the main floor near the stage, handing off the microphone to the singers, who then have the option of going up on stage, or singing anywhere in the lounge. On other nights, Emma Watt (with a competing provider, Wet Whistle Entertainment) is the KJ. She prefers to have her KJ station up on stage, where she sits while overseeing the karaoke singing. She also uses a smoke machine. I believe the KJs often provide and set up their own sound equipment (e.g. speakers, microphones, etc.).
I mention this because if you take my advice and visit Pho Cao, you may have differing karaoke experiences depending on the provider and KJ working that night. I can’t really recommend one over the other, as both Phil and Emma are incomparable KJs. You will enjoy it either way.
Some nights, live musical acts are featured at Pho Cao, e.g. a blues band. Always check ahead.
There were a number of other people in the joint that night. Most notably a round table full of young folk, who brought with them a strong vibrant energy. There were two guys (Chris and Matt) who performed their duets on stage in the style of the TV show Glee. Very animated, very theatrical, very committed. Overall very entertaining. And the best part is they could really sing.
This was a night of duets. In addition to the Glee club, in which Chris sang with each person at his table, I sang twice with Teresa. And Teresa sang a duet with our friend David (another karaoke fan who frequents Pho Cao).
So…earlier this evening I had heard the news that a friend and former employer, Kim Thompson, had passed away. He had been battling cancer, and I knew this was a possibility. But you know, you kind of hold your breath, and hope for the best. I had a good cry over it. Thought hard about the kind of things you often avoid thinking too much about: friendship, death, legacy, and the passing of time. Then I gathered my thoughts and my things, prepared to go out and sing as planned. Not in the best frame of mind. I hadn’t been close to Kim in a long while, though off and on I kind of stayed in touch. One thing we had shared was a vehement love of Lou Reed and David Bowie. Tonight I would sing for Kim.
Teresa – who had also known and worked for Kim – and I sang Lou Reed’s Satellite of Love. It was a touching tribute, although I’m not sure it’s the best duet for us. We could practice? Then another duet with Teresa: Sorrow (David Bowie), an old favorite of ours to sing together. Alone I sang Wild is the Wind (another Bowie cover tune). Really love that song, and was surprised to find in it on the list. Yes! I dedicated all three to Kim Thompson, in memorium. Singing in times of loss always helps to ease the mind. I also sang Torn (Natalie Imbruglia) and I never loved a man (the way I love you) by Aretha Franklin. I needed to process some heavy emotions that night, and singing strong, emphatic songs with passion really helps. So long, Kim.
Let’s end on a high note!
It was a good night for singing. We all had fun. We will be back, undoubtedly, to Pho Cao. There was a friendly crowd, of silly and competent singers. We were all in the hands of a capable KJ. I got to hang out with my dear, sweet friends: Teresa and Suze. And…Victor Cao took some photos of us while singing. Then decided to use a pic of me on his stage in an internet ad promoting Pho Cao. Nice! Thanks, Victor!