There's no pretension in the very existence of Mr. Mister Miyagi, a live '80s karaoke band that has been a mainstay at Alex's Bar in Long Beach for more than a decade. Jesse Wilder, the founder, guitar player and agent for the group, calls it as it is: "With Mr. Mister Miyagi, you get to be the lead singer of a real five-piece band that plays one-hit wonders from an era we're so fond of waxing nostalgic over. . . . You are Siouxie; we are the Banshees. You are Adam; we are the Ants. You are Madonna; we will touch you for the very first time."
The band's name–a portmanteau of the "Kyrie" hit-maker and the character from Karate Kid–is an obvious hat tip if you're older than 30. "We almost called ourselves the Xanadudes," Wilder says. "We also considered Boy George Michael Jackson Browne."
Born in 1977, Wilder rotated through different groups from the age of 15, playing original ska, pop-punk and rock songs to varying degrees of success. He was in the early ska band the Scholars, wrote songs with Aaron Barrett of Reel Big Fish, formed Teen Heroes with Ikey Owens, and played with Neville Staple of the Specials and the All-American Rejects. But, he says, "Once you have kids, you go where the money is more."
So in 2003, Wilder and Alex Hernandez of Alex's Bar dreamed up Mr. Mister Miyagi. "We thought a new wave/'80s karaoke band would be kind of a fun thing," Wilder says. The event exploded, with crowds arriving from all over Los Angeles and Orange County; the band have played the first Saturday of every month since.
As with any other karaoke night, performers sign in–first-come, first-served–and choose from a list of 100-plus songs that include Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" ("It gets played every time," Wilder says), Blondie's "One Way or Another" and various staples from the Cure.
"Everyone gets into it because they're a good band," says Joe Schnaidt, who has sung Men At Work's "Who Can it Be Now" with the five-piece.
"And there's a difference between songs people want to hear from the '80s and songs people want to sing from the '80s," Wilder says. "The way we choose songs [to put on the song list] depends on two things: One, will someone sing it? Two, how easy is it to learn? Because if it's too hard to learn, it would be a waste of our time." (He has gained an appreciation for the Cure's songs. "They're not too long, and they're not super-simple, but they're not hard to learn.")
Mr. Mister Miyagi was so popular that Wilder decided to start an agency, Palindrome Entertainment, to manage other bands–including another group Wilder is in called Abbey Road (a Beatles tribute–duh). The bands perform at weddings, corporate events and private parties.
Obviously, playing with different people every month and constantly learning new songs has helped Wilder become a better musician. But, he says, "there's an element of chaos that comes with playing in a karaoke band where anything can happen. We've had a girl in her underwear onstage. . . . Another time, someone tried to fight our host outside Alex's, and we had to hide him.
"I've been doing it for so long," Wilder adds, "but I always look forward to doing it."
Mr. Mister Miyagi perform at Alex's Bar, 2913 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 434-8292; www.alexsbar.com. First Sat. of every month. Call for time. No cover. 21+.