House of Blues/Thievery Corp | 02.24

Words by: Andrew Bruss | Images by Bruss & Steve Klise

House Of Blues Boston by Bruss
Boston's House of Blues is barely one week old, but it is already one of the best concert venues in Beantown. The city hosts a handful of smaller nightclubs such as the Paradise Rock Club and Middle East Downstairs, while TD BankNorth Garden and BU's Agganis Arena provide large-scale venues for acts that can reach the masses. But, mid-level venues are what Boston lacks most, so enter the House of Blues.

Built across the street from Fenway Park's Green Monster, the House of Blues takes up the space on Lansdowne Street that was once filled by the semi-posh Avalon Ballroom, as well as Axis, a smaller venue that catered to local acts as well as national artists. When the Lyons Group, owner of the previous venues and current House of Blues landlord, closed those clubs' doors, all that was known was that something new was going to take their place. Eventually, Live Nation decided to fill the space with a new addition to their House of Blues chain, and from that point on, the venue practically rose out of thin air.

Lansdowne Street has long been the unofficial nightclub strip for the college town, and with two of the bigger venues out of action, the past two years have seen the strip much drearier than usual. Acts that used to play at the Avalon found themselves booking The Paradise, and more recently the Wilbur Theatre, but among the city's concertgoers, the absence of a mid-level venue was felt. Fortunately, the House of Blues is filling the Avalon's void, and then some.

By employing roughly 350 people, and potentially entertaining 2425 concert goers, the House of Blues has already made its presence known, and if you live in Boston but haven't caught wind of the opening, odds are you'll find yourself checking out a show in the near future. For the jam-oriented, the Boston branch of the chain will be hosting moe., Umphrey's McGee and The Disco Biscuits in the near future. Indie acts like TV On The Radio and Animal Collective will be performing this spring, and veterans like Tom Jones and Morrissey are already on board to provide some balance to the lineup. But more significantly, Boston's own Dropkick Murphys will be doing their annual St. Paddy's Day run of seven already nearly sold out shows this March. Few venues, if any in the cities history, have had the logistical capacity to cater to such diverse artists, so for the Boston concertgoer, this opening really is exciting.

Thievery Corp :: 02.24 :: HoB by Klise
The Dropkicks used to do their St. Paddy's Day run at the Avalon, and given the venue's primary focus on the clubbing crowd, the interior design always felt a bit off for the occasion, and the overhead disco ball was nothing but a buzzkill. But the House of Blues is all about live music, and the folks behind the construction project paid attention to all of the details that make a venue appeal to both attendees and artists. Multiple dressing rooms provide the talent with a bit more legroom than the backstage area Avalon and Axis once shared. The venue is decorated from top to bottom with an extensive collection of what has been described as "outsider/folk art" that gives the place its own flavor, and the acoustics are on the money.

JamBase gave the House of Blues a spin during a recent Thievery Corporation concert (02.24.09) that was optimal for testing out the venue's capabilities. Between two DJ's, two percussionists, a horn section, a bassist, a sitar/guitar player and about five different singers, Thievery Corporation was sure to push the sound system to the limits. Low and behold, the show was feedback-free, and thanks to a detailed acoustic design (and a damn good sound tech) every instrument was audible, independent of the rest of the band and from every corner of the house.

From the front of the stage to the back of the balcony, the open feel of the room enhances the concert experience by keeping a rather large facility on the intimate side, and this sweetens the deal for folks on both sides of the photo pit. From the crowd, seeing multiple levels of moving bodies added to the experience of an already-killer dance party by making the attendee feel like he was just one wave in an ocean of movers and groovers. And Thievery Corporation seemed to appreciate their unobstructed view of their multi-leveled dance-horde enough to come back to the stage for an unplanned encore following a set that they specifically said knocked Chicago off the "best gig of the tour" spot.

This is not to say the venue is without its problems. Coat check was insufficient, which caused long lines and clogged hallways, and there was a general sense of confusion on the part of the new staff as to who was in charge of what. However, with time, and the opportunity to learn from mistakes, these glitches can work themselves out. The biggest issue the venue faces is their ability to keep costs down. Live Nation is permitting ticket sales through Ticketmaster, avoiding a supposed monopoly on sales (had they sold exclusively through the newly developed Live Nation ticketing service), but with the Department of Justice looking into potential anti-trust concerns over the recently announced Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger, non-competitive, unchecked service charges atop excessive admission fees could be part of the venue's future. Issues of mergers, monopoly and excessive service charges are significant and deserving of attention in their own right, but the venue itself is a concertgoer's dream and that seems to be the product of a company that, in this case, listen to their customers. It may be a rocky road ahead, but the spectacular feat that is the House of Blues rightfully earns some good will on the part of ticketholders, and hopefully the promoters will return that kind favor.

Continue reading for more pics of Thievery Corp and the new Boston House of Blues...

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