Architects and developers clearly learn to improve from the past as evidenced by the latest addition to downtown’s L.A. Live complex, Club Nokia. It’s more than double the size of the House of Blues yet feels just as intimate; similar in capacity to the Wiltern yet the distance between audience and performer feels considerably closer. Beck, an Angeleno who has played nearly every venue in the city, was an appropriate opening-night choice — and he delivered a concert perf that brought out the potential for intimacy as well as potential flaws of the room.
Sightlines are superb on the open ground floor, which has its own mini-tiers, and the balcony is filled with permanent seats. There’s roominess on both levels, a sense that designers put thought into making sure views are not blocked by anything except a support pillar. Whether at stage right immediately behind the throng crowding the stage or straight back at the bar that covers the length of the room, performers were consistently visible to this onlooker. Maneuvering around the back half of the sold-out room was quite easy.
The curved balcony extends far over the floor making its first several rows of seats prime areas for viewing. Balcony looks steeper upon approach than it is once you are seated. It’s comfortable, the leg room is sufficient and once the listener gets adjusted to the angle, it’s a rather enjoyable experience. It helped that Beck flooded the stage with light, making it easy to see him and the band from every location. (Jenny Lewis opened the show with a highly derivative country-flavored set.)
Sound was a little tough to determine on opening night, especially in attempting to calculate what fault lies with the room, what elements owe to the P.A. and which can be attributed to the artist. It certainly did not possess the overall clarity of the Nokia Theater, but in many spots — balcony especially — the individual instruments were easy to distinguish. The electronic beeps and beats, followed by the guitar and bass were remarkably well-positioned on “Girl”; a deliciously ragged version of Bob Dylan’s “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat” gave the room a roadhouse air.
Unfortunately, muddy or sonically overwhelmed vocals were a problem all night. Clearly the room still needs to be tuned for performers such as Beck who add heavy pre-recorded bass to a standard rock band set-up. More troubling was the reproduction of the acoustic guitar, which sounded tinny and one-dimensional when Beck played his rich gem “The Golden Age.” It’s likely that it’s the tightness of all the elements, a bit like trying to catch a baseball with a glove that was purchased an hour ago.
Entire room is heavy on TV screens and as much as one welcomes the chance to not miss the performance while at the bar, it seems like overkill in the seating area. Standing straight back on the ground floor, Beck could be seen on six screens — or live. In the balcony, two screens hang from the ceiling and at an odd angle; they are distracting.
Club’s public levels are on the third and fifth floors of the L.A. Live complex. The fourth is an impressively large VIP lounge from which the stage cannot be seen; two floors below are the yet-to-open Conga Room and Lucky Strike bowling alley. Both levels have outdoor patios, mostly occupied by smokers on Sunday.
It will probably feel mighty foreign for quite some time. Construction continues and it’s not always clear exactly how close one is to the venue when driving around Figueroa and Olympic. By having Beck as the first performer, it certainly attracted an audience that makes a distinction between “corporate” buildings and refurbished old halls, a discussion that probably will not occur at most of the concerts it holds. The Nokia Theater sparkled on its opening night with the Eagles and Dixie Chicks and to succeed as a destination, the Club needs to not quite sparkle as much. Once it’s lived in for a half-year — and patrons find parking they are comfortable with in terms of price and accessibility — it may gain the destination appeal for which it strives.