At a live performance, many elements contribute to the overall mood of the evening. The ambiance of the venue, the staff, the sound system and lighting, and even your fellow patrons will alter the experience. It falls on venues’ shoulders to deliver a show that leaves fans with a positive experience, and when the mark is missed, the fans remember.
This past month I saw a variety of shows around the northeast. I don’t often plan my shows too far ahead, but if something feels right I usually look for a road trip partner and pack a bag. To start things off, I journeyed to New Haven with a close friend to experience Shakedown at Toad’s Place. The companion you choose for a show is important, so pick someone comfortable, reliable, and often amusing. My fellow traveller and I did not arrive in time for opener Eggy, an unfortunate circumstance as they are an up and coming group that I’ve heard nothing but good things about. New Haven has a friendly feeling and Toad’s Place staff and energy matches. This was a larger venue, coupled with an easy going crowd. Dancers gave each other space and the security didn’t seem too concerned with those embracing herbal pleasures. We were in the front and experienced Shakedown’s set in full motion. The sound and lighting were on point, and we gave a thumbs up for Toad’s Place and Shakedown’s performance.
Next Lettuce came to Providence’s Fete for the first time and I was in full force with friends. Fete has a classy feel and the setup is well geared toward the patron, with a highly visible stage and great sound anywhere in the room. For this show, the levels seemed to be slightly overcompensating for the number of people in the room, which was somewhere over 500. The keyboard was hard to define in the mix, but this in no way stopped us from approaching the stage and enjoying the experience front and center. Being close to a stage gives you a much more fluid and dynamic show experience and I always recommend it, which is why I prefer being in general admission if a venue is set up for it. Fete bar staff and security were swift, accommodating, and seemed to enjoy the evening. Although parking can be a hassle for busy shows, this is pretty much the only minor drawback to the venue. Fete gives you an uncompromised music experience and Lettuce provided a night to remember.
I’ve visited Lupo’s countless times, and on my last visit to see Umphrey’s McGee I remembered why I enjoy shows that are not quite as busy as this one. Entry is typically hassle-free and getting a drink easy, although I can’t ever remember seeing the Lupo’s staff with even the suggestion of a smile. Some friends and I decided to go in front of the stage, which was challenging. After a good push ahead we were in crowded comfort along the left side of the stage. The band was perfectly dialed into the sound system and lighting was masterfully done by Umphrey’s renowned lighting designer Waful. The crowd had an aggressive energy. Someone said this show should be called “Bump and Push McGee.” Even a non-confrontational friend found himself in an altercation that left him with a bruised face, which had us questioning if the venue is attracting violence or if Umphrey’s fans are getting more aggressive. Perhaps a random occurrence, I hold no grudge against the venue or the band. It was a great evening.
Another night, at The Spot Underground, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong had the venue decently filled on a Wednesday night. Double rooms and two stages allow for continuous live music throughout the night, which is one of those things you don’t really appreciate until you experience it. I missed Pigeons’ first set and the beginning of Yo Mama’s set, but there was still plenty of music to be delivered by both. The Spot has the relaxing feel of a lounge, with an array of comfortable seating, interesting artwork and the benefit of interacting directly with your favorite performers. I spent a fair amount of time in the ambient lit seating area in the main stage room, where I enjoyed the elevated view. Staff members give off a positive vibe, and this extends to patrons who are often friendly without being forward. The sound and lighting are tightly monitored and give the main room stage a large show feel in an intimate setting.
The Disco Biscuits drew me to the Electric Factory in Philadelphia for the last night of their three-show run at the venue. I picked a suitable partner-in-crime and we journeyed to the Factory, a new experience for us both. Security was tighter than we expected, and after a thorough pat down we made our way inside. To stop underage drinking, this location separates the older crowd from the younger with a physical divider that goes straight through the entire venue. We chose the 21+ side, which consisted of two levels. Although busy at the bar, staff was friendly and quick to fill orders. The sound was mastered well, and the lighting effects Disco Biscuits are known to deliver were some of the best I’ve seen. Once the show was in full motion, the large crowd eased up to make space for extreme get-down dancing. I enjoyed this show and the venue, but wished for the ability to roam without restrictions.
These weren’t the only shows I saw recently, but they exemplified great nights of musical talent and each venue had to deliver. Whether making your staff act friendly, adhering to expected time schedules, or working to get the sound just right, it takes a multifaceted, well-brewed recipe for a great show. When a venue books a strong performer, it’s an opportunity to shine as much as the musical talent. Those that go beyond a fan’s expectations will foster their own following for years to come.