November 10, 2008
Many music fans get serious about pop through a love affair with a club. Whether it was a legendary spot or just the dive down the street from the dorm, such a place provides more than just loud sound and overpriced beer.
People get attached to the strangest things in clubs -- memorably awful bathrooms, decorously peeling wallpaper, a particular corner where the guitar feedback hits just right. And because these spaces are usually somewhat makeshift, converted from some other identity, like a movie theater, church or old man's bar, their shortcomings become part of their charm.
Club Nokia is the latest venue to open in AEG's \"entertainment campus\" L.A. Live; it opened Sunday with a double bill of Beck and Jenny Lewis. It might be the dream club for a new generation, but it doesn't exactly adhere to the old rules. This high-end destination is gleamingly new, with none of the endearing seediness of a historic venue. As part of a conglomerate, it can't have the underdog allure of a hole in the wall. It's also huge in clubland terms, with a capacity of 2,300 people -- more than quadruple what the Troubadour can hold.
The positives at this club don't have to do with aura. They're more basic: The sound is very good (though some patrons later expressed the opinion that it was too loud), the sight-lines superb, the bathrooms and bar space plentiful. Then there's the floor plan, which operates on a kind of optical illusion: The main floor is tiered, allowing for folks in the back to feel closer, and a large, extremely steep balcony puts others in a helicopter position above the stage.
The back of the club doesn't feel so bad when it's floating in the air. And the overhang the balcony creates above the dance floor is less oppressive and sound-muffling than some.
Sunday was a guest list-dominated night, and some of the giddy mood was probably due to the drinks in the lavish VIP room. But even the plebes on the main floor seemed relaxed; there was no pushing for the best spot, because every one is pretty good.
The performers also communicated contentment. \"We're the first people to play in this spot -- I'm liking it so far,\" announced Lewis during her spirited, too-short set.
Focusing on material from this year's \"Acid Tongue,\" Lewis reveled in the band interplay that album celebrates. With old friends on board, including her producer \"Farmer\" Dave Scher and her boyfriend Johnathan Rice, Lewis could thoroughly get into her music's organic, eclectic groove.
Multifaceted showstoppers like \"The Next Messiah\" were almost big enough for an arena, though her fans obviously relished the show's intimate moments, including a tender rendition of \"Acid Tongue's\" title track with Lewis on solo acoustic guitar and her band serving as backup choir.
Beck also had his band put down instruments midway through his set, but his move was hardly acoustic. \"We got some 808 buttons that might make the Staples Center explode,\" he declared as his fellow players twiddled the knobs on their portable drum machines. The ensuing racket was one high point in a strong set that showed the dauphin of Silver Lake in better spirits than he's reportedly been at other recent shows.
Perhaps he was feeding off the crowd as it offered raucous feedback during chestnuts such as \"Devil's Haircut\" and new songs including \"Chemtrails\" and \"Gamma Ray.\" It's unclear whether Club Nokia itself inspired him; in his only comment about the opening night, he noted that the new downtown of which the venue is a part is unrecognizable to anyone, like him, who grew up here.
That dry comment didn't affect the set's mood as Beck moved through his substantial body of work. Whether finger-picking on \"Hollow Log\" or throwing down rhymes on \"E-Pro,\" he was fully engaged and entertaining. His cover version of Bob Dylan's \"Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat\" had great crunch; his own \"Timebomb\" was like a lost garage-rock nugget.
In sync with his band and seemingly pleased with his own performance, Beck gave enough to fulfill the night's special mandate.
Now it's up to the music lovers of Los Angeles to decide if Club Nokia is just another solid venue, or a club to love. Either way, it should succeed in the moment; the test will be how it survives in people's memories in years to come.
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