If you read the 3,000 words of weekend coverage of the opening of The Waiting Room you’ve pretty much read this week’s column, which is a summary of those comments. I include it here for consistency’s sake. But go ahead and read it again while I work on my brackets:
Column 118: Perfect Sound Forever
The Waiting Room sets a new standardIt’s overkill. I know it. And I’m sure I’ll be told it by the 13 people who read this column regularly (and I love each and every one of you). Three columns devoted to a new music venue is more than a tad too much. I justify it by saying The Waiting Room is perhaps the most important live music venue since the closing of Tre’s Capitol Bar and Grill or the shuttering of The Cog Factory. Yes, that important. So I feel no guilt providing the following recap of its opening weekend.The fun began last Friday night. We ate dinner beforehand at The Pizza Shoppe and didn’t get to the club (at 6212 Maple St.) until around 8:30. The venue’s biggest question mark — parking — wasn’t an issue since we left the car in front of the pizza place and hoofed it two blocks to the door. When we left at around midnight — while the crowd was still mulling — there were open parking spots all around us. What parking problem?Once inside, all the tables and barstools were filled, and yet the room wasn’t packed. It felt comfortable and lived-in, as if the bar had been there for years (which it has).First on stage was Black Squirrels, who rolled through a tight set of kitschy blue-grass folk. As clean and balanced as they sounded, their light-hearted tunes weren’t a true test of the sound system. That came next with The 4th of July, a Lawrence band that epitomizes the Kansas indie rock sound of the ’90s from bands like The Anniversary and Kill Creek.A warning to all the shitty bands that want to play here: There’s no place to hide with this PA — your suckiness will glow like neon, not merely fade amidst the bright-white noise of other system’s distortion. The crowd will hear your every mistake, goof up, and off-tone moment, and see every awkward move and gesture from a stage the quality of which you will only find in places like Austin. The height, the curtain, the stainless steel lighting racks — it’s much more impressive than the old Music Box stage.Art in Manila came on a little after 11. By then, the show was officially a sell-out (capacity 215) with the entire floor filled. Even with those numbers, you could comfortably fit an additional 100 people into the venue if you wanted to break the fire code, which I know owners Marc Leibowitz and Jim Johnson would never do.Moving around the room, the sight lines were unhampered through every opening. Moving further back, patrons receive a sort of letterbox effect looking at the stage because of a slight overhang that divides the two rooms. Soundwise, there was a noticeable drop-off in the high and low end toward the bar. Understandable, as the sound was being funneled through the opening between the two rooms and was literally absorbed by the crowd. The advantage: People could carry on conversations without having to yell at each other. But if you really wanted to hear the bands in all their glory, you had to go into the stage room. Perfect sound forever.Saturday night’s all-punk power-trio line-up provided a better test with much, much heavier material. Now Archimedes! and The Stay Awake never sounded better, though I can’t honestly say the same for Bombardment Society. I’ve heard them in wall-of-sound mode down at Sokol Underground, and those sets were unmatched. For Bombardment Society, louder is always better, and it could have been louder. Could the owners be squeamish about really turning it up?We’d find out at Sunday night’s “secret show” — perhaps the last chance anyone around here had to see The Faint at a club-sized venue, where they’re at their absolute zenith.The over-riding sound element: The bass, which was chest-crushingly loud, literally shaking the walls. I can’t imagine what it would have been like without earplugs — even with them, my head was ringing when I got home. It was impressive, if not painful.The Faint’s set was long, well-played, and familiar. And as always, the floor was filled with writhing dancers sweating to the classics from Danse Macabre and Blank Wave Arcade. The Faint could go on forever merely performing their oldies, but they’d never be satisfied doing that. Who would?Three nights in a row at The Waiting Room was enough. By Monday, I was exhausted. How do Leibowitz and Johnson do it every night? I guess after a decade of One Percent shows, they’re used to it. They better be. They’ve christened the club of their dreams and have a long, successful future ahead of them, along with a lot of long nights. Is it the best live music venue in town? For now, yes. But that distinction will likely shift to Slowdown when it begins live shows in June. The Waiting Room wasn’t originally designed for live music, whereas Slowdown is being built specifically for it, with the finest acoustics and an enormous investment in the highest quality sound equipment available. It should be much better, right? Right?Still, the one thing The Waiting Room has that Slowdown never will: Every night I left the bar I was sitting in my living room 10 minutes later. Priceless.
It’s not unanimous. I have talked to a couple people who were critical of the venue’s sound, one saying it was too brash, another complained about the bass at The Faint show, not understanding that it was designed to be that loud. More proof that you’ll never satisfy everyone, especially when it comes to something as subjective as a PA. On the other hand, every musician I’ve spoken with that has performed on that stage has raved about it. The next test will be seeing a touring band up there.
Tonight, Day 1 of March Madness. I’ve got Creighton bowing out in the first round (they play tomorrow), Kansas making it to the round of 8 then losing to UCLA, Tennessee as my upset special (going to the final four), and Florida winning it all.
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