Live Review: The (newly remodeled) Waiting Room; OEA’s tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 4:03 pm January 24, 2010

Though there (probably) have been bigger crowds at The Waiting Room, there’s something about the new, wall-less/ceiling-less design that makes the crowd seem bigger and, strangely from a getting-around standpoint, denser as if the room is smaller. Or maybe more people were there last night to see NOMO than I thought.

First off, the overall vibe: More modern; it feels like a completely different club. I’ve heard people describe it as “Austin-like,” or like a venue you’d find in a different city. I didn’t quite get that. It does, however, feel more cosmopolitan, and now has more in common with Slowdown than it did before the remodel. It is, hands down, a better club.

The high points: Amazing sight lines from anywhere in the room. I tried to remember how it used to be, with those walls blocking the stage when you stood by the entrance. You can now effectively watch a band from all the way back in the pinball machine area. And now the stage looks like it belongs where it is instead of being an afterthought.

The sound was very good. I think they still need to work some bugs out with the mix, which felt a bit thin, flat and un-dynamic, but overall, balanced (maybe too balanced, as I was having a tough time separating the players). It was earplug loud from everywhere, which tells me that all that sound buffering from the old lowered ceiling is obviously gone. Before the remodel, you could lean back against the bar and take out your earplugs — that thought never crossed my mind last night.

The lighting was striking, with the new “moving lights” in full motion. They’re not as impressive as Slowdown’s light curtains — probably because there are fewer moving lights, and they’re still figuring out how best to use them.

New high-table seating along the north wall is a nice touch. I wasn’t able to actually sit down and try them, but it looks like a good vantage point for a show. The low tables in the center of the room are pushed back even with the front of the relocated soundboard — useless during a show with the crowd standing right in front of you blocking your view (though I would have taken a seat there last night if I could).

New plasma video monitors have been mounted throughout back bar area, all are connected to a video camera pointed at the stage, so that when you’re getting a drink or playing pool, you can glance up and see what’s going on up there. The mounted, motionless camera needs to be adjusted for the dim lighting. The picture was dark and grainy, like 7-11/convenience store robbery footage, the light level is too low to adequately capture color imaging. Still, it’s cool, and I assume the monitors can be switched to a game during pre-show or Saturday afternoon boozing.

In the “needs improvement” category:

The room is now too dark. It looks like they have plenty of directed overhead halogen lighting, it just wasn’t on or being used. It’s much darker back by the bar than it used to be, which makes digging through your wallet a chore (Is that a 10 or a 20? It’s a 5?!).

Though they probably haven’t changed the table arrangement, it was difficult to walk across the room back by the bar. As I said before, though the room feels bigger, it seems more crowded, or at least it did last night (again, I have no idea what the actual crowd size was, though it wasn’t sold out at 11 when I arrived). The soundboard in the middle also adds to the crowding effect when navigating closer to the stage.

Again, maybe it was the crowd size, but I gave up on getting a beer a couple times after waiting in the mob for (Edit: What seemed like) 15 minutes (but was probably more like five). I did get served later in the evening. The bar service was too small to support a crowd as big as last night’s. Like Slowdown does for its sold-out shows, they need a second horse-trough beer station where people can just pay cash for a bottle (preferably, Rolling Rock). There is a perfect spot for this right by the entrance (where there are now tables for people to place their bottles when they go out to smoke). It took six months for Slowdown to finally get its hands around its service problems. The new Waiting Room has only been open for three days. They’ll get it figured out quickly.

Actually, most of my whining won’t apply to non-sold-out nights. Last night was a mob scene, and what a strange mob it was. It was unlike any other crowd I’ve seen at the Waiting Room — one guy described it as being filled with “West Omaha hippies.” In fact, I saw more than my share of backwards ball caps — definitely not the usual TWR crowd. Maybe it was NOMO. Was there ever a band more suited to go on tour with Phish or WSP? The six-piece all-instrumental afro-beat band is slick, well-rehearsed (as in tight) and a lot of fun. Too bad there wasn’t enough room for people to dance. As much as I liked them last night, it still didn’t hold a candle to their red hot June 2006 show at O’Leaver’s (reviewed here).

But all that said, with this remodel, I do believe that The Waiting Room is going to attract a new, more suburban crowd that may have ignored the venue in the past because of its “old school” feel. The new Waiting Room is as sleek and modern as any bar west of 120th St. If a new suburban crowd does begin to show up, it could mean a whole new audience for the quality bands that have been playing at TWR all along. Here’s a photo from last night.

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Tonight: The Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards at The Mid America Center. Show starts at 6. Look for Twitter updates (follow me here) as winners are announced.

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