That New Hall Smell; O’Leaver’s now online

Category: Blog — @ 1:06 pm January 26, 2006

To be fair, I’ve never seen a symphony concert at The Orpheum. Sure, I’ve seen music performed there, but mostly rock music, like last year’s Bright Eyes concert which sounded horrific, at least from where I was seated in the very front loge box. I’m somewhat confident that Bright Eyes would sound better in The Holland, that they would be able to tweak the sound and take full advantage of the space rather than just dump a tower of amps on stage. That’s something for the Symphony to consider — if they really want to attract a younger audience, support local music and guarantee a sold-out performance, put together a pops night (or weekend) with Saddle Creek Records. This is an obvious no-brainer. Unfortunately, no one at the symphony has the foresight and imagination to even consider something like this. It’s a shame…

Column 61: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Grey
Now boarding, the new Holland Center

I don’t know if it’s fair to compare and contrast the brand-spanking new Holland Performing Arts Center with antiquated Orpheum Theater. After all, you could argue that they’re two completely different species of birds. Apples and oranges, as it were. But it’s impossible not to think of one while contemplating the other, especially when their fates seem to be so intertwined.

I got my first eye- and earful of the Holland at the Art Garfunkel Omaha Symphony pops concert last Saturday night (Yeah, I know it’s not very indie, but give me a break. Garfunkel and his other (more creative) half have influenced just about every indie-folk act going these days. Now get off my back!). What were my first impressions of this gleaming multi-million dollar venue? Here’s the run-down.

The show’s start time was 8 p.m., so we left our Dundee-area home abruptly at 7:30 p.m. Parking was a breeze — for $6 you can pull into the garage right across the street. Everyone balks at the $6 fees for Qwest and most Old Market parking, but hey, that’s the way it is when you live in the big city, especially if you’re going to show up 15 minutes before curtain or not wear a coat over your suit jacket.

The venue’s lobby was less than breath taking. With its straight lines, neutral colors and enormous windows, it has all of the charm of an airport terminal. Even the wet bars situated here and there look like little ticket counters. The only thing missing were traditional airport-style uncomfortable chairs. Instead, tiny Ikea-like benches were hidden along the windows that look out over an unlit, unkempt Central Park Mall. The perfect finishing touch — a recorded cattle-call announcement piped through the lobby proceeded by electronic chimes signaling that the show was about to begin. I halfway expected a voice to tell me that all unattended baggage would be confiscated.

Of course in the onslaught of humanity I was completely lost. Thankfully, one of the many helpful Symphony volunteers directed us up the stairs where those with orchestra-circle tickets (price $60) enter the concert hall. And what a hall it is. It looked like a Scandinavian designer’s wet dream — blonde wood chairs on blonde wood floors accented with tasteful touches of brushed aluminum. The room seemed futuristic with its creme-colored acoustic tiles and massive light panels hanging over the stage like the Close Encounters spaceship.

As I took my seat I thought about how new and clean it all seemed. The place smelled like a just-moved-into house or a furniture showroom doused in fresh lacquer. It reminded me of that smell that comes from cracking open a brand new book, wondering where you’re headed over the next few hundred pages. The Holland smelled like possibilities. It certainly didn’t smell of memories. Not yet.

First up was conductor Ernest Richardson and the Orchestra warming up the crowd with a selection of pop tunes from the ’60s, starting with the theme from the James Bond movie Goldfinger, which was followed by the theme from Mission Impossible and whitest version of the Otis Redding’s “Respect” that you’ll ever hear — completely devoid of a drop of soul. The crowd ate it up anyway, along with the Beatles’ medley (featuring mostly McCartney numbers. What did I expect?).

Then on came Art Garfunkel looking, well, like he looked in all the movies I’ve seen him in. Maybe a little older. Same hair, though more brown (and gray) than red. At 64, I expected Artie’s countertenor to be a bit worse for wear, but nothing could be further from the truth. Other than the high note at the end of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” he was spot on throughout the entire performance, charming the crowd with stories about his sordid past with Paul. There were a few quibbles — it was a mistake to switch the words “Joe DiMaggio” with “Cornhuskers” on “Mrs. Robinson” even if the crowd loved it.
So how was the sound?

Perfect. Even the amped vocals sounded great on top of the orchestra. “Well, you’ve built yourselves a real nice hall,” Garfunkel said to a round of applause, adding what a pleasure it was to play in a venue with such good acoustics.

But I couldn’t help but wonder what Artie would have thought of performing in The Orpheum, with its dust and must, its ornately carved and painted balconies and ceiling, its huge old stage, its long, velvet drapes, its ghosts of a thousand performances past. The Holland may have state-of-the-art acoustics, but the Orpheum echoes with something even louder, something that won’t be heard inside the Holland for another 80 years.

The new O’Leaver’s myspace is now live at MarQ Manner, who put the space together and is organizing shows at O’Leaver’s these days, promises to keep the calendar up to date. But it’s already askew — MarQ forgot to list tomorrow night’s Simon Joyner & The Wind-Up Birds/Miracles of God show. Perhaps it’s just an oversight (though I reminded him of the Joyner show yesterday…) Regardless, MarQ promises to have 25 shows listed on the site by the end of the weekend (a number of them were listed here Monday).

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