If you lose seven minutes of your life every time you choke down a Parliament, then the House of Blues could've been viewed as a preventative care center. HOB would've enforced total lung cleanliness, since they had no plans for a smoking section in or around their venue for their inaugural show, but a hundred or so paying customers in the throes of a semi-drunk nicotine jones tends to inspire a last-minute remodel.
That was one of the few apparently minor hiccups at HOB's "soft open" on May 11. While the real glitz 'n' glamour ceremony will take place when partial owner Dan Akroyd brings the Blues Brothers to town on May 21-a ceremony that will include a bikercade of Harley Davidsons, some pouring of authentic Mississippi river mud, possibly even a fake arrest-the Wailers and upstarts deSol broke in the joint to a host of TV news vans, as dapper weathermen animatedly explained to boob-tubing housewives something about "the blues, that guy from Ghostbusters and Mr. Marley's old friends."
Inside the venue, two metal detectors that could've been Compton High hand-me-downs stood as reminders that wackos are still taking party pooping to funereal extremes. The security guards seemed unimpressed with the contraptions, trusting the old-fashioned pat-down as the true test of your nutjobbiness.
Past security to the left, a gaggle of concertgoers did their best tourist-in-the-Sistine-Chapel impressions, craning their necks to get a look at what is arguably the venue's niftiest design element-clean, white, three-dimensional busts of bluesmen ensconced into the ceiling and cast in black light.
Lightnin' Hopkins never looked so much like an oversized Upper Deck trading card hung on the wall of the classiest stoner in high school. Despite how that sounds, it was cool.
That's the way House of Blues is-a house of cool that for a long while seemed too metropolitan for the big city with a Napoleon complex. From the corridor called Salvation Alley-where thousands and thousands of Mardis Gras beads (of the tiny gold casino dice variety) were hand-pressed into a mosaic that covers the entire north wall-to the litany of outsider art that hangs like reminders that art and psychosis are symbiotic, it's a noble balance of creative ambition and salt-of-the-earth aesthetics.
Sure, there are eight other locations in the U.S. with a near carbon copy of this vibe, but at least it's a vibe that goes beyond a few well-placed posters.
Most audience members seemed excitedly out of place, wandering about the venue to find the best vantage points as if groping a new lover to find the G-spot. The bulk gathered downstairs, level with the main stage. The best spots weren't the most obvious. The main bar area-located directly across the room from the stage-is elevated a few steps, which meant that too many short people gathered with too many people annoyed by bartenders who played hard to get. The clearest views of the Wailers were from the sides of the main room, not unlike 4th & B, where sight lines improve at the fringes.
With only one bathroom on the 600-capacity main floor, many wondered how interminably long the line would be at a non-stoner show. Chances are the crowd at the upcoming Queens of the Stone Age show will have a markedly higher pee-per-capita.
What won't be a problem is the sound system. While the Belly Up has been known as the best-sounding house in San Diego, HOB matches it on power and clarity, creating that is-it-real-or-is-it-click-track feel.
Overall, fans seemed thrilled with opening night at the House of Blues. Complaints were hard to come by. Even the black lungs-whose power in numbers eventually forced management to barricade off an ad hoc smoking area and loosen the "no re-entry" policy-seemed content as they tossed their butts into a construction-site bucket, which no doubt had expired its original function just hours earlier.
A few tweaks here, a christening by a Blues Brother there, and this big, mildly resented House should add a new vibrancy to central San Diego. Now with two large-capacity live music venues, downtown may no longer be a funland solely for the pretty-in-Prada set. Club-thumpers and dirty rockers just might come together, as one, adjacently smoking Parliaments in the hours of wee.
Yes, we promise this is the last story about the House of Blues opening in San Diego. Our lips are tired.