When the House of Blues sprang to life last week in Victory Park, it reopened the debate in Dallas on what a small to midsize concert should look and sound like.
For decades, promoters have been shoehorning bands into all sorts of makeshift concert spaces: smoky taverns, parking lots, Laundromats, you name it. And some fans argue those casual settings are perfect for rock shows.
But Dallas’ House of Blues operates on the premise that concertgoers deserve a nice, theaterlike setting where they can clearly see and hear the musicians.
With that in mind, here are our impressions of how well the House of Blues is doing so far:
The 1,600-capacity concert hall has a pleasant, shabby-chic vibe that feels like an old vaudeville theater moonlighting as a folk-art museum. Most fans standing on the floor can’t see their fellow fans in the 400-seat balcony (and vice versa), but that disjointed effect is a small price to pay in a warm, intimate theater that’s smoke-free. The only atmospheric faux pas is the nine video screens showing static, faraway pictures of the stage. In a theater this small, video screens are a distraction, not a visual aid.
Sightlines are near-perfect from the balcony and not bad from the standing-room floor: The 4 ½-foot-high stage means even short fans can see the musicians, especially from the back of the room, which is 6 inches higher than the front. Even sold-out shows by Joss Stone and Kings of Leon had plenty of open spots with straight-on views of the stage. One quibble: The four balcony support poles create some visual dead zones on the floor. HOB should have built the balcony sans support poles, like the similarly sized Majestic Theatre.
Concert sound is a notoriously inexact science that depends a lot on the whims of a band’s sound engineer. But so far, the acoustics have been excellent, thanks partly to the shape of the room and the extra bank of speakers hidden under the stage. The sound suffers a bit at the back of the room under the balcony. But so far noise from people talking at the four bars has been minimal, although the real test will come during quieter, folk-based acts such as Jackopierce.
The 400-capacity club-within- a-club is the only major disappointment at the House of Blues. The room has a classy feel – with Persian rugs, couches and chandeliers hanging from a wood-beamed ceiling – but the stage is so low that you can barely see the musicians unless you’re standing in the first two rows. Sightlines were a problem at last Friday’s sparsely attended Joseph Arthur show, and they’ll only get worse at packed shows. The good news is the problem can be easily fixed by raising the stage a foot or so. It’ll be interesting to see if the House of Blues will correct this issue.