Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Robert Earl Keen
Glide Ensemble and the Change Band
Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012
Better than: Any other spot in this city that's under construction.
There was funky New Orleans jazz, down-home country-rock, and ecstatic gospel singing -- so it was a joyful and appropriate opening for a music club and restaurant intended to be the West Coast home of New Orleans' Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
The Mission District's newest live venue, known as the Chapel, opened its doors to the public last night, bringing an enthusiastic crowd inside for a first look at the renovated 1914 mortuary. All around were signs that the place isn't quite finished, from the bare floors and handwritten signs to some missing wood paneling, exposed drywall, and even a few bags of concrete sitting on the dusty floor.
None of that really mattered, though, not as soon as Glide Ensemble took the stage around 9 p.m. to ring in the venue's freshly hung sound system. With more singers and musicians than could fit on the Chapel's wide stage, the group had the packed room swaying along happily. They closed with soloist Martin Scott out in front for a deeply funky, roof-raising rendition of "I Surrender" -- and thus was the Chapel christened.
The building at 777 Valencia is divided up into several rooms: There's the broad, red-walled performance room, which has vaulted 40-foot ceilings and a small bar in back; a main bar room with several big-group and small-group tables, from part of which patrons can look through to the stage; and an upstairs mezzanine with another small bar and terraced steps that allow a good number of people to get a downward view of the stage. There will also be another bar and restaurant area in the building, but that was closed off for musicians and VIPs last night. One cool factor is that the stage is visible through many of the windows on Valencia street, giving the place an open, public feel.
The Chapel plans to be a restaurant as well as a music venue, although the full menu won't be available until next year. Last night's food offerings were limited to chicken and shrimp gumbo (which our food-savvy photographer liked) and salad, while the brief cocktail menu offers slightly tweaked takes on classics, plus a few interesting concoctions, for $10 each.
Next onstage was New Orleans' Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the group for whom the Chapel was partially created. Its set immediately became a demonstration of the seductive powers of traditional New Orleans jazz, which is much more bluesy and immediate than a lot of what we think of as jazz today. This music is old-timey, but it's joyous and effervescent, too: From the first notes of "Bourbon Street Parade," the band had the crowd moving enthusiastically, and its first set in its California home seemed to pass very quickly. The highlight for us was the thoroughly twitchy "Shake That Thing," which, let's say, accomplished what its title promised.
There are still some kinks to be worked out with the Chapel's sound system, which we were told was only installed yesterday. All of the acts onstage suffered from a bit too much midrange, with a boominess that made it sometimes hard to pick out individual instruments and singers. Especially up on the mezzanine, neither the extension speakers nor the main ones did an adequate job of reproducing high and low frequencies, making voices and low piano notes, for instance, a little tough to hear. Still, the room didn't sound bad so much as unfinished and untweaked. Given that the Chapel's basic shape would seem to promise great acoustics, and that it has a brand-new custom sound system, we expect this to get better.