Welcome to Paradise
A venerable rock institution gets a serious makeover
It was cursed from the stage. It was maligned from the audience. For a lucky few it was a handy leaning post. And now the pole that used to block the view of the stage at the Paradise rock club on Commonwealth Avenue has been rendered moot.
In the most visible and welcome of the renovations done to the venerated 33-year-old nightspot, which reopens Wednesday after a three-month remodel, the stage has been moved 15 feet to the left as the audience views it. That means that the meat of the performance space now lies squarely between two support pillars, one of which may have been the most remarked upon obstruction in Boston rock history.
When longtime production manager Billy “Bud’’ McCarthy told people the club was closing for renovations “I’d say 90 to 99 percent of the people would say, ‘Wow, you’re moving the pole?’ ’’ he says with a laugh.
“The biggest complaint was this bloody pole,’’ agrees co-owner Joe Dunne. “The lead singer was usually right behind it.’’
Moving the pole itself was not an option for structural reasons, but moving the stage was. But Dunne, who bought the club 2 1/2 years ago with Old Trafford Inc. partner Declan Mehigan and concert promoter
“It probably would’ve been easier just to build a new stage, but because of all the old artists who walked on the old stage we wanted to keep that,’’ says Dunne of names like the Police, U2, the Pixies, and other bands who trod the Paradise boards.
The problem of the pole was just one of many the owners wanted to solve. “When we took over 2 1/2 years ago we were definitely excited [about sprucing it up], but there’s only so much you can do while you’re operating,’’ says Dunne, noting they did minor work while biding their time for this remodel, which required closing the club. (Dunne would not specify a price tag beyond saying it was less than $500,000 but more than $200,000.)
“We picked this summer because typically I have about seven shows in July and seven in August and you’re lucky if one of them does well because we lose so many college kids,’’ says Ryan Vangel, Live Nation booking agent, who has programmed the room for the last decade. “So we figured we’d take advantage of the slow time and update the room finally.’’
Anyone ever trapped in the bottleneck where the hallway met the opening into the general admission floor is likely to be pleased by the other immediately visible major change: more open floor space. Having moved the box office back to a more logical spot at the front of the venue, demolished the bar that was to the immediate left upon entering, disposed of the mezzanines flanking the stage, and shifted the band dressing room upstairs, the owners were able to take out a long wall. That means patrons can now stand on the back wall and see all the way to the stage. (It also means no seating at all except along the balcony walls.)
The official capacity remains 728 but the possibility exists that the new configuration could earn a higher number from the city. That wasn’t the motivation, say the men. “Basically we wanted to make it better for the artist and the fan,’’ he says.
Although as of press time the upgraded PA hadn’t been plugged in yet, McCarthy promised a bump in club sound quality thanks to several tweaks, including sub-woofers built into the stage. “It’s going to sound better because there’s so much more open space. The line arrays that we have in front are going to make the sound spread out.’’
A host of other upgrades have also been made that may be less visible to fans and bands but probably will be welcomed by both.
A new fire escape means not only another safe egress but a place under which bands can store gear that would have been placed on the floor, blocking access to the stage. HVAC improvements mean better flow of air conditioning. A ramp has been installed at the entrance improving wheelchair accessibility. The men promise a new coat of paint in the restrooms.
The artist green rooms — now outfitted with television and refrigerators — have moved to the second floor and more than doubled in size, with a separate space provided for opening acts. And a restroom (complete with shower) has been installed next door to the dressing rooms. (Previously artists had to use the public facilities.) Of particular note is the new washer-dryer combo. “All the bands that come through are always looking for the nearest laundromat, so we figured, why not,’’ says Mehigan.
McCarthy, who at 24 years is the Paradise’s longest-tenured employee, can’t wait for the first show on Wednesday, by sassy Welsh songbird Marina and the Diamonds. “We’d like to get a camera set up to watch people’s faces the first time they walk in,’’ he says. “Because some of the staff has come by to check in and the jaw drops and they go ‘wow.’ So I can’t wait until the [concertgoers] come in here because they’re going to freak out.’’
Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.