"It's an exciting time for us," says Concert Pub North (CPN) talent buyer John Escamilla. "A year ago, we were a tribute [act] and local venue. Today we are being looked at like a live-music venue for touring acts."
Escamilla and I were waiting for Cinderella front man Tom Keifer to take the stage for his first-ever solo performance in Houston last Friday night. I had suggested that Concert Pub North was booking acts and packages on par with her Warehouse Live -- after all, Warehouse hosted the Geoff Tate solo show a few months back, and by all accounts did pretty well with it.
But when the estranged Queensryche front man brought his touring outfit around for the Operation Mindcrime gig last month, performing the Seattle prog-metal band's classic 1988 album front to back, CPN was the winning bidder. And when the regrouped former members of Queensryche bring their new lead singer around June 8, CPN will host them as well.
Tate's show did about 1,000 admissions, filling the venue's new outdoor-stage area and christening its summer concert series with a rousing success. But CPN owner Jay Dee takes mild exception to the comparison.
"Warehouse is a nice space," he says. "They do great shows there. But at this point we're more comparable to the House of Blues. We have two kitchens; two different restaurant concepts, actually. We've got 25,000 square feet of indoor space and more than that outdoors."
And he's right. For my money, with CPN booking shows like Jackyl (May 23), Bret Michaels' solo show, and Yngwie Malmsteen (this Friday), the only difference between CPN and House of Blues is that at CPN you never pay for parking, or eye-popping food and drink prices. My party drank $2 bottles of water and $2.50 Coca-Colas (with free refills), while those around me were eating oysters, steaks, pizza, burgers, and sandwiches.
"We have unlimited free parking," confirms Jay Dee. "And the most I've ever charged for a beer was when we did a big-beer night and charged $6.50 for these giant beers."
The House of Blues comparison is more apt in terms of the venue's logistical details and star power. CPN also has lighting trusses capable of handling programmable stage light shows. Its elevated main stage is flanked not only by a series of Marshall stacks, but also several eight-foot-high JBL speakers, and arena-worthy stage monitors facing the performers.
Stars accustomed to bigger downtown venues should feel right at home. By the time Keifer took the stage Friday, I'd spoken to a few familiar faces in the crowd who had paid $15 for pre-sale tickets; others paid $20 at the door. With as many as six musicians on CPN's broad main stage, Keifer's band ran through 15 songs taken from Cinderella's catalog and, mainly, his new solo album The Way Life Goes.
The new material is his familiar template of fresh looks at common concepts, with dual lead guitars, keyboards, and an easy mix of metal and blues that calls to mind the best of the Rolling Stones or early Aerosmith.
Although the club looked full, with at least a few hundred people, anybody who wanted one could have had a chair and maybe even a table. The crowd was made up of mostly diehard '80s rock fans. Most of them had probably seen Keifer with Cinderella more than once, either in a basketball arena or an amphitheater with 15,000-20,000 people there.
But thanks to Jay Dee, John Escamilla, and the Concert Pub North, now we'd all seen him in a rock club on the north side of town, up close and personal.
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