Two years after a mothballed theater sprang back to life, College Street is a changed place — a place New Haven dreamed it would become three decades ago.
The entertainment district centered on College between Chapel and Crown already had plenty of Shubert theater shows and diners and drinkers. But the reopening and subsequent success of the former Palace Theater, now christened the College Street Music Hall, has transformed the block by adding the final elusive missing piece to make it a true entertainment district.
Crowds lately are showing up almost nightly, of all ages, to watch big-name acts in a well-run space with a state-of-the-art sound system. As a result, the original vision unveiled in 1983 when the Shubert and Palace were renovated and reopened — of a bustling entertainment district anchored by two hopping theaters — seems to have finally come to fruition, after years in which only the Shubert kept the lights on while the venue on the other side of College Street remained dark.
In 2015 the Harp administration found a way, through newly reexamined maps, to overcome obstacles that Yale University (the block’s major landowner) had used to prevent the old Palace from reopening as a music hall and bringing in crowds that included non-Ivy League families. (Read about the backstory here.) The city found a new operator to renovate, reopen and run the place. Ever since, the venue has hosted a parade of name acts that span the Baby Boom to the indie-rock to the comedy markets, with memorable shows like these. It’s working. The Palace staged 127 events, including 71 concerts in 2016, and has been ramping up the schedule of late.
This past week showed just how far the district has come in realizing that original circa-1980s entertainment district dream. As a crew arrived to set up for Tuesday’s opening night of a six-night run at the Shubert of the traveling Motown The Musical, the Music Hall across the Street came off a string of five shows in six nights, with lots more coming up.
To sample how hopping College Street Music Hall has become, Independent intern Samuel Hadelman, a Stetson University sophomore who grew up here, went to four shows in one week — three musical acts and one comedy. He took in the shows while checking out the surroundings and talking to people who made the trek to New Haven for a night on the town, and came away with a new favorite venue for live music. His impressions follow. Staff reporter Markeshia Ricks hit a fifth show, Trombone Shorty’s taste of New Orleans on Sunday night, and added her take.
The Great Return: Foster The People
Fans were rocking as Foster The People took over the music hall for a sold-out show this past Tuesday night.
“We haven’t toured in two and a half years, but I feel great,” said lead singer Mark Foster.
Even before the show started the audience was excited. A majority of the people there had found the group the same way: through its smash, 2012 hit “Pumped Up Kicks.” With two full LPs and an EP under its belt, Foster The People has had a respectable indie career. When I asked what drew people to Foster The People’s music I got an array of responses. A casual fan, James, said that he loves “the eccentric mix of different genres that are expressed in their music.” He also was impressed by how they “pushed boundaries. They don’t just stick to one style. You can hear electronic, indie, rock, and a whole array of influences. They aren’t linear.”
The band members’ light-hearted spirit, their sonic unconventionality, and their angsty lyrics also helped them connect with avid fan Jessica Glass, who called the music “inspiring and relatable.” A word that I heard the whole night was “angsty.” Glass called the music “coming of age.”
The show itself was a spectacle, with elaborate lighting. From the perspective of someone who did not have a vast knowledge of their music beforehand, this was a combination of EDM, hip-hop, indie, and classic rock. The majority of the cult-like fanbase appeared in its mid-20s; there was not a lack of jean jackets at this affair, nor a lack of energy.
I figured that due to the sheer popularity of “Pumped Up Kicks” and the group’s declining placement in the mainstream spotlight, the hit song would be the focus of the performance. I was wrong. From my observation “Pumped Up Kicks” was actually one of the least-involved moments for the crowd. This audience appreciated the B-sides, the deep cuts.
Cross-Generation Rock ‘N’ Roll
Franz Ferdinand played its first show ever in New Haven Wednesday and made quite the impression.
The crowd cut across generations — like father-son duo Vincent and Griffin Barry. Vincent has been a longtime fan of the garage-style group and had already seen a performance in Brooklyn.
“They are really good live,” he said. “They sound tight and loud. It almost sounds like a studio performance.” Griffin found the “lyrics and instrumentals to be very interesting. I love the cadence of the lead singer’s [Alex Kapranos] voice.” To see father and 18-year-old son enjoy the same band encompasses how I felt about their music; it is just good old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll, something that any fan can enjoy.
One fan, named Todd, described himself as a 60-year-old fan of “high energy music.” He was drawn to Franz Ferdinand’s “hard driving rock ‘n’ roll sound.” Todd and I share the same desire to find raw, unfiltered rock music, and that is exactly what I discovered at this concert.
Franz Ferdinand’s sound is a combination of Joy Division and the Strokes. Alex Kapranos’s stage presence is reminiscent of the punk heroes of yesteryear: Joe Strummer, even Johnny Rotten. As one fan, Aidan, described it, “They are poppy, sad, and fun at the same time.”
This music brought me right back to being 16 and how I fell in love with indie music as a whole; the band sounded so complete and so rooted in classic rock that I couldn’t help but become a fan. Even the security at the show spoke to me about how they had gained a couple fans among the staff.
For devoted fan Shiloh Rivera, the show — the first she had ever attended — was a long time coming.
“I’ve been a fan since my ex-boyfriend dedicated ‘Take Me Out’ to me. Ever since then I have been starstruck. I feel in love with an alternative rock. “The words grasp on to you,” she said of Franz Ferdinand’s music. “You can’t shake them off.”
Indie Double Bill
Friday night, College Street hosted two of indie rock’s most interesting acts: Noah Gundersen and City & Colour.
“He has the voice of an angel,” super-fan Christina Volpe said of Dallas Green of City & Colour.
Noah Gundersen, a singer-songwriter from Seattle, stunned the crowd with his ambient playing and somber lyrics. It was a simple performance: just a man and his guitar. He drew the crowd in with his words and magnificent voice. He is noted for his extensive work on Sons Of Anarchy and this fall will be coming out with a brand new album. The audience could feel the sincerity this man had in his music. It sounded like he wanted to share his life experiences and ideas directly with the crowd, one on one. The crowd was dead silent and in awe, as was I.
Most of the people at the City & Colour show were not casual fans. A group of women I talked to travel up and down the East coast to see him, traveling from Vermont all the way down to Virginia. This group all agreed on cleverly coining Green’s music as “ear masturbation.”
It seemed to me like the people who follow this group looked to Green almost for emotional support, as his lyrics are more depressing than those of usual indie groups. Eric Beach did not agree with this sentiment, however.
“People think the music I listen to is depressing and always ask how do I listen to it all the time,” Beach said. “I tell them that it isn’t depressing to me. The music you find sad makes me happy. I wake up, make coffee, and put on City & Colour every day.”
Beach is 39. Most of the crowd appeared in their 20s and looked and dressed a lot like Dallas Green. I saw a lot of flannels, tattoos, and beards.
When City & Colour eventually came on I expected a sea of screams. Instead, there were smiles and claps. C&C offered a relaxed show, and people in the crowd relaxed in turn, sitting back and hearing the man sing, hanging on his every word. No more than a handful of “woo"s interrupted the vibe.
The music was a mixture of classic rock, folk, and a little country. It kind of reminded me of a mixture of the sound of the Black Keys with the instrumentation and vocal cadence of Bon Iver. The lyrics largely touched on depression, lost love, and other hardships Green has dealt with in this life.
“I heard the church bells from afar,” Green sang. “But we found each other in the dark / And when the smoke does finally pass / We will rise above all the ash.”
“He makes music to be played live,” said one fan, Bree Giannelli. “It sounds better than it does in the studio. He knows it will sound great at a show.”
Saturday night things got real awkward at the music hall.
Demetri Martin, known for films such as Taking Woodstock and his show on Comedy Central, Important Things, was the headliner on a tour entitled “Let’s Get Awkward.” Martin brought a stash of deadpan one-liners, musical numbers, and thought-provoking jokes.
Martin, who lived in New Haven for four years, showed off an array of skills by playing the guitar and harmonica and telling jokes. We also got a special treat during the show when he read an excerpt from his upcoming book, Interesting Facts. One fact of his that caught my ear: “It is proven that drunk people are 6,000 percent less interesting than they think they are.”
With his unique sense of humor and delivery, he commanded the crowd. Martin is also promoting a new independent movie called Dean, which was released in select theaters June 2. In the film, Martin plays a New York illustrator who falls hard for an L.A. woman while trying to prevent his father from selling the family home in the wake of his mother’s death. The film features Gillian Jacobs and Kevin Kline.
There was no fluff to Martin’s jokes; they were simple and direct. I felt as though he got in my head and said all the thoughts I have about awkward interactions every day.
“My friend was involved in a love triangle,” Martin told the crowd. “He liked this woman, and this other guy liked this woman. But I tried to explain to him, ‘That’s a love angle that you’re in. For it to be a love triangle, the two guys also have to have something going on. Now you have three vertices, that’s a love triangle.”
College Street Music Hall has the formula down. Everything is made for the comfort of the concert goer, from the conveniently placed bar to the fact that you can roam the venue to high-five the headliner. Even the bathrooms look like attention is paid to them. I was so happy that the floor wasn’t sticky enough to catch my shoe, security did not yell anything obscene at me, no drinks were thrown and not one fight broke out. The security at the venue was fun, kind, and extremely helpful. It was the best venue I have ever been to, so much so that I actually emailed the agent of an artist I like begging him to come there.
Markeshia Ricks added the following:
A Night Of Nawlins
On Sunday evening, New Orleans came to New Haven by way of the College Street Music Hall where the New Breed Brass Band opened for Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue brought the rock and roll wizardry. New Breed Brass Band brought the gumbo.
New Breed opened the show with horns blazing and a snare and base drummer driving the syncopated rhythm that gave you jazz, funk, and even a little salsa. With sounds harkening to the intersection of cultures that makes New Orleans one of the most unique cities in the country, the only thing missing for me was a church mother’s hand clap, a tambourine, a white handkerchief to wave and a second line to jump in.
Luckily, Shorty (familiar to viewers nationwide of the New Orleans-themed show Treme) brought his tambourine. But he took the show in a decidedly different direction that leaned more on American rock ‘n’ roll, with its electric guitar, and jazz. Shorty alternated between the trombone that is his namesake and a trumpet.
In addition to playing his horns, Shorty wowed the crowd with his voice and the aforementioned tambourine. The highlight of the evening was a song featuring what appeared to be a battle of the horns as Shorty riffed back and forth with two of his saxophonists. All in all, a handclapping, foot-stomping good time.
College Street Music Hall is an intimate venue. You can be close, or not that close, and still have a good vantage, and hear really well.