Whether or not you believe in reincarnation, you have to admit the rebirth of the House of Blues Anaheim is important for OC. Bringing an iconic venue back from the dead after it’s demise at Downtown Disney meant the chance for a once prized venue to regain some of it’s luster and more than double its size. To that effect, the new HoB was already a success before it ever opened it’s doors on Tuesday and Wednesday night to welcome a back to back sold out crowd there to see penultimate OC punk act, Social Distortion. At more than 40,000 square feet with a 2,200-person capacity, four stages, plenty of bars and a full dining area with high ceilings, a mix of original murals and the venue chain’s branded Americana style and spacious walk ways, it’s definitely a beast that dwarfs the old Mouse House.
The start of new concert season rode in with the Blues Brothers—-HoB co-owner Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi standing in for his late bro John-who got on a small stage outside the venue at the Garden Walk to christen the new place with a ceremonial smashing of prop acoustic guitars along with General Manager Tim Jorgensen, chief operating officer for House of Blues Entertainment and Ronald Benson CEO of House of Blues Entertainment. But photo-ops aside, most of the press and early arrivals walking into the new space had to wonder if the venue promised by Live Nation could be everything it needed to be for a County that’s lost venues left and right in recent years as the Observatory’s gained a death grip on our concert dollars. But with a huge venue, an awesome concert calendar and an actual parking structure to support the flow of cars getting in (even if it was incredibly slow getting out), we already had high hopes for House of Blues on its opening week.
From the minute you step into this place you can feel its massiveness dominate the foyer after walking in past the full bar restaurant with tiles engraved with the faces of rock and blues greats on the walls. The isles to walk to and from the concert are wide enough to accommodate the crowd flow both down below and upstairs where VIP tables and a standing mezzanine area allow a segment of the crowd the ability to test out the new sight lines which were one of the main points of contention at the old venue. They are vastly improved for those standing toward the middle of the second level, though blind spots abound on either side for those who are standing behind VIP areas where high roller fans are blocking the view for the rest of us plebs. Unless you’re in their sections you might be better off on the main floor which is much more open with the bars scooted back away from the show itself so there’s more room on the outskirts to stand. Though in a sold out situation like a Social D concert, you best pick one road or the other before the show starts because it’s still a bit too cramped to go back and forth down the stairs and still see the show.
Which brings us to the bar layout inside the venue. Considering there are definitely more bars around the concert area, it’s definitely been a convenience more people should’ve taken advantage of instead of stuffing the lines at the first bar parallel to the venue when you enter. It feels like a bad habit that many fans must’ve acquired when dealing with the old HoB where we had to crowd in at one inconvenient spot to grab a brew. It’s okay, people—that’s all in the past, time to embrace some change and help us all get to the front of the line faster. Although the credit card interfaces weren’t ready on opening night and they had to go cash bar which probably slowed things up. That and the fact that bartenders were forced to take the time to crack open your tall can and pour it into a plastic cup for you.
In terms of sound, you’re better off standing downstairs than upstairs, at least for now. For whatever reason, the sound from the stage (mostly the low end frequencies) didn’t travel as well to where most people could stand on the top floor. It seems like the venue could use another row of monitors somewhere that could bolster the sound for this part of the venue. Fortunately, we didn’t have any trouble recognizing the tunes in Social D’s set, which was essentially exactly what you would’ve expected. “Bad Luck,” “Reach For the Sky,” a countrified version “Ball and Chain” and ending with the Cash cover “Ring of Fire” along with an extra helping of fiddle and soulful backup singers. Not only is there enlistment for multiple shows a tradition for HoB, it provided a quality sound check for the venue that punk fans around here would automatically enjoy. Seeing the tattooed hands of Mike Ness strumming his guitar while sporting some old-timey gangster garb is something we’ve seen and reviewed dozens of times. A couple of his protégés, including California-based country singer-songwriter Jade Jackson and Elvis Presley sound-a-like Paul Cauthen also tested the crowds ears with a few tunes before the big show.
One perk which we got checkout out during and after the show was availability of the Foundation Room on the second floor which had its own bar, plush couches and booths and flirtatious belly dancers roving around. You could tell this was an entirely separate theme and entity from the show going one, right down to the bass-thumping mix of hip-hop and electronic music and the strong smell of incense that wafter through the place. Might be cool to see if they can create a theme experience that coincide with the show going on in the main concert hall, but if you just want somewhere to feel like you can get your ultra lounge club vibes after listening to a bunch of country and cow punk all night, then this spot definitely does the trick.
As the concert calendar continues to unfold with plenty of big names in the coming weeks, it’ll be interesting to see the level of service House of Blues can provide for fans who come out looking for a great lineup and a good time. As proven by struggles with their past location and at the Observatory, their main competition in these parts, it’s clear that fans are growing weary of concert situations that put people at risk with overcrowded shows where the value of the ticket and the overall experience don’t match up. But given all the potential this revived venue has, we’re pretty hopeful that they can create something that will be a game changer for Orange County music.