It's hard (no pun intended) not to have mixed feelings about Hard Rock Cafe, which just opened a new location on Hollywood Blvd.
On the one hand, it's got some of the most amazing rock n' roll memorabilia one might find, well, anywhere. From stagewear to journal entries to rare photos, there's much to oooh and ahh over in pretty much all its locations. (Our favorite's gotta be the Vegas one which has a casino complete with Jimi Hendrix and Sex Pistols slot machines, plus some impressive Kurt Cobain and Rolling Stones keepsakes).
Still, there's something kind of generic about the vibe at these museum-like eateries. Hard Rock is, like Hooters and mostly out-of-orbit Planet Hollywood, a theme restaurant after all. And however impressive they are, the excess of displays somehow makes individual pieces seem a little less special. Maybe it's seeing very un-rockin' tourist types chomping cheeseburgers next to these beloved instruments and music history collectables and paying them no mind.
Regardless, as far as Hollywood is concerned, we'd much rather scarf next to Tommy Lee's letters from jail (yeah, that's what was hanging above our head where we sat) or Tone Loc's dayglo "Wild Thing" baseball cap (in the VIP section) than any other kind of decor we can think of, especially while AC/DC blasts from the soundsystem (DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill was the event's DJ) and cute, tattoo'd waitresses make sure we're cool.
Hard Rock's doors have been ("soft") opened since this Summer in the space that used to be the Virgin megastore, but it was only last night that Hard honchos marked the new space with an official bash, hosted by George Lopez with performances by Orianthi and Robin Thicke.
Lopez was his usual rabble-rousing self, pumping up the crowd and dissing House of Blues ("Dont go there, come here") in the process. Not sure if live music will be a regular staple on the HOB level at Hard Rock, but it could be. There's a huge stage, sound system, lighting and ample room for concert-goers in the back of the venue. It's a great space to see a show, with seating surrounding the crowd area in upper levels (much better than similar set-ups at HOB or The Key Club).
Orianthi definitely held party-goers attention last night, playing an acoustic set of tunes including her hit, "According To You." Songs such as that one were okay, if predictable pop (a few could easily be Taylor Swift tunes, while the better ones had a more Pink-ish edge). Would have preferred to see the pretty blonde Australian riffster go electric for this set and show off the chops that got her a gig with Michael Jackson. She's seen tearing it up in "This Is It."
Thicke came on about an hour later, and honestly the gluttonous amount of food at the fete -- both passed non-stop and laid out on buffets -- seemed to not only satiate the crowd but slow down the soiree somewhat. Thicke's smooth and funky soul was digestion-friendly, though.
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Never seen him live before, but, his sexybot rep is well deserved. Sometimes he actually seems like he's making love while he's singing (soaked sweaty, pelvis swishing, and suggestive breaths). The ladies watching around us were feeling it. We wondered what daddy Alan (Growing Pains)-- who sat near us for some of the show -- was thinking.
Anyway,Thicke Jr. puts on a good set, even serving up a couple nods to his inspirations (Michael Jackson and Al Green), but we still give the white-boy-you-wanna-do award to Justin Timberlake, who charts the same territory but infuses it with more dance pizazzaz and less suave crooner seriousness.
Thicke joins Hard Rock's "2010 Ambassadors of Rock Tour," which previously included The Pixies in Las Vegas, Neil Young in Hollywood, Fla. and an all-star lineup at Hard Rock Calling in London with Pearl Jam, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Corinne Bailey Rae, Ben Harper, and Elvis Costello. The event (food was free, drinks were $5) benefited the Downtown Women's Center (DWC), an organization whose mission is to provide permanent supportive housing for women.
The 20,000-square-foot 425-seat restaurant and live music space is now open daily. 6801 Hollywood Blvd. (323) 464- 7625