Echo Park has long prided itself on its indie music scene and trendy concert venues. Places like the Echo and the Bootleg offer a chance to buy $4 PBR’s and watch up-and-coming musicians before they become cool. They are anti-corporate venues, about the opposite of what one might experience at a large festival or stadium tour.
That’s why when Live Nation, the largest concert promoter in the U.S., announced that it would start showcasing indie concerts at Club Bahia in Echo Park, some were shocked.
“It’s like seeing the first Starbucks come into your neighborhood,” says Alexis Rivera, who runs the management company Echo Park Records.
Live Nation is a corporation that earns nearly $1 billion in quarterly revenue, and puts on international tours for artists like Rihanna and Bruno Mars. What would they want by trying to start their own version of Los Globos? In Los Angeles at least, Live Nation has traditionally kept their hands off the small-fry venues and focused on larger holdings like the House of Blues, the Wiltern and Hollywood Palladium.
What might a Live Nation indie series look like? And would hipsters care that the show was being put on by The Man?
Last night answered some questions with the premiere of the “Bahia Live” series — Live Nation's name for events it will throw at the Latin dance joint, Club Bahia, on Sunset Blvd near the 101 and 110 freeways on Monday through Thursdays.
The evening was headlined by local punk-disco favorite De Lux (whom we named one of the 10 L.A. Bands Who Will Blow Up in 2014).
We’ll get to them later, but first a couple words about the venue: It was a brilliant discovery on the part of Live Nation.
According to the show's organizer, Brandon Lavoie, finding Club Bahia was a happy accident. One day, another of Live Nation's talent buyers, Brian Smith (formerly of the Troubadour), happened to drive by the place and noticed the club only had events on Friday and Saturdays. He figured it might be a good spot to book weekday shows. It seems amazing that no one else was doing it first.
The inside of the seedy-looking cinderblock building is enormous, holding a capacity of nearly 500 people, with a full bar, dance floor and stage. And while Club Bahia's popular Latin dance nights on Fridays and Saturdays have been going on since 1974 (and will continue to do so), during the week the place was just sitting around unused.
All it needed was some updated equipment, and so over the past month and a half, Live Nation invested in a new line-array speaker system, extended stage and added lighting.
Last night's show was the Bahia Live series' unveiling, and the upgraded speakers sounded great — clean and crisp, with punching subwoofers.
Moreover, the slight grunge factor gives the place the authentic feel of an indie venue. Out on the covered smoking patio, for example, the iron bars facing the street are covered by plexiglass, so people on the sidewalk can’t sneak items like liquor to those inside.
The show drew a skinny crowd wearing skinny clothes. There was little crossover with Club Bahia’s weekend crowd of salsa dancers with stilettos and starched collars, except for one couple who were dressed to the nines. It looked as if they may have confused the indie show for a Latin night, but when asked they said they knew full well what to expect and were there to see one of the opening acts, Gavin Turek — whose performance was a highlight, not only for her catchy electro-pop, but for her jerky choreography, which had the audience mesmerized.
In many ways, the show was what you'd expect. Of those whom we asked whether they knew or cared that the event was put on by Live Nation, nearly all answered in the negative. The main draw, they said, were the acts, including Lavashark, Gavin Turek and headliners Sean Guerin and Isaac Franco of De Lux who delivered an energetic performance, eliciting sporadic jerks from the crowd with funk guitar lines and disco beats.
In short, a Live Nation indie show felt just like…any other indie show.
Which fits what talent buyer Brandon Lavoie told L.A. Weekly before the concert: “We’re not trying to do something completely different, but continue building the scene here.”
As for the why? Well, it could only work in Live Nation’s favor to build relationships with new talent. From Club Bahia on up, Live Nation now has a hierarchy of L.A. venues all the way to the top. The shows can only get bigger.
And more profitable.