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Arts & Entertainment

Still Rocking in Paradise

Makeover moves stage, leaves pole

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The Paradise Rock Club has hosted some of music’s biggest names—before they were big. Photos by Kristyn Ulanday

Forget which bands are scheduled to perform this fall. Or what the tickets are going to run. The big question for longtime patrons of the Paradise Rock Club following this summer’s extensive renovations was posed by the Boston Herald: “What about that damn pole in front of the stage?”

Said pole is as fabled as the Paradise’s 33-year-old role in giving a hand up fame’s ladder to future superstars. The first U.S. stage to ever host U2 famously squatted behind a pillar that obstructed much of the audience’s view. But that was before the three-month-long makeover shifted the stage 15 feet leftward (moving the support pole was not an alternative, as it risked bringing the house down—literally). Voilà—on a recent night, my wife and I actually could see the bands as they played, unencumbered by any damn pole.

The makeover also created more open space on the floor, which is standing-room-only; there’s seating only in the balcony. Now, as before, the Paradise can accommodate more than 700 customers. But if you come on a slow night (the place was only about a third full when we went to hear folk-rocker Griffin House), the club has a curiously intimate feel. Except perhaps around the room’s fringes, you never feel far from the stage. And despite the good acoustics, conversing with a companion can be a challenge. During the warm-up set, my wife said to me, “I like this song. It’s not just noise. I can—” Her last words were drowned out by the noise.

For all the changes (relocated box office and performers’ dressing rooms, redone bars), the Paradise retains its ear for good music from lesser-known performers. Griffin House sounds like the name of a rehab center, but actually belongs to a gifted Ohio-born songwriter whose music blends the autobiographical with a touch of spirituality, which sometimes conjures Springsteen, other times Creedence Clearwater Revival. His The Way I Was Made was inspired by his grandfather, who amused the young House by claiming to have shot Hitler; it touchingly clings in your memory with its proud refrain: “Whoa oh! It feels so good to have your blood in my veins.”

All in all, a worthy booking in the tradition of the Police, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Rage Against the Machine, and others who’ve performed here over the decades, most before they were household names.

The adjacent lounge offers pub-style appetizers, sandwiches, and soups, starting two hours before showtime. The food is OK at best. My wife’s chicken jerk salad ($9.95) was more jerk than chicken, as the poultry was dried out, and my portabella mushroom sandwich ($7.95) was forgettable. But food is not the Paradise’s raison d’être. Hearing good music in a good venue is, and by that yardstick, this remodeled institution is Paradise Found.

The Paradise Rock Club is open from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily; the box office is open Monday through Saturday from noon to 6 p.m.
Live music most evenings; check the schedule here; most shows are 18-plus, although some are all ages and a few 21-plus, so consult the schedule. No cover charge. Show tickets are $10 to $25; again, check the schedule.
967–969 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, Mass. 02115
617-562-8800
MBTA: Take the Green Line B trolley to Pleasant Street.

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

This is part of a weekly series featuring Boston nightspots of interest to the BU community. If you have any suggestions for places we should feature, leave them in the comments section below.

Read about more nightspots around the area here.

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