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April 30, 2009 / jnolen

The new Fox Theater

A few weeks ago, Jenn and I ventured across the Bay twice in one week, to see our very first shows in newly renovated and reopened Fox Theater in Oakland. We saw Franz Ferdinand on a Wednesday and on that Friday, we went back for Band of Horses.

Franz Ferdinand

Band of Horses

The Fox is, hands down, the nicest place I’ve ever seen a rock show. It’s the Ritz Carlton of concert venues. The offer both GA on the floor and seats in the balcony, so you can choose the experience you prefer. We were downstairs (of course). The floor is raked and tiered so every few dozen feet there’s a an equivalent of a front-row view. There’s a grid of air conditioning vents in the floor to the crowd cool. There’s a bar every twenty feet in the venue, and a separate lobby bar. The whole place is beautifully lit and carpeted. And I never once had to wait in line for anything. Best of all, the booker is completely dialed in, choosing bands that I’d love to see. I’ve already bought tickets for four big shows this season. As a concert-going experience, it would be hard to beat.

Food critics often visit a restaurant several times before they render judgment. And so I’m glad that I was able to go back to the Fox just two days later. Because now I have to tell you about the Fox Theater’s Achilles’ heel: the house mix at the Fox is just crap. And I’m not alone in thinking so.) It’s way bass heavy, vocal-ranges are so muddy that I couldn’t understand the band members when they spoke, and the guitars are all-but-inaudible. There were solos where I could see the guitarist playing but couldn’t hear a single note. There were times when the bass guitar was twice as loud as the lead. But you could absolutely hear every single hit on the kick drum.


Both Band of Horses and Franz Ferdinand put on great shows, but they were hamstrung by the sound at the Fox. Franz Ferdinand fared better, given their more driving, bass-heavy style. Band of Horses, who rely on more anthemic, guitar-driven songs, was just gutted. I desperately hope that the problem lies with the engineer who designed their house mix: maybe he just has terrible taste. That can be fixed The alternative is that the problems are inherent in the room and can’t be overcome, and that would be a true tragedy in what would otherwise be my favorite concert venue in the Bay Area.

I’m certainly going to see the other two shows I’ve bought tickets for. But if the Fox doesn’t get this sorted out by the last show, I’ll think very carefully before buying any more.

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