Photos by Brian Ulaszewski
This past weekend the Federal Bar had the grand opening of their basement event space and speakeasy where local band Dengue Fever was hosted for an inaugural concert attended by 300 of their closest friends. The sold-out event was brimming with excited Long Beachers (including me) who have been longing for this sort of hip, intimate music venue.
Formerly the Madison steakhouse, the Federal Bar on the ground floor is a stately interior space with high ceilings, open floor plan and extensive wood detailing throughout. But what many of the dinners are not aware of (but the concert goers are likely more conscious of) is that the entire restaurant, bar, concert venue and speakeasy used to be a bank. The Security Pacific National Bank Building once housed the Long Beach branch of the Security Trust and Savings Bank of Los Angeles and the vault door between the concert space and speakeasy lounge in the basement is perhaps the most obvious evidence of this banking past.
Repurposing the former bank vault as a medium-sized music venue works well, between the acoustics, high ceilings, procession down into the space and layout of spaces. Dark paint, floor to ceiling red curtains and royal chandeliers provide a sophisticated yet durable backdrop for alternative rock bands. With multi-faceted music company Knitting Factory behind the Federal Bar, Long Beach should expect a constant stream of quality bands to go in the Underground.
Dengue Fever at the Federal Bar Underground
The funny thing is, however, that the Dengue Fever concert was the second of the night as Fingerprint Records hosted a live acoustic set from alternative rock veterans Switchfoot. It was an exciting hour-long show celebrating the release of their latest album Fading West. That night, lead singer Jon Foreman powered through a nasty lip injury (30+ stitches) he received surfing earlier in the week to entertain a couple hundred fans who purchased the album during the week.
Since relocating to 4th Street in the East Village from Belmont Shore’s Second Street, Fingerprints was able to triple the size of its store, becoming a major music destination during a time that saw the decline of most brick and mortar record stores. At the same time, Fingerprints has been able to design a space that better facilitates in-store concerts; a major advantage of the physical location. There is one space behind attached Berlin Cafe that with minor furniture rearrangement can host a band and a hundred concertgoers.
But the ingenious design feature of the new Fingerprints is that part of the record store can be repurposed into a much larger venue. The D through T section of the rock CD collection slides into the vinyl record library to create a large open area and concert stage with plenty of ancillary spaces to also watch a show. From modern rock gods Foo Fighters to sophomore indie-pop band Fun., Fingerprints has been able to host some of the biggest acts around.
Topping off the shows-in-re-purposed-spaces-around-town week is this Thursday’s concert featuring Of Montreal, a veteran alternative band that has found more recent success through the digital radio age between satellite radio and internet stations Pandora and Songza. Able to draw a larger audience than most independent venues can host but not on the spectrum of the Long Beach Arena or one of the civic theaters, an alternative space had to be found.
Enter the Art Theater, the single-screen movie theater on 4th Street in Retro Row that occasionally re-adapts itself into a performance venue. The location and space is a perfect fit for the eclectic sounds of Of Montreal, and it just happens to be the one of the only spaces that is Goldilocks to their audience capacity and demand. Tickets are sold out already, but keep an eye out for the next unique opportunity to see a band in the Art Theater.
There also remains hope that the Vault 350 will be resurrected as a large music venue on Pine Avenue in the Downtown. With a capacity substantially larger than the others, it can fill an important niche for Long Beach’s music scene. The former bank already had a stint as a concert space and was being renovated to improve the venue when the owner unexpectedly passed away. Perhaps the other music spaces will build momentum for the Vault to reemerge sooner rather than later.
Three great bands playing three distinctive venues in Long Beach over a week, all of which were not originally created for music but have been successfully adapted for performances. It takes a bit of vision, lots of creativity and certainly investment of resources to transform these spaces into concert venues and local music lovers should be thankful to those responsible.
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