Two and a half years after the beloved concert hall IMAC closed in Huntington, a new venue, The Paramount, opened on the same spot last night with a concert by Elvis Costello. Carrying the memories of so many magical nights at IMAC, I went with a few mixed feelings: excited about seeing the new space and apprehensive about how it would measure up. And with Kathie Bodily, the late Michael Rothbard's partner at IMAC and in life, as my companion for the evening, I knew I'd have a special perspective on it.
Elvis Costello was a terrific choice for opening night. He started the concert by speed dialing six songs in about 15 minutes, high energy rockers like "Mystery Dance" and "Radio, Radio." It was clear he and the Imposters were locked in, but the sound was anything but clear; in fact, it was pretty muddy. They've opened up the old space, taking out the seats on the main floor, while keeping the old upper rows of seats and adding balconies on the side for VIPs.
As a friend put it, it's kind of a cross between the Bowery Ballroom and Hammerstein Ballroom. Where IMAC used to hold about 550, the Paramount has a capacity of 1550. They've removed the IMAC ceiling, so now it goes all the way to the roof of the building. With exposed brick walls, it looks beautiful, but there's nothing to absorb the sound. The sound was better on the slower numbers, and it will be interesting to see how artists like Amos Lee, Willie Nelson, and Ray Davies fare in the room.
After his opening sprint, Elvis traded his porkpie hat for a top hat and cane and worked the room as master showman. He brought members of the audience up onstage to spin the Spectacular Spinning Songbook, which listed a couple dozen songs, both old and new, familiar and less so, from his repertoire. Wherever the big wheel stopped, he and the band would play that song, while the contestants stayed on stage, dancing along.
The first song turned out to be "Everyday I Write the Book." Then a guy and three women came up for a "quad spin." One of those yielded a "Joker," which meant she could select any title on the wheel. (She chose "I Want You.") The others were "Monkey to Man," "Accidents Will Happen" (which Elvis performed as a medley with "And Your Bird Can Sing"), and "Pump It Up." I'm not a big fan of standing concerts, but when you have a song like "Pump It Up," it's great to be able to shake your booty a bit. And though the concert was a complete sellout, I didn't feel crowded on the main floor.
One of the titles on the wheel said "Cash." I don't know if that meant the contestant would win money if the wheel landed there, but cash comes in handy when the beers go for $9 and bottled water for $5. The owners, all local music fans, have allegedly poured something like $6 million into renovating the space, and it's clear they want to make an impact. The Paramount has a lot of possibilities, and for aging boomers like me it's good to know that shows like B.B. King and Ray Davies will have seating on the main floor.
As for Kathie Bodily, she kept running into old friends from the IMAC days, who were glad to see her. It was an emotional experience for her, but she was upbeat. "The place looks fantastic," she said. "Our vision for IMAC has morphed into this. It's not really a concert hall, though, it's a music scene."