Unknown Mortal Orchestra Will Break In New Venue Crescent Ballroom

It's September, which means that most music nerds are deep into their "Albums of the Year" process. I'm no different. I've got about 15 drafts of my list, and the name Unknown Mortal Orchestra appears on most of them. The Portland-via-New Zealand band's eponymous debut alternately recalls Led Zeppelin, Prince, RZA, and Paul McCartney, and it's near the top of my list. Pitchfork liked it, The Onion A.V. Club thought it was okay, and Dusted Magazine hated it. But everyone had something to say about it.

In other words, the band is exactly the kind of band that Charlie Levy's Stateside Presents has been booking since 2001, a band with a national presence and the potential to be a "big deal" indie act but not a band guaranteed to fill the house. Unknown Mortal Orchestra is scheduled to play the second night of business at Levy's new downtown venue, Crescent Ballroom. The venue is a bold move for Levy, and much anticipated, joining the Danny Zelisko's recently opened Foundry on First as a new mid-size venue in downtown Phoenix.

Levy is giving me the "grand tour." Nothing is finished just yet. The garage doors that face out onto Second Avenue have just been installed, and stacks of lumber litter the area that will be the lounge. There's sawdust sprinkled everywhere on the bare concrete floors, and a lone work light illuminates the floor in front of the stage. It's not quite a "ballroom" yet, but Levy is beaming with pride.

He points out the wall behind the lounge stage, a pale, ghostly green. It's the original coat of paint from the building's days in 1917, when it was built as a garage for motorists on Van Buren Street. "I saw that and I said, 'Leave it,'" Levy says of the unique color. "Leave it" is the theme of Crescent. Levy says the design plans called for a back-to-basics approach. "Strip it down to the bare bones," he says. "Make it nice, but not too nice. I want it to still be rock 'n' roll."

He shows off the reclaimed wood that lines the back bar, adjacent to the stage ("We found this wood in an old Phoenix factory") and excitedly explains where bands will be able to set up their merch, with wire hangers and a glass display case — "instead of just a folding table," Levy says.

Levy walks me through the kitchen, where Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco and Doug Robson of Gallo Blanco will oversee hiring and kitchen operations. The staff of The Vig will oversee front-of-the-house operations.The lounge at Crescent Ballroom will be open from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. every night of the week and always will be free of charge to enter, Levy says, hoping to attract the happy hour crowd. The big culinary names accent Levy's ambition, as does Crescent's October schedule, which features music every night, including local and touring DJs, bands, and solo acts in the lounge.

I ask Levy what prompted his move. Why now, with a struggling economy and Phoenix's notorious reputation when it comes to live music?

"I found this place," he says of the building that until recently was Bentley's Nightclub. "It's tough in Phoenix [to find the right location]. Either it's too expensive, has no character, or it's off the beaten path." Crescent doesn't seem to suffer from any of those issues. It's located one block from the Van Buren/First Avenue light-rail station, and the vibe of the building is impressive, even in its unfinished state.

But will people show? Unknown Mortal Orchestra is emblematic of the kind of acts Levy books — an act that is exciting to music writers and indie fans, but risky to promoters as a band that commands crowds in big cities, but not necessarily in Phoenix.

Levy is well aware that Crescent Ballroom could be spectacular, or a spectacular failure. "All we can do is do our best," he says, a wide grin under his perpetual five-o'clock shadow. "It's like that Charlie Rich song, 'Let the Chips Fall,'" he says, laughing. "I'm going to 'Let the chips fall where they may.' Or is it 'lay'? I can't remember."

 
My Voice Nation Help
2 comments
Ross
Ross

I wonder how many people will show up at the Sheraton Crescent in North Phoenix.

Out of 600,000 English words, the best they could come up with is Crescent? Maybe because of the Muslim connotation?

Dave Brookhouser
Dave Brookhouser

NO PICTURES!!!!!!!?????

Anyway ... there is no possible way to overstate how much this will add to the music scene in Phoenix ... I sure hope Charlie will be booking a lot of local bands (Snake. Snake. Snakes! headline show please!) or at the very least be pairing them up with like sounding national acts as openers. I am sure he will ... I am soooooo excited I could pee!

 
Phoenix Concert Tickets

Concert Calendar

  • October
  • Wed
    22
  • Thu
    23
  • Fri
    24
  • Sat
    25
  • Sun
    26
  • Mon
    27
  • Tue
    28
Loading...