It’s hard not to notice the past year’s upgrades at the Granada Theater on Mass. Street in downtown Lawrence.
Over its nearly 100 years the iconic building has been fashioned as a vaudeville stage, a movie theater, and more recently, a live music venue. But just a few years ago the word on the street was that the venue – dubbed by many as the Granasty – was run down and attracting a seedy crowd on a regular basis. Then there was a shooting on the sidewalk out front after a hip-hop show.
Things needed to change, that was no secret.
Otherwise the Granada could end up like the fated Last Call, which was essentially shut down by City officials after multiple incidents of violence and drugs.
Enter Mike Logan.
Manager Logan took the helm and oversaw a massive renovation, not only physical, but also in terms of the business model. Not only were new bathrooms added on the main level, the balcony seating was extended, the sight lines improved, the audio system upgraded, the backstage band areas expanded, the front bar was remodeled, around 30 new taps were installed, and more.
The venue also started booking different types of acts, ones that would attract more of the college party crowd and less of the seedy elements.
They booked M83, Dirty Projectors, Dan Deacon, Wanda Jackson, Mickey Hart Band, Toro Y Moi, Tyler the Creator, Guided By Voices….
Need I go on?
So I figured I couldn’t go wrong on New Year’s Eve. And I was right.
Not with Murder By Death headlining and Lawrence favorites Cowboy Indian Bear on setup duty. When I walked in a little late around 10:45 the place was decently filled, probably at about 2/3 capacity. Although everywhere the crowds were a bit light due to the snow packed roads and freezing temps.
I walked in as CIB was throwing down a dancy pop number – their specialty. Marty Hillard’s voice was, as always, higher than you’d think it could get, while Katlyn Conroy plinked away on the keys and provided solid backing vocals. Their newer songs – which will be released on a full length album sometime in April I believe – are lush and filled out, with plenty of pre-recorded girth, as well as some bleeps and bloops.
Look for their new album to be among the most anticipated – and likely best – of the local releases in 2013.
But CIB had to bow out early so that Indiana based MBD could take the helm with plenty of time before midnight to get the crowd going, which they did in no time flat.
The crowd was obviously pro-MBD – they’ve toured a bunch in the KC area over the last 5 years – so every song elicited a robust amount of applause, not to mention a near non-stop singalong. Adam Turla’s deep growl drove the band as they burned through Kentucky Bourbon, As Long As There is Whiskey in the World, You Don’t Miss Twice (When You’re Shavin’ With a Knife), and Foxglove.
A few songs later, my cute date had appeared with a $10 bottle of champagne she bought at the bar, and six Solo cups. The countdown was on.
We all laid into the champagne and MBD belted out a sloppy version of Auld Lang Syne. Upstairs, the Kaw Valley Kickball League toasted another successful season as Lawrence’s premier kickball league.
Yes, for real.
I was told you could go up there and get the real strong drinks from the KVKL bartenders, so I did.
They were right. My vodka-soda-splash of cranberry was actually a vodka-vodka-splash of vodka, which at 12:15 am on January 1st isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Below, MBD was doing what they do – cranking out melodramatic folk tunes with an energetic flurry. At times they played so aggressively that the mix lost a bit of consistency, and their cellist got drowned out a few times. But overall, the up and coming folksters filled the bill admirably.
They busted out The Desert is on Fire, Boy Decide, Until Morale Improves, the Beatings Will Continue, then Dynamite Mine, Spring Break 1899, and ended the set with a killer version of Comin’ Home.
I looked around for my date, then the rest of my party. Where did everyone go? I wandered outside and was greeted by guys and girls smoking cigarettes and hanging on each other. I went back inside, where a group of guys was doing shots at the bar, and some girls were dancing in a circle with cheap party favors on their heads.
Onstage, the band was coming back out. They weren’t done yet. I looked around and saw optimism on the faces of most. The world didn’t end in December, so fuck it, right?
Why wouldn’t we be here at the Granada, looking forward with hope?