Downtown venue has sights set on twentysomethings

December 16, 2004|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

That strange, woodsy smell of a new place hits you first when entering Rams Head Live, the downtown venue near the Inner Harbor that opened its doors to the public last night.

The joint - sleek and modern-looking with muted clay-red walls and exposed steel beams above - wasn't really packed, partly because the inaugurating act, the Celtic rock unit Gaelic Storm, isn't a band that attracts long, snaking lines to the box office.

But it seemed the crowd - mostly folks in their mid- to late 20s - was more curious about the look of Rams Head Live than the energetic rock group that graced the 42-by-20-foot modular stage.

But there was at least one Gaelic Storm fan in the house.

"They have a kind of history with the Rams Head because they play in Annapolis a lot," said Amanda Zindorf, a pigtailed 25-year-old from that city. "They're different from the standard pop band. I love them. Great music."

Upstairs tucked away in one of the comfy VIP rooms, which were open to everybody last night, two couples in their mid-20s lounged on the plush black leather couches - watching the names and pictures of coming acts flash across the flat-screen monitor on the wall. (The venue boasts 40 throughout the place.)

"We found the chill spot," said Alex Norris, the head chef at Rams Head Tavern on Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. He was massaging the feet of his girlfriend, Christina Tsigarithras, a waitress at the smaller venue. They'd decided on their own to attend the opening.

"I think this place is off the hook," she said. "It's awesome. This is one of the nicest clubs I've ever been in. I walked in and got a head rush."

The new $10 million club, in the Power Plant Live! complex, has been built to hold as many as 1,800 people.

Its capacity is more than twice that of the current largest club in the Baltimore area, the Recher Theatre in Towson, which can handle a crowd of 750. And it is 50 percent larger than the facility likely to be its chief competitor, Washington's 9:30 Club, with a capacity of 1,200.

With five bars throughout the place (and the bartenders are pretty generous with the booze in the mixed drinks), Rams Head Live doesn't cater to the teen crowd - those that dig on, say, Simple Plan or Good Charlotte. And no rowdy, popular hip-hop performers (Lil' Scrappy, Petey Pablo) or flavorful, contemporary R&B artists (Jill Scott, Raphael Saadiq) appear on the list of coming attractions, which include such way-past-their-prime acts as Tower of Power and George Clinton.

"Our focus is not to have a focus," says Joe Szoko, the club's talent buyer and promotions manager. "Our theory was to present different shows for different people. We have zydeco, alternative, blues, classic rock and funk. Our whole first month spans all the demographics."

Well, the demographics that can drink legally. But beyond that, the place is inviting. There are three food stations, offering loaded hot dogs, various pizzas, burritos - food you can easily eat while standing. But plenty of tables and stools line the walls. Even the bathrooms, which feature clear-sounding speakers so that you can hear the show on stage - are nice: black and silver. Spotless, too, but the place is new.

A bar and lounge area upstairs - which can be rented out as a VIP room - gives off a hip, Manhattan vibe with beautiful hardwood floors, intimate tables and striking black-and-white photos. Downstairs is spacious, and you get a nice view of the stage from just about anywhere.

"The dancing area in front of the stage is really nice," said Leah Frazier, a 24-year-old lawyer from Annapolis. "Oh, this is much bigger than the Rams Head in Annapolis. The other place attracts an older crowd. This, I hope attracts the younger crowd."

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