Following up with The Brick

After last month’s disastrous opening and a slew of relocated shows, A&E headed over to The Brick to see how they plan to win back Twin Cities concertgoers.

by Tony

The Brick opened full of promise. Or, rather, it promised a lot.       

The downtown Minneapolis venue is owned by concert promotions giant AEG Live, which used its deep pockets to book a number of big shows including Marilyn Manson, Incubus, fun. and the Shins. But after a disastrous opening show by Jane’s Addiction and a deluge of backlash, the Brick is relocating these shows to other venues, offering full refunds and planning renovations in an attempt to get back into Minneapolis concertgoers’ good graces.

“Was it the right show to open up with? I can say probably not,” said general manager Jeff Kehr, while giving A&E a tour on Friday. “But also, on the other side of things, it was good. We got all of our education at once.”

A big part of that education was learning how to prevent overcrowding. Kehr and AEG originally touted the Brick’s capacity at 2,000, and they weren’t lying. The official number from the city is 2,001, giving the club a leg up on the 1,500-capacity First Avenue just a few blocks away.

But the number is deceptive: When filled to capacity, 400 of those people must be in the Brick’s separate basement bar, which only offered a view of the stage via grainy CRT televisions on opening night.

But Kehr said that there were just 1,500 people at the Brick on opening night. After the widespread complaints about sightlines, the Brick is now looking to decrease its number of sellable tickets to between 1,200 and 1,400, including the basement bar.

This change contradicts AEG’s original assertion that the Brick was a space for artists who had outgrown First Avenue but weren’t ready for an arena setting. Kehr acknowledged that this puts the Brick into competition with First Avenue but said they will continue to book bands that will go on to “graduate” to the AEG-managed Target Center.

“It’s kind of a farm system for AEG,” Kehr said.

The Brick is also making structural changes to aid long lines at the door. The venue’s entrance has already been widened, and a second flight of stairs is being added to help with foot traffic when entering the venue from the box office area.

Inside, Kehr said that the bottlenecking sound booth is being removed in favor of a more versatile setup further back.

“That’s going to become beachfront property, as I like to call it,” Kehr said.

In order to improve sightlines, the Brick raised its stage one foot and installed flat-panel monitors to replace the much-ridiculed TVs left over from the venue’s previous tenant. Steps have also been taken to improve the abysmal sightlines in the Brick’s upper level with the addition of staggered risers. Contractors were at the Brick on Friday to discuss whether these platforms would be permanent or temporary and how that would affect the Brick’s ability to host corporate events during the day.

“We’re a multi-use venue. We can’t just look at it from the show side of things,” Kehr said. “That’s being taken into consideration with the renovations.”

This focus on event revenue may help AEG recoup the losses they’re facing at the Brick but might ultimately spell doom for the venue. First Avenue functions like a vessel, a black void that is filled up by whoever is performing there. By focusing on creating a slick ambiance for corporate events, the Brick will have difficulty competing.

That’s not to say that AEG isn’t trying. Kehr laid out a number of other improvements the Brick is planning over the next couple of months, such as adding trough-style urinals to the men’s bathrooms to cut down lines and adding some local craft beers to their bars.

Kehr wouldn’t give exact numbers but said that AEG is redoubling on their initial investment of “a couple hundred thousand dollars” into the space with the renovations, refunds and lost revenue from the five relocated shows.

The Brick is licking its wounds, and it helps to have a large corporate safety net underneath it. AEG is determined to maintain this foothold in the Minneapolis music scene but seems to be more cautious now.

“I don’t want to relive this, you know?” said Kehr. “We messed up, and we’ve got a lot to do to prove to people that we can be a player in the market.”