I Don’t Like Oakland’s Fox Theater


Animal Collective at The Fox Theater in Oakland

I do believe I just saw my last show at Oakland’s new Fox Theater last night at the Animal Collective show.  It was my second visit to the beautifully refurbished venue and, god dang it, I just don’t like the place as a music venue. It’s way too big, the sound is awful and I feel completely disconnected from the artists.  Mostly because I can’t see anything, and I’m really tall!

The space is one of the most stunning venues I’ve ever seen, don’t get me wrong.  I don’t want to belittle the monumental renovation project that took place to bring this classy lady back to life.  It’s truly beautiful and likely one of the most well thought out venues in terms of comfort and amenities – easy bar access on all levels, ample restrooms and in floor A/C vents that pump out a refreshing rose water infused elixir that has to be one of the most ingenious inventions EVER!

My first time at The Fox was for The Black Keys a month ago where I had a terribly unfulfilling experience.  I was tempted to rant then but decided to give it one more shot just to make sure.  And last night’s Animal Collective show left me once again unsatisfied.   The biggest complaint on the venue is the sound – it’s awful, echoey and muffled it sounds like your listening to the music through the ears of an 80 year old.  And then there’s the size of the venue.  On both visits, I moved around looking for that sweet spot – trying various locations on the floor and even the VIP area – but never found contentment.  I just wanted to get closer, pull the artist too me and get lost in their performance. That never happened. Instead I found myself getting lost in the scenery, staring into the glowing eyes of Buddha, as opposed to the musicians on stage.

While there’s definitely a need for a venue like The Fox, and it will do well and prosper, you can count me out.  Call me a music snob who’s been spoiled by too many intimate shows, but I’ll gladly sacrifice the posh interior and rose water scented air of The Fox for the graffitied bathrooms, beer soaked floors and the l’eau de fart aroma of Bottom of the Hill any day.

22 thoughts on “I Don’t Like Oakland’s Fox Theater

  1. It’s nice to see someone actually be honest about their feelings about a venue or a band. I’m with you. I’d much rather have the more intimate show at Cafe Du Nord or Hemlock in the city than fight for my right to see the band and actually EXPERIENCE the music.

  2. Good reasoned critique of the shortcomings of the venue. I have to admit I was much more excited to see the renovated space than the band (and I consider myself a huge AC fan). While I will keep going back to the Fox and supporting it, I do agree with your remark about being distracted by checking out the glowing buddhas and such. Perhaps a more guitar/drums/bass band (like Sonic Youth?) will fill the space a little better than the skinny kids form Brooklyn…who knows?

  3. Better or worse than the Warfield? The Warfield ranks just about the bottom for me. It’s like your description of the Fox but not as beautiful….

    Great American has to be one of my favorite, but that’s mostly on the strength of how many amazing shows I’ve seen there.

    • Tough call, because I do LOATHE the Warfield as well but I have to say I would see a show there over The Fox. It’s much smaller and I saw a show there recently and they seemed to have upgraded their sound system. It wasn’t have bad.

  4. I was positioned upstairs in the balcony for the show, and I have to say the sound was far more bearable than down below, if not perfect. The previous show I attended at the Fox was Blitzen Trapper / Fleet Foxes. I was downstairs and THAT show was a muddled cacophony. I saw the FF a few months prior at the Independent and it was an aural treat–so I had a great point-of-comparison.

    AC fared better, and I found myself absorbed despite being upstairs–probably due to their insane light show. The Temple of Doom decor didn’t detract from my experience one iota this time.

    Still–It’s a pity that some of the millions spent on the restoration weren’t devoted to the acoustics. Maybe this behemoth is just a bear as far as sound goes and always will be. I’d give the sound a B- from up above and a D- from below. If another of my favorite bands comes to town I hope they go elsewhere. Unless it’s John Cage playing a concert-length version of 4’33”.

    • Ah, good to know if I get dragged to the Fox again. It’s likely that the place poses some serious acoustical challenges in general. But they could have easily put acoustic panels in the place as opposed to all those hard wood surfaces – ornate and beautiful as they may be.

  5. “l’eau de fart aroma” may be the best description I’ve heard of our beloved dive music venues.

    I haven’t been to the Fox yet, and I’m still curious, although I’ve heard more bad than good at this point.

  6. it is sad that they can’t do a better job with some of these new venues. i had a similar experience at the Grand Ballroom at the Regency for the NY Dolls last week. there were about 3 bartenders and 50 over zealous security guards. they seemed to think that the wimpy slam dancing was too much and took several scrawny little kids out in headlocks. beautiful room but the sounds was terrible… hey ocmd let’s start a club!

  7. I’ve now seen 4 shows at the Fox, and this show was the first one where I was really puzzled/annoyed by the sound. The other shows I saw (Decemberists, Fleet Foxes/Blitzen Trapper, Modest Mouse) ranged from good (MM) to great (FF/BT) as far as sound went. I think, partly, the issue is with the type of sound Animal Collective has in comparison to these other groups – much noisier, many more layers, etc. Another thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve always been happy with the sound from the front of the balcony/mezzanine – but when I was stuck wayyyy back in the balcony (for Animal Collective), the sound was awful. I’ve also heard similar reports from people who were on the floor for the show, and, indeed, I heard similar complaints from floor-dwellers last week after the Decemberists (when I was perfectly happy with the sound) and I also see a comment above with a similar opinion about the Fleet Foxes show. So perhaps the best place to be is the front of the balcony? You don’t get the closeness/intensity of the floor, but you do get to enjoy nice, clear sound. If you ever go back, that would be my suggestion.

  8. Hey, nice to find someone else who thinks the sound quality of Fox Theater is awful. I saw Joe Satriani there last night and it was a huge disappointment. The man put on a great show, but damned if I could hear it. I was near the back and it was like listening through earmuffs the whole time. I hope he and other favorite bands of mine go elsewhere in the future.

  9. Really late here, but I’ll chime in. The sound at the Fox fucking blows donkey dicks! But what really sucks is that so many bands that I want to see get booked there. Sad to miss them, but I refust to pay hard earned cash for craptastic acoustics.

  10. I saw TV On The Radio there last night. I moved all over the theater to gain different perspectives. Everywhere I went, it was a flat wall of noise. No depth at all. This is the third time I’ve had the exact same experience. It was so off-putting. I was looking around me to see if anyone else noticed. No one seemed to feel the same. I seriously thought there was something wrong with me. Until now. Thanks.

  11. I’ve seen 6 shows at the Fox and the sound has been bad at every show. Many of these bands I’ve seen in other venues and the sound is better everywhere else I’ve seen them. Will not go back.

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  13. The Fox is beautiful, but the building just wasn’t constructed for good acoustics. I saw Of Montreal there, and was shocked how tinny they sounded, even though they sounded great in other venues a year before. Beach House was awful and Band Of Horses was hardly bearable. Unfortunately, my favorite band is coming in a few months, but I just can’t get myself to go there ever again for any reason.

  14. Saw the Pixies last night. The sound was terrible. What a muffled mess. A shame because they were up there working it but the acoustics were simply horrible. the Fox is beautiful. The staff are really nice. It is really easy to get there and park. I will never go back.

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