World Cafe Live is a new music venue located in WXPN's beautiful new building at 30th & Walnut Streets in Philadelphia. Given the degree to which her career has crossed paths with WXPN, it was more than appropriate that Jonatha Brooke got the call to open the new venue headlining the opening night shows. The deco era Hajoca Building was gutted and remodeled completely as the new home of WXPN and World Cafe Live, which is a separate entity from the radio station, a for-profit company owned by Hal Real that is a tenant, sharing the building and licensing the World Cafe name, hopefully to the mutual benefit of both. I haven't had the pleasure of a tour of the WXPN portion of the building, but from what one can see from the public areas, the building looks just great. The Walnut Street entrance brings you into the top floor which has a public lobby with a merchandise and ticket selling desk, and "Upstairs Live", a restaurant/bar where music theoretically is performed continuously with "almost never a cover charge." They were only seating customers who planned to order dinner so we didn't spend any time there on opening night.
The middle level and lower level lobby walls were adorned with some nicely done photography of music artists. The middle floor provides entrance to the balcony level of the World Cafe Live music venue. The lower level lobby provides the main entrance to the venue with lobby windows also looking into one of the WXPN studios where it looks like the World Cafe radio show will tape its live performance segments. The World Cafe Live venue itself is spectacular. A large stage runs the length of the room which has a very high ceiling, a main floor that is set with tables for dinner at the early shows and can be converted to auditorium style seating or general admission for later shows. Just behind the tables on the floor level is the bar area, with more tables just slightly overlooking the floor - from about stage height. Elevated very high above is the balcony level, with the ceiling above that looking like what you might find in a television studio. Multi-millions were spent in the construction and outfitting of this world class venue and it looks it, with lots of wood, state of the art lighting, great acoustics, and a superb sound system engineered by Clair Brothers. I walked around to check the view from various locations and it's no cliche to say that there is not a bad seat in the house.
The only fly in the opening night ointment was a sequence of events that overwhelmed the kitchen and caused many dinner orders to go unfilled. The sound check ran late which caused the doors to open about thirty minutes late, which caused the room to fill all at once with most folks seemingly wanting to try the food. To compound the problem, the computer ordering system went down causing a total nightmare in the kitchen. We did get to sample some excellent rolls which seemed to be from Le Bus. The food as described on the menu seems a bit fussy and pricey; not something you would necessarily want to have if you came here often.
Fortunately, there was no such problem with the music presentation which is really the most important aspect. Eric Hutchinson opened the show with a somewhat humorous solo acoustic set which was enjoyably brief. Jonatha Brooke did a great set with full band, playing most of the songs you would want to hear, concentrating on her latest two releases. Early in the set, she brought out Eric Bazilian of the Hooters to guest on her song "Better After All" which Eric had co-produced and played on for her latest album, Back in the Circus. Eric sang and killed on lead guitar. Jonatha talked about opening for the Hooters on their German tour in the summer of 2003, how much fun it was, and how the Hooters would bring her out every night to help sing their big encore song. She then invited Bazilian to stay onstage and they sang together "One of Us " which he wrote for Joan Osborne, whose version is also the theme song of the tv series Joan of Arcadia. The crowd loved every minute of it.
Brooke's set was enjoyable start to finish and included two of the three cover songs from the latest album; she sounded great on "God Only Knows" and the Alan Parsons song "Eye in the Sky" was a good encore choice. Earlier this year at her album release performance at Borders, she explained that while the Hooters seem to still have superstar status in Germany, she was a total unknown and when opening their concerts she wanted to do some songs that the audience would know so she put the aforementioned cover tunes (plus James Taylor's "Fire and Rain") into her set. With the exception of the food, World Cafe Live exceeded all expectations. If the ticket prices are reasonable, I will likely be a frequent customer.