Lifestyle Magazine

The El Mocambo Grand Re-Opening Preview

By Phjoshua @thereviewsarein

On a rainy Tuesday afternoon, we got our first look inside the renovated and upgraded El Mocambo on Spadina Avenue in Toronto, bringing us one step closer to live music in the legendary venue. And that's coming soon.

Our media preview/tour/welcome to the venue took us downstairs to the washrooms and the electronic hub in the basement, upstairs to the green room and the balcony, and everywhere in between. The updated space still boasts dual stages on the first and second floors, bars strategically placed throughout the venue for service during concerts and events, and yes, brand new wonderful restrooms that will make all of your memories of the old dingy bathrooms go away.

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What was unmistakable throughout the day was the enthusiasm of every member of the El Mo team we heard from. Michael Wekerle, the Owner and CEO of the El Mocambo spoke to news outlets about the venue reopening and hit all his marks and points with excitement that we were happy to hear. Yes, there have been delays. But, the venue is gorgeous, the technology is high-end and ready to take the next steps easily when they come along (5G, 8K, etc.), the sound is incredible, and they are ready to go. Almost.

Note: We didn't get to hear the sound at full volume on Tuesday, but there have been live acts on stage in the "get ready" stage this winter, and everyone we've heard speak about it, is impressed.

What's noticeable immediately, as soon as you get through the lobby, is that this isn't the same El Mocambo that you remember. Yes, the address is the same and the history remains, but this place was gutted and rebuilt on the inside from the bottom to the top. Both performance spaces offer great room on stage for bands and an intimate area for fans. There may be big shows (everyone is planning on it) but there won't be big crowds. The two stages at the El Mo are going to offer fans a chance to get close, be close, and stay close to big names and emerging acts that play at 464 Spadina Ave.

Around the rooms and in the hallways and staircases, history is everywhere. Wonderful historic photos have been blown up and hung, showing acts like Blondie, the Stones, U2, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jeff Healey, and more from their appearances at the club. Everything's new, but the legends have stayed.

All of that leads us to the "who's coming to play the El Mocambo?" question. The answer is, we don't know yet. Wekerle said that they've talked to Pearl Jam, The Who and Pete Townshend, Monster Truck, Billy Idol, and of course, The Rolling Stones about coming to play. And every single one of those bands would be amazing to see in the venue.

It also leads us to the "when is the El Mocambo opening?" question. Michael Wekerele said the target date is April 1, 2020. Less than a month away. And that would be awesome. He also mentioned that there is a Ronnie Hawkins tribute night coming in April (which should be awesome). And we've already heard from the team that they will be open and participating in Canadian Music Week programming in May. So, be ready for more information soon, and mark April 1 on your calendar as the plan!

Note: Noticeably absent from the list of artists named was Foo Fighters, which may or may not hurt the chances that our conspiracy theory is correct. -> Will Foo Fighters Play the El Mocambo in Toronto on May 21, 2020?

That conversation, with the big, legendary acts in mind, prompted a question about the price of tickets for concerts at the El Mo. Wekerle said that they could run anywhere from $100 to $1,000. We don't know if he was only talking about those bigger names, or if he meant on a nightly basis, but we are hopeful that there will still be more entry-level/affordable shows on the bill as we move forward. In that same part of the conversation, Wekerle mentioned the possibility of partnering with a charity for some of the special big-name gigs, which could be a nice touch as well.

Part of the history and legacy of the El Mocambo is that so many great acts played their stages before or as they were becoming stars. And yes, it would be amazing to see so many of them return or to see Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters on the second-floor stage, but we also hope that artists on the cusp of stardom get to add their names to the long list of "I saw them at the El Mo before they were huge" success stories.

Michael Wekerle talked about the venue as being important to and belonging to Toronto. He wants it to be open and important in a time when the city is losing live music venues that have been around for years. It's a great sentiment and one we share.

It's also got a chance to do some special things in addition to sweaty rock shows with small crowds in small rooms.

The El Mo is set up to be ready for a triple-live experience. Live on stage, live to tape, and live streaming all over the world. At any time, performances can be captured on the main floor stage, second-floor stage, or in the green room upstairs and recorded and/or video streamed in real-time. Wekerle mentioned Austin City Limits at one point, which mirrored a thought we had earlier in the tour. The very real possibility that the venue hosts some sort of series that would see bands record or stream some sort of program would be very cool to see.

The opportunity for artists to record live albums like Elvis Costello once did is also super obvious and we can't wait to see it. Live albums are great. And with an entirely new sound system, hooked directly into a control board that looks like it should be in a recording studio, we're ready to hear a lot of recorded tracks from the El Mo.

We also got to look at the video control room, and it is just as impressive. With the two side-by-side suites working in tandem, the El Mo is going to be able to produce some very great looking content for folks all over the world who want to watch and listen.

The team at the El Mocambo didn't miss any details when they were going through their very extensive renovations and designs. Yes, the tech is up to date and state of the art. Yes, the art on the walls is gorgeous. Yes, even the wallpaper is cool. But there are a lot of little things that stand out too.

The railings on the second-floor balcony are black steel with palm design elements and pay homage to the late 40s and 50s bands that came through. The neon features near the washrooms and in the stairwells are 100% Instagram-able. The neon palm signs on the left and right of the second-floor stage are actually the original sign from outside the front door, butterflied to make the front and back into two pieces, and updated with LED lights. The floors look cool. The bars look cool. We know that a lot of the $30 million or more budget that went into all of this went into structural changes and updates - but no expense seems to have been spared in the design or details along the way.

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The El Mocambo is a Toronto institution. The t-shirts on the bar staff (the same one we saw Dave Grohl wearing on the Bill Simmons Podcast) say it right out loud since 1948 and now, in 2020, we are ready for the neon palms to shine again.

This is an opportunity for legacy and opportunity to come together and make something special happen.

This is a chance for Toronto to not only hold onto some really cool memories of musical days gone by but to make new memories for new generations.

We can't wait to see it all happen. We'll see you there.

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The El Mocambo Grand Re-Opening Preview

The El Mocambo Grand Re-Opening Preview

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