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At Coronet, Largo tries a new space on for size Coronet space has a history of its own

May 18, 2008|Natalie Nichols | Special to The Times
  • Mark Flanagan, sitting in the seats of his new larger theater venue Largo at the Coronet Theater on La Cienega, on May 6, 2008.
Mark Flanagan, sitting in the seats of his new larger theater venue Largo… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

Jon BRION'S last night at Largo was epic. The singer-songwriter's free-for-all Fridays at the tiny Fairfax Avenue nightclub had been drawing capacity crowds for more than a decade, but his May 2 show was historic: his final turn before owner Mark Flanagan closed up shop to move to a bigger space, the Coronet Theater on La Cienega Boulevard, which is due to open June 2 with a performance by Aimee Mann.

Brion had a bigger-than-usual parade of guest stars, people like E (Mark Oliver Everett) from the Eels, who was pressed into playing drums and singing Prince's "Raspberry Beret" with Brion, Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench and bassist Sebastian Steinberg. And there was an extra giddiness to the typical anything-can-happen mood.

"I'm not sad at all," said Flanagan, 42, while introducing Brion.

For more than a decade, Largo had nurtured his favorite singer-songwriters and comedians -- people who also happen to be some of L.A.'s more eccentric, intelligent and critically acclaimed artists. Flanagan demanded that listeners remain quiet during sets, which kept the focus on the performers. He refused to pander to Hollywood or music-business crowds: You might notice famous, powerful faces in the audience, but Largo was for people who wanted to see the show, not just be seen.

Sure, the club didn't have a proper dressing room or even a separate restroom for the artists. But for a lot of performers, Largo had a vibe to rival the finest concert halls. And so, during Brion's last Fairfax show, the unknown future seemed both exciting and unnerving.

"At the new Largo," E observed wryly, "everyone's gonna be like, 'You shoulda been at the old Largo.' "

Old-school owner

IN A city where so much live music is booked by big companies such as Live Nation and Goldenvoice, Flanagan has thrived as a hands-on owner-operator, dealing directly with artists. In 1996, he remodeled and reopened the club at 432 N. Fairfax Ave., which he'd originally started with two partners in 1992. The musical fare included such local legends as Brion, Rickie Lee Jones, the late Elliott Smith and Grant-Lee Phillips, plus touring favorites such as Robyn Hitchcock and Neil Finn.

Flanagan also supported such acts as singer-songwriter John Mayer and Jack Black's comic-rock duo Tenacious D when they were still starting out, and his healthy appreciation for comedy meant that performers including Paul F. Tompkins, Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman, Greg Proops and Zach Galifianakis were frequently on the schedule.

"Comedians want to roll with musicians, and vice versa," says Proops, whose "Greg Proops Chat Show" debuts June 14 at Flanagan's new joint, dubbed Largo at the Coronet. "That's been the most fantastic part of Largo -- interfering with each other's worlds."

Like most artists, Proops appreciates Flanagan's famous insistence on absolute silence during performances. "But I hear that, at the new place, we'll actually be able to see the crowd," he says with deadpan disappointment. "It was unbelievably, impenetrably dark in that [old] room. I adored that. I never saw the audience for 10 years."

Largo at the Coronet might or might not be as dark, but it will feel familiar. "It's going to have what I really want, which is everyone facing the stage and no distractions," says the Belfast-born Flanagan.

The 60-year-old Coronet has a 280-seat theater with a huge stage and a smaller, 65-seat space called the Little Room, in addition to an upstairs studio that functions as Brion's artist's retreat. The area was once used as a dance rehearsal/teaching space by the likes of Betty Grable and Roland Dupree.

Flanagan merged the names to preserve the theater's legacy while making it his own. The building is painted Largo burgundy, and the club's old sign hangs in the theater's brick-paved courtyard. The Largo bar is in the Little Room. More important, the calendar is filled with Largo-associated names: Brion, Tompkins, Silverman, Oswalt, Colin Hay, Nellie McKay and others.

Higher rent and increasingly restrictive parking helped push Flanagan away from Fairfax, but he'd been searching for a "bigger, better" place for years. "What I mean by better is, I don't want to force people to eat and drink," he says. "I just want to do shows."

Largo at the Coronet will offer refreshments -- from beer and wine to coffee and gelato -- but the notorious Fairfax dinner seating is done. "Legally, I had to serve more food than drinks, and it had to be a restaurant," Flanagan says. He's happy to be free of those rules, and he expects that while ticket prices will be higher than cover charges at the old place, prices will be comparable, and sometimes lower, without the cost of food and drink.

"The other thing is, we've been turning people away for so long now that it's really frustrating," he says. For example, shows by New Zealand duo and HBO sensations Flight of the Conchords, Silverman or Brion routinely attracted twice as many people as the 120-capacity room could hold.

Coronet's charm

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