Powerful spotlights illuminated a fresh coat of red paint, stately Roman-style columns and a renewed sense of possibility as concert-goers filed into the grand opening of the newly renovated Forum in Inglewood.
"It's awesome," Leslie Yamamoto, 30, and sister Kristy, 23, said almost in unison. They'd come from Lomita with their parents Wednesday night to see the Eagles open a six-night run. "We used to come here as kids," Leslie said. "A lot of memories are coming back."
Home of the Southland's top concerts and sporting events for more than three decades, the Forum lost its luster, its resident teams and most of its revenue when Staples Center opened downtown in 1999.
But despite Staples' modern accouterments, many fans have knocked it as being too cavernous for live music, and the luxury boxes around the perimeter push people in the cheap seats far away from the action onstage.
Now Madison Square Garden Co. is putting a refurbished Forum back in the Southland concert business, marketing it as a more music-friendly alternative to the multi-purpose Staples.
How would it sound? That was the big question on concert-goers' minds Wednesday night, and their verdicts came in early.
"The sound is perfect — you can hear everything," said Sandy Ochoa, 46, of La Habra Heights.
Indeed, the sound during the three-hour Eagles performance was finely detailed, ideally balanced among the many instruments and singers' voices.
Music wafted through the 17,500-capacity arena with sonic nuances rarely heard in buildings this size — the crisp crunch of percussive shakers, the melodic thump of conga drums, even the sound of guitarists' fingers slipping across the metal strings of their instruments.
The warmth of the Eagles' signature harmonies benefited from a full-bodied sound that captured the clarity of Glenn Frey's tenor and the dusky edginess of Don Henley's raspy Texas drawl.
Still, there were a few opening-night glitches.
Just like in the old days, lines for concessions and women's restrooms were long during intermission, despite the addition of new facilities. And the wait for food and drinks generated some grousing, as did a limited selection of standard-offering beers at most beverage stations.
Patrons had to make their way to the Caesar's Palace concessions stand on the arena level to find a broader range of offerings.
"This is an improvement?" one short-tempered man said as he stood at the back of a line, waiting to place a food order. He counted 10 employees behind the counter, but only one person working the register. "This is supposed to be the fabulous new Forum, isn't it? Can't you get another cashier working?" he asked. A second cashier soon began taking orders.
Visually, the action onstage was relayed on two massive video screens flanking the stage, plus a third screen behind the stage that came into play in the show's second half. The video signal to the third screen, however, was slightly delayed compared with the other two, creating a minor disconnect between the pulse of the live music and the images being projected behind the band.
On the positive side, the Forum's cracked parking lot is now paved smooth and its faded blue color has been covered over with an eye-catching red — a return to the venue's original color.
Beyond bringing another live-music venue into play, MSG has revitalized an iconic Southern California venue that, along with Madison Square Garden Arena, was instrumental in developing the whole genre of what came to be known in the '70s and ever since as "arena rock."
For touring musicians, the Forum offers elegantly decorated dressing rooms rather than converted locker rooms that serve the purpose in many sports arenas.
Plus, there are no glassed-in luxury skyboxes that reflect sound in sometimes cacophonous ways during concerts, and which also put fans in the top rows significantly farther away from the musicians onstage.
For musicians, that means a large-scale room created to enhance the sound of their music, a luxury noted during the show by Eagles founding member, singer and songwriter Glenn Frey.
"This is the best-sounding room of this size in the world now — take my word for it," Frey said.
Frey and his longtime band mates have reason to know, given the numerous times they've toured the world. But they are also not disinterested observers: Their longtime manager, Irving Azoff, is now partners with MSG Co. with his latest business venture, Azoff Music Management.
Another improvement is the seats. Red upholstered high-backed chairs have replaced the yellow hard plastic arena seats. And above it all, the Forum's upper reaches feature a blanket of pinpoint lights that create the impression of a starry night. No more electronic scoreboards and basketball backboards hoisted into the rafters during concerts.
"It's comfortable and it's beautiful," Heidi Griffith, 40, said, standing with her friend, Karen Pene, 46, both of Chatsworth, on the arena's new outdoor plaza, where many patrons stepped outside during intermission to have a smoke or drink. "I can't believe it — I have a client who used to use the Forum for storage. It's amazing."
Therese Cron drove down from San Luis Obispo to catch the show with her brother Ted Gillan, who came up from San Diego.
"I saw so many great acts here," she said. "Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt.... What was the band with the guy who played flute? Jethro Tull! The Doobies. And the Lakers."
Madison Square Garden Co. spent $100 million to buy and refit the Forum, hoping to compete with Staples for the top-grossing entertainers by offering what the downtown sports arena can't: the world's largest indoor theater designed specifically with music in mind.
It's a gamble given that the Forum — once home to the Los Angeles Lakers and Kings — will feature no resident sports teams.
In addition to the Eagles, other acts scheduled to play the Forum in coming weeks include pop crooner Justin Timberlake, rock band Imagine Dragons and electronic dance music DJ Armin Van Buuren.
The Forum's glory days are on display via life-size photos on walls throughout the arena of dozens of rock, pop, R&B and country acts that played the building during its three-decade reign.
Its future, however, now rides predominantly on the caliber of musicians who will be coming through. MSG's challenge in its first West Coast venture is to fill the calendar and turn a profit without the slate of guaranteed crowds that sports teams bring.
The potential benefit is a building without the compromises inherent in a multipurpose facility serving very different agendas.
"It's still the same old Forum," said Barrie Wellman of Lake Forest, a veteran concert-goer who reminisced with his brother, Brian, about the dozens of concerts they attended at the Forum in the 1970s and '80s. "Lines are long and you can't get through the concourse during intermission.
"But they've done pretty much everything they promised: It's gorgeous, the sound is outstanding and it feels pretty intimate," Wellman said.