HARTFORD — For a grand opening, everything on Front Street Thursday evening felt like it's been happening here for years as Toad the Wet Sprocket ran through a set of hits and back-catalog numbers at the new Infinity Hall.
Couples, parents with kids and individual fans filed into the 200-or-so floor seats, or swayed in the ample standing room toward the back, or lined up to drink at the Good Vibe Bar.
All evening long, a camera crew — the show will be aired as the 27th episode of the "Infinity Hall Live" PBS series, now in its fourth year — worked angles and booms with no obstructing views, and the sound was warm and clear, which probably won't surprise anyone familiar with the Norfolk Infinity Hall location.
Before the show, groups relaxed at the bistro's eight outdoor tables in the late sun, while classic rock — Hendrix, Zeppelin, the Police -- played through overhead speakers. Inside, there is a beautiful, woody bistro to the left of the entrance with wine bottles on the wall next to the long bar and high-topped tables. (The kitchen closes at 10 p.m., but patrons can relax at the bar after the shows.) The mezzanine level, which was reserved for a private gathering, offers table service, as well.
The theater, itself, is an ideal listening room, though you can easily imagine some fervent noodle-dancing in the back with the right act playing — Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 (Sept. 4), perhaps, or Connecticut's Max Creek (in Norfolk on Sept. 20, hopefully in Hartford soon).
The venue was packed about a half-hour before the show. When the lights dimmed, founder Dan Hincks declared everyone in attendance "ambassadors of Infinity Hall." It was almost tear-worthy. Producer Jennifer Boyd, who produces the PBS show, gave the crowd some pre-taping instructions. But once the show got underway, all sense of the taping disappeared.
Toad, fronted by vocalist Glen Phillips, opened the show with "The Moment," and some lines that weren't lost on the crowd: "For every path you follow there's another left behind / Every door you don't kick open there's a million more to try."
Any jitters — the band's or the crowd's — were gone by "Good Intentions," the third song. "Windmills," from the band's 1994 album "Dulcinea," offered some slow-building, U2-worthy atmospherics, while "Come Back Down," an early hit from 1990, began with a slow, acoustic intro before a big-rock chorus.
"I've come here a thousand times," Phillips sang during "Come Back Down," "some things never change." In coming weeks it might feel like there are a thousand reasons — Deer Tick, Amy Helm, Chick Corea — to return, most of them worthwhile.