BY AMY Z. QUINN There are moments — say, on a swampy summer evening when Lucinda Williams’ between-song patter is accented by the rumble of August thunder, or when you’re 17 and dancing at an REM concert instead of at your Senior mixer — when the Mann Center for the Performing Arts is a magical place. And yeah, in recent years the quality of the acts booked at the Fairmount Park venue was spotty at best, but don’t blame that all on the Tweeter Center. Because fact is, no matter how good the performer, the biggest problem with the Mann has always been that under the shelter of the wood-paneled amphitheater roof, the sound and sight lines verge on glorious. But outside, even a cheapo lawn seat/patch of grass is too costly when the drunks next to you are spilling their wine coolers on your blanket and you can’t even hear the act onstage, let alone see it.
So will $15 million in capital improvements be enough to restore the Mann to its rightful place as best outdoor Philly concert venue? Maybe, assuming that the upgrades involved more than adding an additional food vendor. What’s more likely is that the Mann will regain is cool points with the quality and variety of acts that make up its just-released 2007 schedule, including John Prine and Patty Griffin on June 16, the already-much-hyped Morrissey show on June 29 and Alison Krauss and Union Station on Aug. 14. And just in time for my annual birthday concert excursion, Britain’s Royal Ballet will do Romeo and Juliet on July 10 and 11, followed by the Decemberists — playing with a full orchestra(!) — on July 15. Rufus Wainright in August and Elvis Costello in September! You can see the full schedule here.
But just for the record: The Tweeter Center isn’t all bad — on a summer night, the view of the Big J lit up against the evening sky is almost breathtaking. And that phalanx of police officers lining the route back to the parking lots is always charming.