Where do you go to see the rock action? (BYOFL)
September 14, 2005 10:21 AM   Subscribe

What are your favorite venues to go see a rock, indie, or punk show? Why? For those who can answer, the flipside is appreciated as well: What venues are your favorite places to play a show? Why?

I'm trying to get a sense of some of the places people like to go see (and/or play) these kinds of shows, particularly in the US (but not exclusively so). I've included some hastily written examples...

Example: Northsix. The room is big enough to book bands with a decent draw, but small enough that it still has a close-to-intimate feel. I always manage to get a good spot to see the band play, and the sound is usually well done. However, I don't like the bathroom set-up and paying for bottled water.

Example: It's not really at one place, but the shows that Todd P books are often in smaller venues. There's nothing I enjoy more than seeing up-and-coming bands playing their hearts out in a small venue.

Example: I like to play Southpaw in Brooklyn. Good sound, nice room, friendly staff, and there's a curtain. It's all about the curtain.

Most closely related thread I could find from the archive.

posted by safetyfork to Media & Arts (50 answers total)
I've seen a few great shows at the House of Blues in Chicago. While security is tough, that's their job and you have to respect them. The decor is very cool, best I can describe it as is random and recycled. Two balconies, a big curtain as well and a good space.
posted by mic stand at 10:23 AM on September 14, 2005

Bowery Ballroom. Perfect size to see the band well from the entire place but not be overwhelmed by too many people jammed into to small a space. Also, the balcony allows for a good area to go get a beer and perhaps talk to someone for a bit as a show is going on. I think also the space just feels comfortable and putting the bar upstairs in the balcony removes the problems associated with 'clubs' where the bars are at the back or sides thus causing havoc with people trying to get drinks colliding with people on the floor watching the show. Also, the neighborhood (Bowery) sort of just vibes with most of the acts that appear there...puts you right in the mood.
posted by spicynuts at 10:26 AM on September 14, 2005

Oh and by the way, despite what I just said about bars at the back or sides of venues, I really like Southpaw. It reminds me of being in some high school or college drama department theater and so just feels very unpretentious (I know, that's a rather ridiculous assertion...drama club unpretentious??) and relaxing.

Plus I live five blocks away, which helps.
posted by spicynuts at 10:29 AM on September 14, 2005

My favorite place is Maxwell's in Hoboken NJ b/c the room is small, and the booking is consistently good. Also because of some memorable shows there.

I like the Black Cat in DC because they book the bands that I like to see and I live in the area, although I think the sound is kind of crummy at times. The 930 is nice, but maybe a bit too big.

The Niabinghi Dancehall in Morgantown WV is also awesome, if only for the great sound. I believe it is now called 123 Pleasant St.
posted by drobot at 10:34 AM on September 14, 2005

First Avenue, both to see and to play.
posted by COBRA! at 10:39 AM on September 14, 2005

The Troubadour's my favorite in Los Angeles. Good sound, good audiences (generally), and great history.
posted by scody at 10:45 AM on September 14, 2005

I can't comment on Brooklyn as I've never been, but my favorite place to play in the northwest is The Nightlight (Warning: Flash and Sound and annoyingness.) in Bellingham, Washington. I love playing the club because they've hired absolutely wonderful staff and have a great room and sound system. It's the only place I've ever played where the sound guys will actually carry gear for the musicians. It's ridiculous and way above and beyond the call of duty. Furthermore, the sound/light crew are very good and do a great job of getting a flawless monitor mix and keeping the volume in the front of house at a reasonable yet audible level.

The sound system is excellent and *very* expensive. It's well tuned to the room, which is sandstone and wood and tremendously live without being too reverby. The acoustics of the room are such that an acoustic duo could play a show to a polite audience without amplification.

The backstage is comfortable, quiet, and well stocked with beer, water, and good coffee. There are also comfortable couches.

The space, which is huge in capacity, is split up nicely into an area in the front of the stage where the people that want to get into the show can rock out, a raised area where one can watch the band without being too close or in the thick of things but still have a good view, and seperate areas where one can hide out during sub-par openers and wait for the band you want to see to show up.

My friends and I have been known to drive the 90 miles to see shows here rather than in our neighborhood venues because the sound and experience are that much better.

In general, I like seeing shows in places that don't oversell the room and don't fuck up the sound *too* bad. There are venues in Seattle that I avoid for their tendency to mix all bands like hip-hop. No offense to hip-hop music, but when I go see a folk band, I want to hear something other than the kick and the bass and I'd like the volume to be low enough that my ears don't ring even when I'm wearing -25 dB earplugs.

For playing, good sound people make all the difference. If I can hear myself in the monitors, I play better. It's important. I like it when the crowd can hear me as well. Security matters as well. The Tractor has a warm fuzzy spot in my heart because the load in is short (wheel everything right out of the van and onstage) and one can park at the loading dock behind a locked 12-foot gate topped with razor wire. Gear will not be stolen so long as it stays behind that gate.

These are all considerations about the venue. The other variable is the crowd. Some places attract a great crowd that loves music and wants to have a good time. Other places attract crowds that want to look cool, get drunk, or start fights. These are all fine activities, but I'd rather play or see a show where the crowd is about the music.
posted by stet at 10:45 AM on September 14, 2005

As well as being a good size, Bowery Ballroom has good sound. Ottobar in Baltimore because it has a bar at the back where you can get away from the sound if it's too loud (I don't like earplugs).

For me, pretty much anywhere where you can fit 100-250 people. Not too big, but big enough to get atmosphere.
posted by gaspode at 10:47 AM on September 14, 2005

My favorite place is Maxwell's in Hoboken NJ b/c the room is small, and the booking is consistently good. Also because of some memorable shows there.

I believe that the Maxwell's people also own and run Southpaw, which is why the booking is generally just as good at Southpaw. Now if only they'd serve food at Southpaw like at Maxwell's...
posted by spicynuts at 10:47 AM on September 14, 2005

TT The Bear's in Cambridge, and The Paradise in Boston both offer a small intimate setting with good acts and good sound.

TT's is right next to The Middle East (Downstairs), which draws larger acts and crowds, but is plagued by poor sound quality and other maladies too numerous to list. TT's has simply had more shows that have been memorable for me, where I forget that there are others next o me and just sort of exist in the moment in the music.

The Paradise club is a little more concerned with "cool", both in decor and clientelle, but has excellent acts and a decent stage. They consistently have better sound than the other Boston venues, and have a jam-packed schedule of great acts.
posted by kahboom at 10:48 AM on September 14, 2005

I like the Middle East a lot better than TT's, partly just because they get better acts (or did ten years ago when I lived there) and partly because the downstairs is a big, cavernous space and you're never pressed into the toxic hipster mash (the thm being the reason that I wouldn't put anyplace in NYC on the list of venues I really like.) A venue with similar virtues here in Madison is the High Noon Saloon. And in Philadelphia, I'm fond of the First Unitarian Church, booked by R5, which has a weird early-'60s coffeehouse feel and a good cheap record sale in the hall before the show.
posted by escabeche at 10:54 AM on September 14, 2005

Being from Cleveland, I think The Beachland Ballroom does a good job. It is a converted Croatian dance hall, so it has a traditional feel - all wood floor with a decent sized stage. There are two bars (one of which has a smaller stage for bands with less draw) and they serve food as well. They usually take in mid to larger indie bands (think Spoon, The Decemberists, Godspeed You Black Emperor, etc.). There sound has improved over the years and I've got nothing but good things to say about the people that work there. Also, they keep a large cooler of free water on the side of the bar, which is a bonus. The bathrooms are usually decent and have soap and towels. The shows I have played there have been very pleasant as well. The management is extremely down to earth and easy to work with.

I have taken two trips to Chicago to see shows, and I must say, I really do like The Empty Bottle. It reminds me of The Grog Shop in Cleveland before they moved and remodeled. It's the way a rock club should be. The place has a little bit of dirt ground into the floors and walls. The layout of the club is as such that you can stand in front of the stage, or take a few steps up and look on from a little higher elevation at stage right. I was happy with the sound. I could find parking, which is a plus, not being from the area. The staff was generally very nice, as were the people in attendance.

I second North Six. It's a great club. I like how they break up the front entrance from the main room. The concrete, stadium-style seats/steps also make for some nice viewing options. I definitely would not mind going back to North Six.
posted by bwilms at 11:08 AM on September 14, 2005

The 930 is nice, but maybe a bit too big.

I like it when they pull the stage up and make it more intimate, but I haven't seen a show there in years where they did that!
posted by Pollomacho at 11:10 AM on September 14, 2005

The Empty Bottle in Chicago, mostly because they get consistently good bands, have lots of awesome festivals, and a long-running jazz series. The venue itself is kind of meh, unlike HotHouse (all of these in Chicago) which is a gorgeous room though frequently tickets are expensive and the other patrons are annoyingly wealthy-seeming. Good bar though. The Double Door and the Metro are ok too but I haven't been to either nearly as often as the empty bottle. Also ... some place that the Empty Bottle is programming whose name I can't remember.

The now-defunct 3030 was good while it lasted.
posted by kenko at 11:43 AM on September 14, 2005

IThe shows I've seen at the Beachland Ballroom have generally been good - a nice large space, and the stage is high enough that you can see the band without being right up front.

I'd have to side with escabeche here - I've generally had worse experiences at TT the Bear's than at the Middle East. Bass from the Middle East is often audible [although I've never had the reverse problem in the Middle East], and the sound has generally been worse there than next door. The Middle East Upstairs is pretty similar to TT the Bear's, although the weird pillar things on the side can make it hard to see the band if the crowd is large and you're on the edge. I generally tend to like the Downstairs, actually - it's bigger, but [unless you're there for a really big band and it's packed], that can be a plus, as I really hate being in really close crowds. You can also stand and watch things from the raised area on the left, which I generally do when larger groups come in and the space gets more crowded. Despite the larger size of the place, it still feels pretty intimate. On the downside, more hipster assholes show up at shows Downstairs; I can't remember the last time I've seen bouncers dragging someone out of TT the Bear's. I've seen some incredible shows both the Middle East and TT the Bear's, though, and they both have consistently great schedules. [This fall in particular it looks like I'll end up broke...]
posted by ubersturm at 11:53 AM on September 14, 2005

I like the Theater of the Living Arts in Philadelphia. I've also seen good shows at the aforementioned TT The Bear's and Beachland Ballroom.

In Pittsburgh, I've seen and played shows at The Quiet Storm and Garfield Artworks. The former provides a more comfortable atmosphere, but the latter has shows every night. Both have pretty decent sound and cool staff. The Shadow Lounge is a nice place, too, but not so indie rock-focused. Club Cafe is also pretty good, but it's 21+.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:54 AM on September 14, 2005

Tractor Tavern in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood for small shows.
posted by matildaben at 12:05 PM on September 14, 2005

I like it when they pull the stage up and make it more intimate, but I haven't seen a show there in years where they did that!

I've been to the old 930 club, which was quite a bit smaller, but have never seen them do that! That's cool, though.
posted by drobot at 12:06 PM on September 14, 2005

I second (third?) the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland for all the reasons bwilms listed and more. The space is nicely proprtioned, with a good front-back : side-to-side ratio. There are obvious traffic patterns, so as long as you stay out of the aisle, you rarely have people squeezing past you. For non-sold-out shows, they’ll set up tables in case anyone wants to sit. There’s no real obstructed view from inside the ballroom, even for short me, and if you need to get away from the band for a minute to talk or make a phone call, you can step into the bar or the lobby. The staff is exactly what venue staff should be – easy going, but interested in the safety and comfort of their patrons, so they’re not going to tolerate jerks screwing around, but they’re not dicks about it. One of the best things, though, is that the owners are usually around somewhere, whether at the bar or in the ballroom, and if you ever get a chance to talk to them, you can tell they really love what they do and the music they book. That’s a big part of what makes them a far better venue than say, the House of Blues or another chain venue where the music business is more important than the music.
posted by boomchicka at 12:08 PM on September 14, 2005

In Chicago:

The Metro is a good medium-sized venue. Generally good sound, great stage and the balcony allows those not interested in a pit to still enjoy the show.

Empty Bottle is an odd, L-shaped space, but the bar is good and the vibe is strong.

Schubas is wonderfully intimate, with superior sound quality you'd expect from a small room. It's warm and folky, which matches the acts they typically book.
posted by me3dia at 12:12 PM on September 14, 2005

Response by poster: These are great answers (keep 'em coming). Anyone got a word or two on Portland, OR? And specifically, what's the skinny on the high dive in Seattle (when I researched the question it came up in my "best of" query on Google). Thanks again, everyone.
posted by safetyfork at 12:45 PM on September 14, 2005

In Portland, don't miss the Crystal Ballroom. The floor is amazing. As a side note, La Luna at 9th and Pine closed several years ago, but it was my absolute favorite place in Portland - I miss it. I think it's the Pine Street Theater now, but it changes roughly every year.
posted by peep at 1:00 PM on September 14, 2005

The 930 is nice, but maybe a bit too big.

I remember when the 930 was a 500 capacity place at 930 F Street. Man, I saw some AMAZING shows at that place. I can't stand to go to arena shows. Even if it's a band that I love, I just rather not see them then go to a basketball stadium and listen to the horrible sound. Small and mid-size places are great. I love the Showbox in Seattle.
posted by trbrts at 1:32 PM on September 14, 2005

For me, the biggest thing is layout. I like venues that make it easy for people to see even if they're in the back. In Minneapolis, First Avenue and the Triple Rock are the best for that. I hate clubs that have idiotic layouts that are not conducive to packed crowds. I haven't been to an arena show in a while, and that's fine.

I also factor in things like drink prices and parking, but those are minor details.
posted by jetskiaccidents at 1:42 PM on September 14, 2005

Another vote for the Bowery Ballroom. Every year my father and I treat ourselves to a Patti Smith concert just before New Year's, and every year it is fantastic. Nice bathrooms, too.

On the other hand, PNC Bank Arts Center is probably the worst venue in music history. One could learn to hate music seeing all of their favorite acts rendered soulless in that concrete wasteland.
posted by Ptrin at 2:02 PM on September 14, 2005

Austin has several good concert locals. I recently saw Brian Jonestown Massacre at The Parish Room and it was great.
Anton even went crazy and ended the show early! Fun stuff.
posted by meta87 at 2:04 PM on September 14, 2005

posted by meta87 at 2:04 PM on September 14, 2005

The best venue in San Diego to see a show at is the Belly Up Tavern, but they so infrequently have any bands play there that I actually want to see that I don't get there much. Typically, they get reggae, blue, jam bands, or Neil Diamond cover groups.

Where I go most often is the Casbah, which is where a lot of the up-and-coming or indie bands will play on their way through town. The place is small, with a barely raised stage area in a room with about a 10' ceiling, but is divided up into a couple areas that makes it seem larger than it is. There's the stage area, which has a bar and walls covered with the naugahyde seating from an old ice cream parlor; the outdoor patio, where smokers hang out and bands push their swag; and the back room or "Atari lounge", where they've got a bunch of pre-'85 video games, pool tables, and a smaller bar. The main room's cool for seeing a band, but if you don't like who's playing (typically four bands a night) you can always hang out in back. The sound is okay, but it really seems to depend on who's working the board--sometimes things get lost in the mix. Since the Casbah is so small, they also do promotion work where they book shows at larger venues for bands that have outgrown the mothership. Probably 95% of the concerts I see are either at or promoted by the Casbah.

Perched atop the Casbah are what must be the worst apartments in San Diego. They've got a rock club beneath them, train tracks a block to the west, an 8-lane freeway a half-block to the east, a busy intersection on the southwest corner, and they're right beneath the approach for San Diego's airport (planes literally fly 100 feet or less overhead).
posted by LionIndex at 2:16 PM on September 14, 2005

The High Dive used to be Suite G, I think. When it was Suite G, the booker gave off a vibe I wasn't real fond of. As it stands, they don't seem to be getting great bands and none of the scenesters I run with go to shows there. Might be a different scene than mine, though.
posted by stet at 2:17 PM on September 14, 2005

I used to love going to the old 9:30 Club, and I liked the Bayou when I lived outside DC. I like the Showbox, but it was too smoky when I went there. I'm about 8 blocks from The Fillmore, which is a great place to see a show. In San Francisco I also like Great American Music Hall, 12 Galaxies, and Slim's (although I liked going there better when the late, lamented 20 Tank was still in business). Cafe du Nord has great atmosphere, but it's too crowded. And I've seen some good shows at Oakland's staggeringly beautiful Paramount Theater.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:32 PM on September 14, 2005

In SF I usually enjoyed shows at Bottom of the Hill, GAMH, and Slim's. I like a more intimate venue where you can get real interaction with the crowd. I think BOTH and GAMH have good beer selections, too. The sound at BOTH is not always great, but I've seen so many great shows there where it didn't really matter.
posted by babar at 2:41 PM on September 14, 2005

Bowery Ballroom indeed. There are a couple of venues in Northampton, MA run by the Iron Horse Entertainment Group that are great.
posted by greenbean at 2:51 PM on September 14, 2005

Black Cat in DC, Ottobar in Baltimore and Paradise in Boston get votes from me. I'd also like to add Ridglea Theatre in Fort Worth and my all-time favorite venue, Trees in Dallas.
posted by amandaudoff at 3:10 PM on September 14, 2005

mic stand writes "I've seen a few great shows at the House of Blues in Chicago."

Bleah! Like seeing a show in a TGIFriday's. Just awful. And the LA location has terrible acoustics, too.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:14 PM on September 14, 2005

Yeah Ottobar!

There's nothing decent in DC anymore (I'm still mourning d.c. space), although I'm going to DC9 for the first time tomorrow night and have heard good things about it.
posted by JoanArkham at 3:29 PM on September 14, 2005

My favorite punk place is Pat's in the Flats. It's a steelworker bar by day and a rock club by night. Gritty, concrete floor, graffiti and record albums covering one wall, surrounded outside by giant piles of coke for the steel mill. It is strictly DIY for the bands, they have to supply all of their hoo-ha, which is why it has become the punk rock place to be. Pat is totally cool and willing to give any new band a shot at the place. The crowd is rarely more than 30 people or so and you can stand eye to eye with the performers. Bring ear plugs.
posted by sciurus at 4:00 PM on September 14, 2005

In Norfolk, Va... The Norva is a great venue... A little bit bigger then the 9:30 club in DC (1000 person) , but same setup, a floor with a U balcony. Norva is on the range on 1500 person capacity. A great little tip if you go see someone big there and the show is sold out. Call and get reservations at the Backstage Cafe and tell them that you are going to that show They will let you in 15 min before opening the front doors... however the food sucks...
posted by kashmir772 at 5:43 PM on September 14, 2005

Oh, the shows.

In San Francisco, Slim's is nice if a little bit sterile, and I found the odd placement of poles blocks visibility from some places. Cafe Du Nord is very pretty but I always had trouble looking for parking in the neighborhood. Great vibe, and very comfy lounge. Great American Music Hall was very nice because of the balconies up top, and it's also got a great atmosphere as a former burlesque hall. I always found the Fillmore to be irritating because the stage is rather high, and you get pushed out the door as soon as the last note is played. Bottom of the Hill was always very intimate, cool club, but with weird sightlines, and as a "see and be seen" venue, there were always people going outside to the smoking patio, which is behind the stage. But cheap, they had BBQs on the weekend afternoons, and a great place to catch up-and-comers.

In NYC: add my vote to the Bowery Ballroom, as well. Great staff, good sound, nice space, and consistently great booking. The Delancey is nice, even though the stage is super low. Rothko always feels too hipstery to me. The Mercury Lounge would be good, only if there weren't traffic problems in walking to the bathroom or bar. CBGB's (currently on shaky ground in terms of its lease), while kinda nasty inside, is a surprisingly decently place to see bands, and is everything you think it would be (don't use the restrooms). Maxwell's is a great space, if only it were more accessible from Manhattan/Brooklyn (subway to the PATH to walking 12 blocks? It takes forover to get there!).

I also like Piano's, Galapagos, Magnetic Field, Tonic (pretty Christmas lights on the ceiling), and Southpaw (great jukebox). The Warsaw is too much like where somebody's high school prom should be, and it's very echo-y. The Knitting Factory can be nice but it turns into a sweatbox both in winter and summer. Northsix is okay but a little too dingy for me, also until recently it was very poorly lit. Webster Hall is too huge and scary, what with looking like a haunted mansion thanks to the steep staircases, red lighting, and windy halls. (I can't help but think I'm inside Edgar Allan Poe's Masque of Red Death.)

Other cities: Empty Bottle in Chicago (intimate, and they have a photobooth), Tambaleo in Austin, Friends in Austin (I think they only have shows during SXSW).

Weirdest place I've seen a show: Mates of State with Xiu Xiu in a closed bread factory.
posted by kathryn at 6:12 PM on September 14, 2005

windy halls

Sorry, I meant "winding halls."
posted by kathryn at 6:14 PM on September 14, 2005

Bottom of the Hill in SF is TINY-which makes it awesome for actually seeing people in the bands. I guess the word to use is intimate. Great American Music Hall is nice because you can get up on the balcony and have a good view. Also as a plu or minus (you decide!), it's in the hooker/sex theater neighborhood-while amusing can be dangerous.
posted by slimslowslider at 6:24 PM on September 14, 2005

Plus or minus
posted by slimslowslider at 6:25 PM on September 14, 2005

Mates of State with Xiu Xiu in a closed bread factory.

That sounds awesome.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:33 PM on September 14, 2005

I play improvised music , so my spaces might differ.

In portland there is HOLOCENE which is good, TLC (Alberta/sumner NE), DUNES (tiny, smokey, great), and NOCTURNAL.

I like 21 Grand and THE MARSH in SF/Bay

and ILCORRAL, THE SMELL, and SELAH (linespaceline) in L.A.

YES YES in Olympia is great too.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:35 PM on September 14, 2005

I've played the High Dive, my band will be there again on the 20th. It's a nice sounding room, the food is good and the staff is really friendly.
I saw Voyager One there (2 keyboardists, one guitar, one guitar and keyboards, vox, drums and bass) and the sound was excellent.
I've heard some people complain about the sound guy, but he dialed us in very quickly and my little hybrid Ampeg B-18/B-15 sounded great onstage!

I also like playing the Crocodile Cafe and The Sunset Tavern. Both have pretty decent sound and The Sunset hooks the bands up with tallboys of Miller or PBR backstage! The Croc is usually full of hipsters more interested in yakking at one another than watching the show.
posted by black8 at 11:12 PM on September 14, 2005

Response by poster: Wow, there are some insightful and impassioned descriptions here. Now, I wished I had been more encouraging of the international contingent for some comparative venue descriptions. Any latecomers both from home and abroad, speak up! Thanks again.
posted by safetyfork at 6:21 AM on September 15, 2005

The Cat's Cradle in Carrborro (Chapel Hill), NC. Smoke-free, nice stage, local beers on tap, consistently great schedule.
posted by statolith at 6:44 AM on September 15, 2005

I'll third The Paradise in Boston. Lots of great rising acts pass through their before they reach Avalon's level of draw. More importantly, probably as a result of fire code, its maximum capacity is limited to far fewer than it can actually hold. Even on a sold out night you can easily move around and find a good viewing spot.
posted by justkevin at 7:08 AM on September 15, 2005

Maxwell's is a great space, if only it were more accessible from Manhattan/Brooklyn (subway to the PATH to walking 12 blocks? It takes forover to get there!)

Well to be fair that is not the only way to get there...you can get right on a bus on Washington St after exiting the PATH and for 1.20 ride there in 3 minutes. Or you could take a bus from Port Authority for 2.30 and get dropped off DIRECTLY across the street, which takes about 10/15 minutes depending on Lincoln Tunnel traffic.
posted by spicynuts at 8:05 AM on September 15, 2005

spicynuts, i'm always too impatient to wait for the bus from the PATH station, but your description of the port authority bus leaves me intrigued. i will perhaps try that next time. thanks for the tip!
posted by kathryn at 10:48 AM on September 15, 2005

The Tabernacle in Atlanta. It's beautiful, and there is a bar right in the performance/stage area.
posted by jitterbug perfume at 4:55 AM on November 9, 2005

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