My Guide To The Top 5 Venues Boston Bands Play

Posted: May 2, 2013 in Advice, Reviews
Tags: , , , ,

I have lived in Boston for nearly three years now, and much of that time has been dedicated to enjoying and planning live shows. I’ve seen great bands play in amazing venues to create a transcendent experience, but I’ve also seen these same bands play in venues that leave everyone involved with a sour taste in their mouth. To assist in avoiding the ladder, I’ve compiled a list of Boston venues and ranked them out of ten. Although this is not a definitive list, as I haven’t been ambitious enough to have been to every venue the city has to offer, these venues are by and far the ones that I get invited to on Facebook the most (what other proof of legitimacy do you need?) That being said, the one venue I really wish I had a chance to check out is Church, so if anyone has any thoughts on it, please share in the comments. It’s a public service, really.

For this review, I’ll be judging venues based on ambiance, quality of music, and ease of booking.

My Guide To The Top 5 Venues Boston Bands Play

The Middle East

Ah this venue. Every band has a story of when they played here. Even my brief stint as a performer resulted in a (poorly-attended) corner show.

The Middle East refuses to be contained in one venue; it consists of two restaurant portions, both of which lead to a stage area, one called “the upstairs” and one “the downstairs.” Not satisfied with that amount of confusion, the owners added a restaurant in between the other two called Zuzu, which also hosts musical acts on occasion.

Ignoring the tiny restaurant performances, the upstairs and downstairs venues are actually pretty decent (once you find them.) Having attended many upstairs shows, the bands that play there are generally of at least decent quality, and a good portion are of great quality. The sound varies depending on the night (moody sound engineer perhaps?) but it’s never unbearable, and generally is above average. If you can stay in between the random pillars on either side of the room, the sight line is great and grants a visual of the entire band.

The downstairs is a venue I am more familiar with behind the scenes. I’ve managed a couple shows there and management has been very accommodating. It’s a larger capacity room, with two bars and a larger stage. It’s great for rock and punk bands, as it’s underground and has that grungy, dirty vibe to it. My main suggestion would be to bring your own sound guy, because at least one of the house engineers is kind of a dick.

There are two separate booking contacts for the upstairs and the downstairs, but both respond to emails and will give any band with decent pitching skills a chance.

Rating: 6/10

TT The Bear’s Place

I seriously love this place. Having only made it out there for the first time a few months ago, I was surprised to discover that it’s right behind the behemouth that is The Middle East. It definitely deserves a spot with higher visibility.

The venue is separated by a half wall (and some pillars) into two rooms. One hosts the stage area while the other contains the bar (there’s also an area to play pool, but that didn’t really appeal to me.) There’s something about this setup that is just perfect – when I’m in the stage area, it feels like the band and the audience have formed together to create their own little ecosphere, where the audience feeds off the music and the band feeds off their sweaty, dancing energy. The sound is great and, although I’ve only been there a few times, I thoroughly enjoy the music showcased.

The other side of this musical ecosphere, the bar area, is perfect for people who just want to take a step back during a set that isn’t really their style, or are tired of standing and jumping around, or just want to get wasted. It’s far enough away that the music isn’t overpowering to conversation, but close enough to feel the pulsing energy coming from the stage.

The one thing that brings this venue down is that management can be difficult to get ahold of. I have tried, and failed, a couple times to make contact with their booking agent, but in this industry, I might just not know the right people.

Rating: 8/10

The Red Room at Cafe 939

There may be a bias in the sample here, seeing as this venue is run by the very college I attend. But I can assure you it’s not just a “college venue,” they have many larger acts, such as The Civil Wars and The Lumineers, come in quite frequently – often right before they hit it big.

I have attended and managed shows at The Red Room, and the best thing about this venue is that it has high sound quality. Let’s be real though, as a Berklee-run venue, it would have to unless it wanted to hear every other sound engineer-in-training bitching about the room’s shitty acoustics or the apparent deafness of the sound guy.

It’s also a very unique atmosphere. It’s a small venue with a classy yet cool feel to it – the walls are decked in dark red and the stage area looks like a mix between a recital hall and a jazz club. The music is extremely varied, ranging from students singer/songwriters to jazz-funk ensembles to country bands and back.

A downfall is that working with The Red Room management can be frustrating…they are extremely busy and tend to take a while to respond – even sometimes double booking nights. That being said, they really are passionate about the music and try their best to be accommodating.

Rating: 7.5/10

PA’s Lounge

Consider this a PSA for the musicians of Boston. Please, for the love of everything great about music, never play here. I’ve only been once, but that experience was enough to put me off the place like it’s day old Chinese food. Not only is it a bit too far of a trek outside the city to easily draw a huge crowd, but the sound is horrible and the management is pretty much nonexistent. I was there to watch a friend’s band and ended up having to pester the sound guy for a different microphone cable, seeing as the one they were using was opposed to the idea of actually staying attached to the microphone. Unless they change their ways, I would highly recommend staying far, far away.

Rating: 2/10

Midway Cafe

Midway is an underrated venue, mostly because of its inconvenient location in Jamaica Plains, but it has a great vibe and deserves more credit. It’s a small venue with a low stage and dive bar attitude that allows for a feeling of closeness with the band. I’ve never noticed issues with the sound, although I’m sure you could bring your own engineer if desired, and the bartenders are always extremely friendly and accommodating. It feels more like a community than any other venue I’ve been to in Boston.

My suggestion with this is to maybe make a night of it and try to get an after party in the area. Or to focus promotion out there instead of primarily with friends in Boston. At the very least, check it out sometime – it re-inspired my passion for music and it could do the same for you.

Rating: 7/10

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Comments
  1. martin says:

    Great Article, fellow Alum! Many thanks. Martin

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