L.A.'s Top 10 Music Venues


Los Angeles is home to some of the most acclaimed venues in the world. But flaunting those favorable reputations does little to prove their worth. And nowhere in the city is that more apparent than in the disaster zone that is the Sunset Strip. These venues, still holding onto nostalgia-infused stories of the Guns 'n' Roses-days, have devolved into little more than pay-to-play ponzi schemes, content to use their undeserved brand names to prey upon any band willing to shell out five-hundred dollars for thirty minutes of validation.

Thankfully, hope still exists for music in Los Angeles. Just not on Sunset Boulevard. Check out these venues--all of which still care about the tunes.

10. Orpheum. The Orpheum is a largely forgotten treasure in any venue-by-venue breakdown, partially because it's often considered more historical landmark than modern day destination. That's an understandable error. These days, the downtown theatre fits fewer shows into its schedule than any of our other candidates, and without much reason either. Yet we can't let ourselves leave it off the list entirely--that old-time charm and beautiful wooden structure simply too much to ignore. We just which they'd beef up the calendar. At least a little.

9. El Rey. There's a general rule of thumb at rock shows: Get as close as possible. But that guideline doesn't quite ring true at the elegant El Rey Theatre, where many give preference to the elevated views surrounding the floor space. Neither is this a purely aesthetic decision, as so many techies will rush to tell you. Sound mixes best in the back--especially in a narrow room such as this--so you should feel free to step aside as those over-excited teens rush the barricades. It'll allow you to actually enjoy the music--without any of the blood, sweat, or tears.

8. Wiltern. It's increasingly rare for a huge hall to have general admission. But that's exactly what you're getting at the Wiltern, where nationally-touring artists pass through regularly. And with hardly a bad seat (or stand) in the house, your mind will be free to occupy itself with thoughts like "Wow, surprisingly good light show," or "Man. They got The Pixies to play here. The Pixies, man!" So don't worry, your uncertainty as to if the space will do your favorite band justice is as unfounded as ever. The bands themselves? They love it here.

7. The Smell. Hard to tell at first glance, but within the alleyways of Downtown Los Angeles rests the unassuming symbol of the Do-It-Yourself Movement. It is The Smell, a stripped-down, no-nonsense space for musical experimentation, devoted entirely to those acts hard at work dispelling of roadies and--for that matter--anything that might hint at a sense of privilege. But be aware, the name doesn't lie. With no ventilation and little in the way of air conditioning, the place really does, well, smell.

6. Greek Theatre. This surprisingly intimate getaway has long since cemented its reputation as the best outdoor rock venue in the city. Packing six thousand seats deep within Griffith Park will do that for you, and has helped to make this the perfect rival to the institution that is the Hollywood Bowl. But remember, while the Bowl itself caters to a 'cultured' audience, the Greek is all about the down and dirty, rocking hard among nature never bringing the music more to life. Add in a stop at the Fred 62 diner on your way out, and you've got yourself an indispensable summer option.

5. Pehrspace. It's easy to compare Pehrspace to The Smell. Both promote themselves as alternatives to the dominant form, opt-out options for a generation so unwilling to support less genuine enterprises. But don't think that they're two cuts from the same mold. It's Pehrspace, after all, that has no problem wreaking the havoc offstage that The Smell has so much trouble keeping on it. And of the two 'art spaces', it's again Pehrspace that actually showcases the more diverse collection of musical acts. So let The Smell have the press clippings. Their older rival in Silver Lake is content to be left alone.

4. The Echo. It doesn't have much to do with aesthetic. Or sound, for that matter. Nope, this is a pick that instead celebrates a skill that is all too often overlooked: Selecting great bands. Yes, smack dab in the heart of Echo Park sits The Echo, an institution that has built its reputation on an ability to land tomorrow's musical darlings today. It is an impeccable skill, and one that requires the capability to ignore the tremendous pressures of an insecure industry. And sticking to their chops--i.e. not asking start-ups to guarantee presale revenue--has done them well. We trust that they'll do us right. And that's a very powerful form of trust indeed.

3. The Troubadour. Los Angeles clubs are often unworthy of the accolades they have received. But not The Troubadour. This class act is as deserving of your respect as it was on the day it first opened fifty-three years ago; its ability to draw high-quality national acts as impressive as ever. And while comparable landmarks may have given into monetary temptation in recent years (i.e. massively sold-out), 'The Troub' has repeatedly refused, always understanding its integrity to be a number one priority. It's hard to argue with the results. Today, The Troubadour endures as the most intimate concert in town.

2. Hollywood Bowl. The parking is terrible. Maybe the worst in the city. But if you've forgotten why, let us remind you: The Hollywood Bowl is simply the best outdoor concert in the city. And with all types of shows filling up the summer calendar, no one can rightfully claim to feel excluded. Yes, Dudamel is the top selling point. But if classical music isn't your bag, there's always something else, whether it's a Grease Sing-a-Long, Mariachi Festival, or a Philharmonic-backed viewing of Planet Earth Live. And don't forget about the towering bowl itself; it's reason enough to head into the madness.

1. Walt Disney Hall. Since you already know about Gehry's metallic mastery of form over function, let's instead focus on the wondrous acoustics inside. It is an architectural achievement in its own right, the surprisingly vertical seating arrangement allowing even the furthest patron to feel intimately connected to the sounds so softly resonating against the walls--no artificial amplification necessary. It is more than an auditory masterpiece, it is a victory for all lovers of sound. And yet, it gets lost in the wash, a forgotten piece to the silver exterior's greater puzzle. It is a shame. But we can change that.


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