MUSIC HISTORY WAS AND STILL IS MADE AT THESE NYC VENUES
In the course of NYC’s cultural cycle, the only thing you can count on is change. The city evolves so quickly that what seemed like the center of the universe can feel out-of-fashion in five years time, or even five months.
So when it comes to live music venues, many legendary locations filled with NYC lore—CBGBs, the Mudd Club, Fillmore East, the Gaslight Cafe—came and went. But a number of the city’s most iconic venues still remain and are arguably more vital institutions than ever. GrandLife walks you through four of the most vital outposts in the Manhattan music scene, with some help from the critics and concert-goers themselves.
While Bowery Ballroom has been the center of ownership controversy in the last few years, the space itself remains one of the most iconic rooms to take in a show, or to play one. (There’s a reason why its sister venue, Music Hall of Williamsburg, has the exact same floor plan.) Bowery Ballroom is pretty much ground zero for any indie rock band on the come-up, playing their first headlining tour, or an anchor for genre acts revitalizing credibility.
The venue has also proven a mainstay for some of music’s most notable names including “punk poet laureate” Patti Smith, who in 1998 began a string of New Year’s Eve performances at the venue that lasted until 2012. According to Rolling Stone, Smith’s final New Year’s Eve gig at the ballroom included a guest appearance from former R.E.M.frontman Michael Stipe, who sang a rendition of the Jimmy Webb tune “Wichita Lineman.”
In recent years, the stage has given way to a more eclectic mix befitting our genre-less times—emo, country, rap. It’s all happening.
6 Delancey St, New York, NY 10002; T (212) 260-4700
Beacon Theater is a throwback. While it’s best known for hosting legacy acts—think Steely Dan, Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen, the Allman Brothers—Beacon also rolls out the red carpet for St. Vincent and Tame Impala, musicians that evoke New York as it used to be.
“I remember seeing David Byrne carrying his bicycle helmet into a Sufjan Stevens show at Beacon,” says music journalist Larry Fitzmaurice, who has written for Spin, Pitchfork, and Vice. That’s the Beacon, in a single scene.
And who could forget John Lennon’s 1974 rock spectacle Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road, which ran for 66 performances at the Beacon Theatre.
1746, 2124 Broadway, New York, NY 10023; T. (212) 465-6500
For the last 20 years, Mercury Lounge has been the spot where many emerging acts got their stage legs—think groups like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Ariel Pink, basically any group mentioned in Lizzie Goodman’s exhaustive scene history Meet Me in the Bathroom. It’s a small room, a performance space in the back of a bar, so it still occupies that rung on the ladder. In the late-aughts, it was a pretty conventional space to host an industry hang—this is how it comes to be that 20 A&R people might be watching the next big thing at 4pm on a Wednesday.
“There were four acts on the bill at the Mercury Lounge; the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were the openers, and it was still light out when they took the stage,” wrote Goodman for the New York Times, recounting the fall of 2000. “The band was elemental: guitar and drums, no bass. But the singer, who called herself Karen O, was otherworldly. She was dressed in a kind of Clockwork Orange burlesque, with cutout hearts as pasties. Before the show, she doused herself in olive oil. Onstage, she danced around like a lunatic, manically grinning and flinging droplets of oil from her hair into the crowd.”
217 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002; T. (212) 260-4700
Radio City Music Hall has the reputation as the best sounding room in the city, and I’d argue that this is absolutely true. But, you also have to be prepared to pay for it, in one way or another—while it’s been renovated, the seating area is small and the venue is particularly old-fashioned.
“When my parents took me there as a kid to see the Christmas Spectacular, I remember thinking it was the fanciest place I’d ever been,” writes New Yorker staff writer and vinyl expert Amanda Petrusich. “A gilded palace of high-kicking ladies and sparkling things!”
“So it was surreal to see The Strokes there decades later….That’s New York: fancy and raw as hell at the same time.”
1260 6th Ave, New York, NY 10020: T. (212) 465-6741
Words Corban Goble