By Dan Kohn
Since the 1960s, Los Angeles has been home to some of the most renowned music halls in the world. Many of the biggest bands have gotten their start playing in some the city’s vibrant rooms. But what makes L.A. different from other locales is how the demographic of venue has changed over time. Between the Sunset Strip, Echo Park, Downtown and Hollywood, there are plenty of venues for music fans to check out pop stars, jazz musicians to bands playing their first ever gig . We went ahead and saved you some time and trouble, and selected the best places to see music in Los Angeles.
If there’s any venue in L.A. that screams ‘70s rock, it’s the Troub. Located in West Hollywood, some of the titans of the music biz played their first shows at the hallowed hall. The room can be tight, like not able to move comfortably tight, but that just adds to the atmosphere of seeing your favorite up-and-coming band in a tiny setting. On occasion, big-named stars like Nine Inch Nails or Prince will stop by and play an impromptu set either as a warm-up show or as a treat to fans. No matter how you cut, the Troubadour has both history and intimacy, something that few venues can boast of.
As L.A.’s preeminent mid-sized venue, The Wiltern has seen it’s fair share of bands roam through its halls since its doors opened in 1929. Despite its age, the venue has held up well over the years and its acoustic are some of the finest that the city has to offer. The beauty of the building doesn’t lie in its décor, though it is classic, instead, it’s the layout. With a balcony covering a floor section that is 90 percent of the times general admissions, fans can stay as close or as far away from the action as they deem fit. And the best part about the floor section? The bar in the back, which is never full and always, is stocked to max.
2301 N Highland Ave.
The legendary Hollywood Bowl, located due north of the Hollywood and Highland shopping complex, is one of America’s most storied outdoor concert amphitheatres. The sound is immaculate, which can be attributed to the band shell above the stage and bands love to play here. On a crisp summer night, there are few things better in Los Angeles than hearing music while the purple skies turn black. Between leased events, which feature major touring acts, and subscription nights that can feature the L.A. Philharmonic and KCRW sponsored evenings, there are few places you’d rather spend your summer evenings at.
A smaller version of the Bowl, the Greek can be a pain to park, but its ambiance is one of the best in town. Located near the top of Griffith Park, the venue has the warmth of listening to music in a friend’s backyard. With a calendar that runs from March through November, it can get chilly at times up in the hills. But for most of the summer concert season, the Greek is one of the top places to see a show. Oh and they sell Pink’s hot dogs. Score!
Formerly known as Spaceland, the Silver Lake concert hall is one of several east side locales where many new bands get their start. You can count a number of big time local acts that played the venue’s free monthly shows on Mondays. Combine that, and the likelihood of seeing someone cool in a place the size of your living room while sucking down some Pabst in the main area or playing billiards up top, the Satellite is the place to have a good time and to see a band launch its career hopefully to the stratosphere.
The city’s largest mid-sized, general admission only venue is one of its greatest. The biggest names have played The Palladium and since it reopened in 2008, its attracted some of the best young touring talent in music. Add to that its prime spot in the heart of Hollywood on Sunset Blvd and its close proximity to the bustling nightlife and great restaurants, what room lacks in charm and a rugged interior, it makes up with a classic setup and great soundsystem. If it’s good enough for the Blues Brothers, it should be plenty great for you.
1822 Sunset Blvd.
If the Echo Park haunt is good enough for the Rolling Stones, it should be more than ample for you. The 700-plus-person venue is a favorite of touring indie bands who play underneath the cavernous basement of The Echo and Two Boots pizza. When the room is packed, there may not be a better place to judge a band’s readiness for the big time. While there may be places that have a better sound and a better ambiance, no place can match the Echoplex in terms of the raw intensity that it brings out of both bands and patrons.
Bruce Springsteen once called it “The dump that jumps! The joint that don’t disappoint!” and he’s right. Erected in 1957, the Sports Arena has seen its far share of structures come and go, but incredulously, the city’s worst sounding, ill-fitting arena is still standing. What makes the venue better than other larger sized rooms is that it doesn’t try to be cool with fancy dining options or luxury suites. Instead the focus lies solely on the band, and nothing else. Besides, when was the last time someone complained about that? (Writer’s note: I haven’t been to the renovated Forum, so I reserve judgment)
Yes, it’s a chain. Yes, it’s located just before the Sunset Strip. So what? There may not be a room that has a cooler interior design, especially of that size, in the city. It may be a bit cookie cutter, but what isn’t run-of-the-mill about the space is its soundsystem. Whenever you go to a HOB, you know what you’re going to get. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of consistency.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
111 S Grand Ave.
Sonically, there isn’t a better room in the city. Structurally, there isn’t an architectural wonder quite like it in Los Angeles, nevertheless the United States. As for what goes on inside? The Disney is a concert hall fit for the finest philharmonic in the land. Though it may not be renowned as Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall, if you’re looking for a refined concert experience, there’s other place in town to go. From time-to-time, an artist like Fiona Apple, Willie Nelson, Trey Anastasio or Ben Harper will play here, and whenever they do, it’s usually a one-off show that is either entirely acoustic or features an orchestra. In another words, in its relatively short time in existence, the Disney has become one of the elite concert halls in the country.
One the Sunset Strip’s first clubs, the club has become an attraction in recent years. With its prime location and strong balance of hard rock and hip hop acts, the Roxy maintains the credibility it had when it established itself as one of the city’s most important places to see live music. Despite music fans gravitating towards the east side of town, the Roxy will always remain an integral part of the music scene fabric.
Taking up a large plot of land in Chinatown just north of Downtown and right below Dodger Stadium, the park has become the center of L.A.’s festival season. With HARD, FYF and Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros’s Big Top Festival all setting up shop, this tract of land, painful for anyone with allergies, is one of the biggest open spaces in the city. Thus, it allows for concertgoers to roam free and to take in the sites and sounds that each festival has to offer. It’s proximity to the Metro is an added bonus.