Part of the Public Theater complex in lower Manhattan, Joe’s is like Chicago weather. If you don’t dig it, just wait a minute and everything will change. The venue just underwent some aesthetic changes, remodeling their interior. While the periodic CMA Songwriter Series are a local favorite, Joe’s Pub hosts everything from record release parties to drag interpretations of Joni. This room books top-end artists, takes some risks, sounds great, sports terrific sightlines and serves up excellent food. Shows tend to start on time, so if your act is set to play at 9:30, don’t be fashionably late.
It’s almost too bad that this excellent room is forever linked with Norah Jones, since so many songsmiths make this lower east side venue a solid choice when seeking singer songwriters or guitar-driven improvised music. Monday nights now belong to guitar wizard Jim Campilongo.
Brooklyn Academy of Music
BAM, right in downtown Brooklyn, offers up numerous venues within a larger over-arching structure. Their prime theater , the BAM Harvey Theater, will host musical and dance performances which draw up to 3,000. Paul Simon, David Byrne, and Lori Anderson have all held court in the excellent sounding main space. The BAM café often serves up non-pop based music free of charge during weekend evenings.
The 2,800 seat Beacon is a landmark venue on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, and has been recently refurbished. The Allman Brothers have, until recently, enjoyed a month-long residency in the room each March and many of their compadres in the jam-band orbit play the Beacon for multi-night runs. It sounds great and reeks of history.
Rockwood Music Hall
This is a tiny live-music space with a real community vibe. There’s never a cover charge, and all genres of music with a surprise guest sitting in more often than not are the joint’s M.O. They have just opened up another stage next door, calling it Stage 2. There are some great cheap eats in the neighborhood. So, if you don’t know what you want to do, stop in there and listen to some music.
Madison Square Garden
When handled correctly, the World’s Most Famous Arena can sound like a fine-tuned living room. Really. If a band comes to town and just wants to be loud, disaster looms. Bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish learned how to dial in MSG and have made the Garden a home away from home. Madonna and Prince sounded sublime as well. It’s a blast, the ceiling always looks cool and it’s not one of those cookie-cutter hockey halls. It has flavor.