date published: September 24, 2007

Boston’s finest spots for hearing—and seeing— music up close
by Josh B. Wardrop
photography by Bob Perachio

Axis and Avalon
13 & 15 Lansdowne St.,
617-242-2437/ 617-262-2424,
These two clubs, owned by nightlife uber-promoters The Lyons Group, are among Boston’s best for pop, rock and alternative concerts by national acts. In October, they’re actually closing their doors for an as-yet-undetermined period of time to undergo renovation and reorganization as part of a new nightlife complex being built on Lansdowne Street. Avalon, however, is going out with a bang, with a September 30 shows by everybody’s favorite Boston-bred Celtic punk rockers Dropkick Murphys. Now Playing: September 25 (at Axis)—Subhumans; September 27 (at Avalon)—STS9.

The Beehive
541 Tremont St.,
The Beehive—a new South End establishment that folks in the Hub have been buzzing about since it opened in late May—is named for La Ruche (French for beehive), an artists’ collective in 1920s Paris. This very industrial yet chic space includes a sizeable dining area, two bars and performance space, all loaded with funky, artistic decor. The dinner menu features everything from caviar to lasagna to veggie burgers, and the distinctive cocktails go down smooth. The nightly live music leans toward jazz, often utilizing Boston’s great resource for up-and-coming talent, the Berklee College of Music. All in all, the Beehive is a hipster haven, a great neighborhood hang-out, and a place to enjoy a sophisticated (but never stiff) night out. Now Playing: September 24—Rat Pack-era tunes from pianist Al Vega; September 28—Guitarist Bobby Keyes.

Club Passim
47 Palmer St., Cambridge,
The area’s most venerable nightclub, Club Passim opened in Harvard Square in 1958 as Club 47, and has been Cambridge’s focal point for folk music ever since. Inside the small basement club, everybody who’s anybody in the world of folk has performed, from ‘60s icons like Joan Baez, Richie Havens and Taj Mahal to modern masters like Suzanne Vega, Patty Griffin, Tracy Chapman and countless others. Today, just months away from its 50th birthday, Passim continues to wave the flag for insightful and emotional acoustic singer-songwriters while serving delicious vegetarian fare from Veggie Planet upstairs. Now Playing: September 29—Bill Staines; October 6—Issa (formerly Jane Siberry) Trio.

Harpers Ferry
156 Brighton Ave., Allston,
Though the name recalls Civil War-era emancipator John Brown’s ill-fated guerilla attack on a small West Virginia town, the only thing Harpers Ferry in Boston is looking to abolish is a boring night out. Located in the heart of Allston—one of Boston’s hippest, youngest and most vibrant neighborhoods for nightlife—HF features nightly live music ranging from roots-rock and alt-country groups to Guns N’ Roses, Grateful Dead and U2 tribute bands. Grab dinner at one of the seemingly endless assortment of ethnic restaurant located literally doors away, then make your way to Harpers’ for a night of live music that will make you a slave to the rhythm. Now Playing: September 26—Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford, with local faves Township and Band of Thieves; October 6—Singer-songwriter Ari Hest with Mieka Pauley (refer to story) and Tim Blane.

Lizard Lounge
1667 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge,
Discovering this unassuming underground club will make you feel like a clued-in hipster—especially when you cozy up in a dimly-lit corner and groove on a performance by a top area soul band or enjoy the lyrical wordplay on display each Sunday during the Lizard Lounge’s famed Poetry Nights. It’s a laid-back, charming spot for digging on great live music that’s a million miles removed from the standard nightclub meat-market scene. Now Playing: September 27—The Havemores (tribute to Johnny Cash); September 29—Heidi and Mike (of local rock band The SnowLeopards).

The Middle East
472 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge,
It opened in 1970 as a Lebanese restaurant, and today, you can still get great Middle Eastern cuisine at both the Middle East and in its more refined lounge ZuZu. However, when most folks head to this now-sprawling complex in Central Square, they’re going to check out hot alternative rock music—by both local and national artists—at one of the East’s three distinct performance spaces: Upstairs, Downstairs or the Corner. It’s the only hangout in town where you can see live belly dancing one night, an all-death metal bill the next, and hip-hop the night after that. Now Playing: September 27 & 28 (Upstairs)—West Coast indie rocker John Vanderslice; October 6 (Downstairs)—Boston rapper extraordinaire Mr. Lif.

The Milky Way Lounge and Lanes
405 Centre St., Jamaica Plain,
The appropriately-named Milky Way is an out-of-this-world nightspot that offers something for everyone. Whether you’re up for a night of karaoke (in which brave singers are backed by a live band), seven lanes of traditional New England candlepin bowling, delicious food from the adjoining Bella Luna restaurant, or a talented assortment of DJs and live bands, the Milky Way promises diversity and delivers it in spades. Now Playing: September 27—Bass Invaders (booty, funk and bass jams spun by DJ Ghostdad and Nick Yoder); September 30—Project Move (showcasing underground hip-hop DJs and local MCs).

The Orpheum Theatre
One Hamilton Place,
When the weather starts to chill and the big outdoor concert venues shut down for the season, the venerable Orpheum Theatre becomes one of the best places in Boston to see a truly diverse assortment of big-name bands as they hit the Northeast. Everyone from Oasis to Chris Isaak to Hall & Oates to Scissor Sisters have rocked this cool old theater, and this fall’s concert slate includes even more smash acts like Tori Amos, Kelly Clarkson and Smashing Pumpkins to grace its stage. Now Playing: September 28—Southern-fried alt-rockers Kings of Leon; September 29—Legendary German metalheads The Scorpions.

The Paradise
967 Commonwealth Ave.,
A staple on the Boston rock scene since 1977, The Paradise Rock Club has hosted a veritable laundry list of legendary rock bands—most of them before they were legends. Imagine squeezing into an intimate 650-capacity club to see bands like The Police, U2, Elvis Costello, Blondie, REM, Rage Against the Machine, The Pixies, get the idea. Bands looking to make their mark in Boston tend to hit the Paradise first, a testament to its reputation as a great place to gig and see gigs. A more recent addition is the even smaller Paradise Lounge, which hosts local singer-songwriters, cool rock-oriented art shows and serves tasty appetizers, sandwiches and pizzas until 1 a.m. Now Playing: October 2—New York alt-chanteuse Nellie McKay; October 7—Kick-ass girl rockers The Donnas.

Scullers & Regattabar
Doubletree Guest Suites Hotel,
400 Soldiers Field Road,
Charles Hotel, 1 Bennett St., Cambridge, 617-661-5099, Boston’s music scene isn’t just about guys and girls with guitars and tattoos—it’s also home to some fine jazz clubs, too, with Scullers and Regattabar ranking as two of the best. Located in two of the area’s finest hotels, these swank and sophisticated lounges are the perfect places to hear generations of jazz legends performing jazz in all its permutations. Scullers even offers the option of enjoying dinner before your show, with a luscious menu that changes each month. Now Playing: September 26 (Scullers) Jazz trio E.S.T.; October 4 & 5 (Regattabar) Guitarist John Scofield.

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