Sunday, April 10, 2011

Concertgoing in Boston.

Music/Boston Nostalgia series: Part 22987123

Tonight Kathy and I went to see Lauryn Hill at the Schnitz, an amazing experience which should be relegated to a post within itself. (While going to this concert was legendary, it was really Kathy's dream: she is one of the best white lesbian hip-hop fans ever. I am never more in love with her than when she is rapping.) However, I haven't been to a concert in quite awhile, and thinking about tonight's concert all day made me start waxing nostalgic inside my head about my concert going days in Boston.

We've been able to attend a decent amount of concerts in Portland/the Northwest, and some really good ones at that. (Brandi with the Seattle Symphony! Elton & Billy Joel, Face 2 Face! The Avett Brothers at McMenamin's Edgefield! Sufjan at the Schnitz! Lilith at the Gorge!) But my live-music-life simply isn't the same as it used to be. I get Ticketmaster & other local concert venue email updates every week and always scan the Oregonian A&E section for names I want to see, but this has become a more painful habit than anything else. I've reached a point in my life where I realize I can't afford to go see every concert I want to go see. Getting those emails and reading the A&E section has become a tiring adventure of salivating over things I want, dreaming about all the arts I will be able to support some day in forty years when I'm retired.

However, there was a time when I never said no to music. This, of course, was the time which started the downward spiral of debt which I will never get out of and which holds me back now, but I don't regret it. This period of time was called, "college in Boston." In particular, the first two years. It seemed like I went to a concert almost every week; I often went to multiple ones in one week. While in later years I often dragged Kathy to these things with me, in my first two years of college I went to innumerable concerts by myself. Along with taking long walks by myself (which I discussed here), I used live music as my avenue to explore my independence, my route to finding-myself-in-the-city. In other words: what a loser!

In seriousness though, the experience of live music is one I will never stop loving, one I will never not view as essential to getting the most out of life, one that encapsulates the adjective 'special'. Hearing drum beats and bass reverberate up through your sneakers until they pulse through your whole being, taking a step away from real life to just listen to some music for a night--it's essential, people. Essential!

Here are the Boston venues in which I spent many hours of my life back in the day.

1. The Paradise
Located off the dreaded B-Line on Comm Ave, right past the most-dreaded-of-all multiple BU stops but before Packards Corner, the 'Dise was a brick one story building in which I believe I spent the most hours. This served a lot of big-but-not-too-big acts, which could also describe the size of the floor inside--big, but not too big. The worst part were the few, huge, stupid columns which blocked your view if you were unfortunate enough to get shoved behind one. The best part was waiting for the T afterward, on that tiny little strip of asphalt by the tracks, your head still buzzing, and you could just see the lights of the skyline off into the distance. There were also a few times when the T had stopped running by the time I got out, so I walked the whole way back to Emerson and the LB. But I didn't mind that much, either.
+ Best concerts seen here: multiple Cowboy Mouth concerts, one of the greatest live acts you will see, ever, in your life ; multiple Jump concerts in my Jump phase ; Sondre Lerche.

2. The Avalon
Oh, the Avalon. I hear that you are closed now, that you have in fact been closed for awhile.  As one Yelp reviewer writes: RIP Avalon. Since your heartbreaking close, my days of Guido-mackin' and shameful drunken dancing are now in the past :(  Thankfully I stayed away from Guido-mackin' and, since I could obviously never afford any drinks from the bar, shameful drunken dancing, but I went to SO many concerts at this piece that it's weird to me that this trashy corner of Boston history is now silenced.

The Avalon was one of those enter-through-a-black-door-in-a-black-wall type of places which resided at the end of Lansdowne Street, literally an alley abutting the back of Fenway Park. Lansdowne was comprised of a few sports bars and the Avalon and not much else, and during game days was full of t-shirt vendors and peanut sellers and other classic baseball Americana, but somehow became the capital of Trashy Boston Nightlife after dark. My ticket stubs (which I obviously keep religiously in a book) reveal to me that I also went to a show or two at the Axis, which I think was Avalon's baby sister, but honestly I can't remember anything else about it. Anyway, the Avalon was the classic nightclub-turned-concert venue: big square dance floor, some seats in a small mysterious balcony at the back which was normally reserved for, like, cool people with the band, or something, and uber cool bars (or, trying to be uber cool bars) on either side of the dance floor. I also remember the bathroom being weirdly designed/dark/lit up with lots of neon lights. I definitely felt like a hip city person anytime I had to pee.
+ Best concerts seen here: many, but the best ones I remember: Hanson ; Interpol ; Badly Drawn Boy ; Modest Mouse ; Pete Yorn ; Damien Rice ; Sleater-Kinney.

3. The Orpheum
The requisite big-ballroom-concert-hall type place every city should have, like the Schnitz in Portland, but older and more falling apart. Even its official website describes it as thus: It began as the Music Hall in 1852 and served as the original home of the New England Conservatory, this grand old lady appears a bit dated, but despite its tattered appearance all seats are normally filled for most shows. Grand old lady! Wonderful. I have to say that I liked the tattered appearance though, and I liked the old architecture of its white front which hid, somewhat oddly, at the end of an alley off a corner of Boston Common, contrasting with the taller and more modern buildings all around it. (That hideous orange of that weird "The Corner" place. So weird, so Downtown Crossing.) I definitely went to less shows at the Orpheum than most other places, and I feel like there were more jerky Boston type people at these shows, although there were jerky Boston type people at almost every show. (Well, unless you were seeing, like, The Weepies. Which I did, once. It's hard to be a jerk and be a Weepies fan.) Although maybe I am being overly influenced by my memory of seeing Ryan Adams at the Orpheum when Tegan & Sara opened for him, and I was sitting next to these guys who booed and jeered them the entire time they were on stage. Who boos Tegan & Sara? Drunk Boston dudes, that's who.
+ Best concerts seen here: Patty Griffin, two times.

4. Berklee Performance Center
It is not surprising that one of the best music schools in the country should also have a kick-ass performance center, but I feel like this was a hidden gem that's often forgotten about. I feel especially fond of it since it's located in what I considered, in a way, my 'hood for a good portion of my time in Boston: on Huntington  Ave, down the road from the lovely Christian Science Center and right at the busy intersection with Boylston and the overpass over I-90 which included the loud and dirty Hynes Convention Center T stop. This venue is auditorium style, like the Orpheum, but smaller, narrower, and more well-kept. This is, probably, the best place to see music in Boston. (Unless you need to get up and dance.) They know what they're doing: the acoustics are wonderful. If you have a good crowd, it can feel simply religious.
+ Best concerts seen here: Patty Griffin, again ; Jenny Lewis ; Andrew Bird.

5. The Middle East
Oh man, now we're getting to where the cool kids go! Located in Cambridge off of busy Mass Ave, this was a venue behind a restaurant which served, you guessed it, Middle Eastern food (although I never actually ate there), and there was a Middle East Upstairs and a Middle East Downstairs. The downstairs was the much larger venue and the one you normally went to, and it was very bare bones. You descended some steps from a door in the side of the building, passed a little bar, and hung out under a low ceiling to look up at a no frills stage. I actually really enjoyed the basement type of feel of the Middle East, but overall my memory of it seems hazy.  Shows at the Middle East always started way late and definitely made you miss the last T home, but again, walking home to Boston over the Mass Ave Bridge was never a shabby experience (well, at least for me). I only went to the upstairs once. I have no idea who the band was, or even who I went with, but it was one of those deals during freshman year where I went when somebody offered in an attempt to be social and make friends. I think. The space is super tiny and there were approximately ten people in the audience. The band smashed their guitars and kicked stuff at the end. It was awkward.
+ Best concerts seen here: Flickerstick ; Jump Little Children, again.

6. TT the Bear's
Okay, this was actually where the REAL cool people went. The Middle East's little brother, it's located right next door, but isn't affiliated. I honestly didn't go to many shows here, and it's basically just a little box of a room, but it was a solid place to see slightly smaller acts. I think I'm mentioning it just because I really liked the name.
+ Best concerts seen here: Mirah ; my friend Lindsay!

7. The Roxy
Oh man, I totally forgot the Roxy--which I think is now called the Royale?--existed, until I found a ticket stub for The Shins from there. Pretty sure I went there another time, too. Located right down the street from Emerson, towards the South End, on Tremont, this place also hosted Chippendales, or some other such thing, so the staircase up into the club was adorned with pictures of men with shiny pectoral muscles and those silly tuxedo-bowtie-only outfit things going on. The Royale website refers to it as "Boston’s only true mega club." Sounds scary.
+ Best concerts seen here: Uh, the Shins.

8. The Wang
The Wang is now called the Citi Performing Arts Center. YAWN. MAN I LOVE WHEN BANKS TAKE OVER THE NAME OF CLASSIC BUILDINGS. ESPECIALLY WHEN THE BUILDING USED TO BE CALLED THE WANG! How can you take that away from us! Sigh. We are defeated. Anyway, the Wang is almost right across from the Roxy, a block away from Emerson. I graduated there. It's a huge arts auditorium which hosts a lot of plays, important speakers, and overall fancy things, with the occasional bigger name rock band/musician. The Wang is the way fancy big sister to the Orpheum. And according to my ticket stubs, I apparently saw Wilco there in October 2004. I do not remember this at all! At all! This is a shame, because that sounds like a good show! I was just bemoaning the other day that I had never seen Wilco live! What is wrong with me!
+ Best concerts seen here: Well geez, I guess Wilco!

9. Bank of America Pavilion
Right, so this may seem like a weird one to include, since it's a big corporate outdoor venue that's way out in the middle of nowhere on the waterfront--so out of the way that you have to take a shuttle from South Station or the SILVER LINE to get there. Yeah, the SILVER LINE. But, still, the few times I went there it reminded me of going to concerts at home at Montage Mountain in Scranton (okay, Moosic, technically)--in other words, good, summery fun. I also attach somewhat sentimental emotions to it since Kathy and I spent our very last night in Boston there, seeing Fiona Apple and Nickel Creek. This was memorable because 1) we were super stressed out about moving across the country the next day and what we were going to do with all of our crap that still remained in our apartment and going to a concert was perhaps a silly way to spend this night, but that is how we roll, and 2) in case you missed it, that combination of artists was Fiona Apple, and Nickel Creek. It was a bizarre, somewhat awe-inspiring combination.
+ Best concerts seen here: the one I just mentioned ; Ben Folds & Guster.

Oh, humongous debt. You were so worth it.


  1. oh, good times. I went to the Axis once, it was super small and I saw Onelinedrawing there. It was really cool and intimate.
    Also, my very firct concert experience in Boston was at TT the Bear's, and who did I see? The Queers with Andie. That was an experience!

  2. Ah, Onelinedrawing and The Queers--such good Sam/Boston/Andie memories!