Live music around the US
Aaron Neville, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and other rockers take us to their favorite places to play
Aaron Neville on Tipitina’s, New Orleans:
I’m not sure what it is about the place. It’s like the spirit of Professor Longhair [the legendary New Orleans R&B piano player] still lives there. It’s just got its own attitude. It’s a place for people to come and be real close to the musicians and sweat on each other. It’s the first place we ever played as the Neville Brothers. It’s like home base. It’s our stage. We’re the Uptown Kings there.
(Neville is a singer with the Neville Brothers; his current solo album is titled Warm Your Hear.)
Janis Ian on the Bluebird Cafe, Nashville:
The Bluebird is as minimalist as a songwriter with just a guitar in hand. It’s really intimate, friendly. There’s nothing like it in the country. It’s a place where you can go and be guaranteed whatever you hear will be good. When you’re talking about their Songwriter Nights, there are very few places where you can get together with people you consider your peers and trade songs. It takes away the emphasis on singular achievement. It’s very loose, a community effort. There’s a lot of sitting in.
(Ian is a singer-songwriter.)
Norm Winer on Cabaret Metro, Chicago:
It is the ultimate rock & roll club in Chicago. It’s the layout of the place, first of all. Even though it houses a thousand people, it’s as though the acts can have the audience in the palm of their hand. The up-and-comers play there and once they’ve up and come, they come back. Like Living Colour, who played three nights here recently. Iggy Pop says this is his favorite club. It’s an essential career building block for artists in Chicago. The concert-going experience there is ideal. It’s a place artists want to play.
(Winer is the album-oriented-rock program director of WXRT-FM.)
Stanley Turrentine on Blues Alley, Washington, D.C.:
I always look forward to working at Blues Alley. John Bunyan, the owner, has been a good friend of mine for years and given me a lot of encouragement. I’ve been loyal to Blues Alley. It has that Greenwich Village atmosphere, just like what you would picture a jazz club to be. No pretension. Intimate. You get a rapport with the audience. It’s like going into my living room and playing for my friends.
(Turrentine is a jazz saxophonist.)
Al Anderson on Toad’s Place, New Haven, Conn.:
Toad’s is great. It’s the only club I know that constantly upgrades, unlike a lot of other places that have never changed their coat racks since the day they opened. At this club tucked on a side street near Yale University, paintings recall past club shows by U2, R.E.M., and Bob Dylan, among others. Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger have played surprise sets in the room, and the Rolling Stones chose Toad’s for a sneak preview of their Steel Wheels tour in 1989.
(Anderson plays guitar with NRBQ.)
Kim Wilson on Antone’s, Austin, Tex.:
We started together, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Antone’s, and for our first two or three years, in the mid-’70s, it was the only place in Texas we played. Clifford Antone, who owns the place, is fanatical about the music; and if you’re fanatical about the blues, he loves you. It’s just a really good feeling to be in there. I have my own gigs there; I get all the best local musicians to play. It’s really rowdy in the right way. It’s the epitome of a blues club.
(Wilson sings and plays harmonica with the Fabulous Thunderbirds.)
Paul Westerberg on 7th Street Entry and First Avenue, Minneapolis:
It’s where we got our start. Once when Robyn Hitchcock canceled, we got a phone call to play with an hour’s notice. Right after it was used in the movie Purple Rain it was like people were coming to see where Prince stood. People said, “Oh, our little club has gone Hollywood.” But there’s less of that now. You get a good cross section of people with the 7th Street Entry and the bigger First Avenue room. On any given night you’ll have a dance crowd in one and a rock crowd in the other. Usually most of the audience are in bands that also play there.
(Westerberg is lead singer of the Replacements.)
Charles Brown on Cinegrill, Hollywood:
Cinegrill brings back what Hollywood used to be, a certain feeling of sophistication. I really hadn’t had my name in lights in Hollywood in a long time when I played there earlier this year. It was a great showcase for the type of music that I offer. Elvis Costello was there. Nancy Wilson came. So did Mick Fleetwood. People are able to sit there, enjoy a drink, and hear good music, the real music that’s part of American culture.
(Brown is a ’40s R&B veteran who has just released All My Life.)
David Bromberg on the Bottom Line, New York City:
There are a number of clubs that have made a splash in New York that are now history. It must be 15 years that I’ve been playing the Bottom Line. I go way back with the owners, Allan Pepper and Stanley Snadowsky. When they designed the club, my road manager at the time helped them design the backstage area with toilets and sinks for both dressing rooms. A lot of club owners wouldn’t have bothered. They’ve always had superior technical people, and a lot of their personnel have been with them for years. It’s a professional place run by people who, aside from their roles as professionals, are very wonderful human beings. They’re tough. They’ve survived.
(Bromberg is a singer and guitarist.)
Rickie Lee Jones on Slim’s, San Francisco:
The first time I played with my band (on the Flying Cowboys tour) was at Slim’s about two years ago. Then in April, I was there playing a benefit for an organization called Bread & Roses with Huey Lewis and some other people. It’s like a combination of a bar, a casual club, and a theater, and they run it well. It’s not as raunchy as some bars are. Boz Scaggs is part-owner, and I’m sure that helps. It’s got very high ceilings and a little balcony, and posters on the walls of all the people they’ve had there, from blues to rock & roll. It’s the perfect atmosphere.
(Jones’ latest album is titled Flying Cowboys.)