By JOHN DALY
There are good rock bands and good musicians. But certain venues can elevate a performance from good to great.
Sometimes it’s a sense of history and tradition. Sometimes it’s the staging and design of a place. And sometimes it’s the effect a given venue has, for whatever reason, on a crowd. Whatever it may be, the perfect venue can take a great rock show and elevate it to legendary status, as any fan of live music recognizes.
But what are the best concert venues in the U.S. for this kind of show? It’s an impossible question to answer with complete objectivity. Nevertheless, these are five selections that are difficult to argue against, even if you have a few more that could justifiably make such a list.
1. Madison Square Garden – Manhattan, New York
It’s tough to define Madison Square Garden’s main purpose. Many might think of it as a sports venue first, and that’s perfectly fair. The New York Rangers NHL team still plays there, and it has long been the home of the NBA’s New York Knicks. MSG also hosts the occasional college basketball game or tournament, and various other events here and there.
It might still be fair to say that it’s first and foremost a concert arena though. Playing Madison Square Garden is essentially a rite of passage for a musician in any genre, and over the years the building has hosted most of the biggest acts in music. On a loosely related note, the company that owns MSG is also working on the next big thing in concert space in general.
2. Red Rocks Amphitheatre – Morrison, Colorado
Red Rocks may be the best-known outdoor concert venue in the United States. Unlike Madison Square Garden it’s located somewhat off the beaten path in Morrison, Colorado, but if anything that only seems to have made it more of a destination.
It’s on this list in part because it’s a dazzling place visually – a stage set against natural red rock formations with a background of mountains and plateaus and seats ascending from the stage in the style of ancient Greek and Roman theatres. Red Rocks Amphitheatre attracts a lot of different acts, but many of the best names in modern rock have played there, screaming their sounds into the vast nature of Colorado to the light of a 9,000-plus capacity crowd.
3. House Of Blues – Las Vegas, Nevada
It would be fair to say Vegas has lost a little bit of its shine in general. The city just seems a little cliché in ways, and online casino offerings have taken away from its uniqueness. This sort of activity is illegal in much of the U.S., but Canadian casino sites offer quite a variety of games and attract plenty of U.S. visitors, and on top of that more and more states are exploring legal gaming.
One reason Vegas is still very much worth a trip despite all of this, however, is that the city still ropes in the best talent in music on a regular basis. Places like the MGM Grand Garden Arena and T-Mobile Arena sometimes get the best shows nowadays, but the Vegas House Of Blues has some history behind it, and can be something of a haven for rockers. Even now, Billy Idol is effectively a resident there.
4. The Fillmore – San Francisco, California
San Francisco is a terrific music town, particularly for the rock and alt-rock scene, and accordingly The Fillmore has become one of the nation’s most iconic concert spots.
It’s the smallest venue on this list by a fair margin, with a capacity under 1,500, but it has still amassed an incredible history of shows by some of the most famous artists of the last 100 years. We’ll put it this way: there aren’t too many other concert spots, specifically this size, that could inspire entire lists of the best “live” albums recorded there.
5. Alpine Valley Music Theatre – East Troy, Wisconsin
This is another outdoor amphitheatre, and one that can rival Red Rocks in intensity, if perhaps not natural beauty. With a capacity of over 35,000, it can host a serious rock show outside in East Troy, Wisconsin.
It might sound somewhat out of the way, but relatively close proximity to larger cities like Madison and Chicago tends to mean it attracts a serious crowd when a big act comes to town. And ultimately it’s those big acts that have helped Alpine Valley stand out over the years. From Aerosmith to Jimmy Buffett, and including festivals like Monsters Of Rock, Ozzfest, and even Lollapalooza, there have always been big happenings at this outdoor theatre.