Live Music Flourishes in Downtown Boston

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Posted February 26, 2013 by Jeff Wallace in Theater & Arts
Jim James of My Morning Jacket will return to downtown Boston with a show at Royale on April 26

By now, I’m sure the chorus from “We Are Young” is etched permanently into your brain. But enough with the Fun and games. It wasn’t all that long ago that this hot band came through downtown Boston. They took over the Orpheum Theater just a week before winning Grammys for best new artist and song of the year. It seems like just yesterday they were playing Great Scott in Allston. Ah, the old days.

Despite the powerhouse start to the year, and a little love from a Soundgarden stopover, it’s been a slow concert season at the Orpheum Theater, which usually sees a dozen or so touring acts come through. Don’t lose sleep worrying about it though. Everyone else downtown is picking up the slack.

Yeah, the Orpheum has its history–basically the entire Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame roster has played here–but it’s also historic. I couldn’t imagine seeing Fleet Foxes or Ryan Adams anywhere else. At the end of the day, you’re paying for the location and the history. Why else spend so much money on a ticket only to be met with a venue that’s falling apart? Burned light bulbs, peeling lead paint, and poor air circulation are the norm. And good luck in the balcony for a sit-down show. It’s probably better to sit in coach on an international flight. Also, heat rises . . . keep that in mind.

Then there’s the Wilbur Theatre. While it’s just as historic (1913-14), it also has been able to stay in one piece. Linked to the Comedy Connection folks, anyone who’s anyone in the comedy world comes by this Tremont Street theater. With around a 1,200-person capacity, it’s far more intimate than the Orpheum (2,700-person capacity) or the Wang (3,600). Great acoustics and impeccable sight lines are a plus. The recent addition of a liquor license has certainly helped too.

With Live Nation’s promo arm behind the Wilbur’s music operation, which launched five or six years ago, worthwhile national acts make an appearance routinely: Scott Weiland, the lead singer of Stone Temple Pilots, plays on March 7; Jewel on March 12; and Citizen Cope on March 14. The comedy lineup is even more impressive: Bob Saget, Drew Carey, Bill Cosby, Demetri Martin, Robert Kelly, and Stephen Lynch are all making appearances in the upcoming months.

Live Nation isn’t the only show in town. The Bowery Presents has built strong roots in downtown Boston as well. Already a music-buying giant in NYC, the company has started to get its feet wet in Boston with Royale, located in the heart of the theater district.

Sure, Royale is that trendy, Greek-god-like dance club that people line up for blocks to get in to. That said, you might be surprised to know that the Bowery crew has produced a couple hundred indie rock, folk, funk, hip-hop, and jam shows (Deer Tick, Dawes, DJ Shadow, Frank Turner, etc.). It has given Live Nation’s multi-storied Paradise Rock Club a serious run for its money. It’s even touching some of the bigger biz that rolls through Live Nation’s true music baby, the House of Blues.

As the Bowery expands throughout Boston and Cambridge–having recently opened its poster-child of a venue, the Sinclair in Harvard Square–its downtown presence continues to be strong. The highlight of the Royale lineup includes a coveted solo show from Jim James of My Morning Jacket on April 26. Tickets for that one sold out within minutes. Other shows include Finch, the Black Angels, and Gramatik.

If DJs are your thing, Royale seriously feeds that appetite. Similar to the Avalon-era on Lansdowne Street, the guys and girls manning decks are total pros. Royale is so real in that department that it’s got the clout to bring in the big-time trance names. Paul Van Dyk is slated for March 27. These parties are usually big-ticket shows, but the experience truly pays off. Most other clubs are imitators, and even dangerous at times.

The Bowery Presents books many shows at Royale in downtown Boston. Photo by Jeff Wallace.

The Bowery Presents books many shows at Royale in downtown Boston. Photo by Jeff Wallace.

Royale is an impressive operation. The lights, the sound, and the majestic, castle-like d├ęcor make for a top-notch environment. Even if that’s not your cup of tea, it’s all good fun.

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