From the moment I arrived to start my freshman year, I think it took me all of five minutes to realize that there was absolutely nothing of interest in the area surrounding Temple University. There are no movie theaters, no video rental outlets, no record stores and more importantly, there was no place to check out a good live band. I would probably be diagnosed with some sort of clinical obsession with music if I ever went to see a therapist, so this was entirely unacceptable.
Shortly after my first day of orientation, I hopped on my bike and set off blindly in a southern direction, trying to find all the things about Philadelphia that I had been so desperate to partake in. I found the record stores, the theaters and I most definitely found the music venues. So as a favor to those freshmen still struggling to find the heart of the city, and to the upperclassmen who cling tight to campus like the Branch Davidians did to Waco, I’m going to run down the good and bad of the live music scene in Philadelphia. It goes a little something like this…
The First Unitarian Church (22nd and Chestnut streets) is far and away my all-time favorite place to see a show. The church is a music purist’s dream. Located in the tiny basement of an active church, the venue is all ages, free of alcohol and security, and entirely lacking in the unappreciated convenience known as proper ventilation. Booked by the city’s last major do-it-yourself promoter, Sean Agnew, the church plays host to anyone and everyone that’s big outside the mainstream radar, ranging from underground hip-hop stars like Mr. Lif to indie darlings like The Weakerthans and everything in between. Since the promotion is a DIY company, ticket prices are always affordable, rarely exceeding $12, and often sitting pretty at $8. If you’re deeply immersed in music, this is the place to catch some the best live music, and if you’re not hip to who TV On The Radio is just yet, pick a show and take a chance. At the worst you’ll be out a couple bucks and sweaty from the show.
The Theatre Of Living Arts, or TLA for short (334 South St.) is great. With a 850-person maximum capacity, the venue combines the intimacy of a small club with the feeling and presentation of a professional concert. Despite being a Clear Channel club, the TLA books a fairly diverse and entertaining cross-swath of acts. The venue is sure to be a particular favorite of fans of the jam-band scene, as up and comers from the genre like Particle and Umphrey’s McGee are frequent visitors.
Even if you’re not a fan of earth sandals and the intoxicating musk of patchouli, the TLA is great to catch a good pop-rock band, and more frequently, solid hardcore and metal shows.
The Electric Factory (8th and Callowhill streets) is not so intimate. The stage is far too high, the building is cavernous, and the staff doesn’t exactly carry the greatest reputation with its patrons. If you aren’t as hell-bent on intimacy as I am, the Factory does bring a lot of the bigger names that are too popular for the smaller clubs, but not yet big enough for the Spectrum.
From commercial hip-hop kingpins like Twista and G-Unit to screamo/pop-punk favorites like Taking Back Sunday and Yellowcard, a lot of what you see on MTV can be seen live at the Factory. The ticket prices can run a bit higher han the other venues, but the sound is always good and the presentation is the best of any club in Philadelphia. I would still recommend going to any of the other clubs before the Factory, but there are far worse places to see a show.
The Trocadero (9th and Arch streets) is a solid place to see a show. It’s almost a hybrid of the TLA and the Unitarian church, combining bigger productions with a more independent feel. The Troc is the best place for metal-heads in Philadelphia, booking old-school acts like Dio and Motorhead, as well as new school juggernauts like Lamb Of God and The Dillinger Escape Plan.
The Troc also plays host to a fairly decent mix of indie, punk and ska acts, with the occasional hip-hop and R&B groups scattered in between. The major downsides to seeing shows at The Troc are the inconsistent nature of their sound system and the unsettling fact that they have to net the ceiling to catch the falling debris before the falling debris catches you. Other than that, the Troc has a more intimate feel than the TLA, despite holding an additional 300 people. They also have a smaller club within a club called The Balcony, where they run weekly movies and put on shows by smaller local acts.
Keep in mind, these are just the major venues, there are plenty of small bars and clubs that play host to some great acts (Khyber Pass and The North Star are two to keep an eye on) in even more intimate settings than the Church. Do yourself a favor and take a night out on the town to catch a show, just so you can hear the heartbeat of Philadelphia for yourself.
Concert Schedules for The TLA, Electric Factory and Trocadero are available on www.ticketmaster.com. Show listings for The Church and other local venues can be found at www.r5productions.com.
Slade Bracey can be reached at a href=mailto:email@example.com>firstname.lastname@example.org