Up Close & Personal - Downtown's Live Music Scene

We all know that some of the biggest and boldest concerts have taken place across the city, but when you’re in the mood for a more intimate live music experience, downtown is where it’s at. Soho and Lower East Side have been home to generations of punk and indie musicians, and the scene has risen from their lasting influence. There are dozens of small venues to catch one of the city’s up and coming acts, but we’ve compiled the best below. Not only will you get a chance to be up close and personal with the bands in a more low-key setting, but who knows, they may even be the ones selling out stadiums in the months and years to come.

Bowery Ballroom

If there’s a happy medium between a space that never feels cramped yet still packs A-list talent, Bowery Ballroom is that venue. Only a short walk from the Roxy, December’s lineup features a holiday bash for Ingrid Michaelson. January brings Tokyo Police Club and D.R.A.M. (recently GRAMMY nominated) on back-to-back dates, proving that Bowery Ballroom is the secret home for stadium-sized acts no matter the genre.
6 Delancey St – www.boweryballroom.com

Piano’s – Arlene’s Grocery – Cake Shop

Tucked away in the span of a single LES block are three cozy venues, side-by-side for your convenience. All three feature eclectic lineups, primarily focusing on the downtown rock-n-roll that has always cemented New York as the center of cool. Each has their own flair – Arlene’s is a converted bodega building (hence the name), Piano’s has an upper floor for DJ’s and open mic events, while Cake Shop hosts stand-up comedy events and more punk rock. Between the three, you’re sure to find your fix.
152 Ludlow St – www.cake-shop.com // 158 Ludlow St – www.pianosnyc.com // 95 Stanton St – www.arlenesgrocery.com

SOB’s

You can’t talk about the history of hip-hop without mentioning New York, ever since the infamous Bronx parties that started it all. Sounds of Brazil (commonly known as SOBs) keeps the freewheeling, youth-driven culture alive for the younger generations. Check this month’s partnerships with tastemaking networks like BET and iconic NY radio station Hot 97. In addition to providing a stage for local and touring urban acts, SOBs also hosts a variety of Caribbean and South American music nights. Plus there’s food!
204 Varick St – www.sobs.com

Mercury Lounge

The first thing a lot of people will tell you about Mercury Lounge is it launched the career of The Strokes in the early 2000’s. But Mercury is far from a venue that rests on its laurels; the spirit of the up-and-coming indie rockers still lives on in their current bookings. Later this month they’ll host critical darlings Cymbals Eat Guitars, as well as a slew of benefit events.
217 E Houston St – www.mercuryloungenyc.com

Bowery Electric

Bowery Electric is closing out this year with H.R. of the Bad Brains show and a reunion of cult punk group The Dictators. Enough said. If that didn’t sell you on the chic venue, they also host comedy and variety events over two performance rooms. Weekly dance parties and featured cocktails make it a colorful downtown destination.
327 Bowery St – www.theboweryelectric.com 

Words by James Johnson