Milwaukee's best concert venues
So much goes into enjoying a concert beyond just who is rockin' the mic. There's the acoustics, the vibe, the sightlines, the amenities, how easy it was to get there. All of these things combine to make for a memorable evening or, alternately, a bad experience.
The editorial staff of OnMilwaukee.com sounds off on its favorite rooms in Milwaukee for listening to -- and seeing -- live music.
Molly Snyder Edler
The Pabst Theater
I love seeing show at The Pabst, and not because of the $3 Pabst "Tall Boys." I love the intimacy and elegance of the space, and the acoustics are usually very good. I have seen some of my all-time favorite shows at The Pabst, including David Byrne, Tegan and Sara and David Gray. Matt Hales, the musician better known as Aqualung, compared The Pabst to the theater in "The Muppet Show," which makes me like it even more.
The Pabst Theater / Turner Ballroom
If I'd been asked this question five years ago, my answer would have been, instantaneously, the Cactus Club. It was small, crowded, rowdy and, at any given show, I was bound to run into a handful of friends. These days, while I'm not adverse to the occasional Cactus appearance, I prefer venues that allow me a little elbow room and don't leave my clothes reeking like an ashtray.
Perhaps I'm mellowing out as I age, but at this stage in my life I enjoy a relaxed environment like The Pabst Theater or Turner Ballroom, where there's seating if you want it, fresh air to breathe and $3 PBR Tallboys at every turn.
Marcus Amphitheater and Shank Hall
I get more excited about bands than venues, so this one is a split decision for me. In the summertime, I love to go to shows at the Marcus Amphitheater -- particularly when my tickets put me in the middle section between the 10th and 50th row. (I love to look back and consider how many people have seats worse than mine; not that they enjoy it any less, mind you). You can rip on amp shows, justifiably in some cases, but they usually bring an added energy and bands tend to feed off that. The best performers can make the 17,000-plus seats seem like an intimate club.
Speaking of intimate clubs, in the fall and winter, I like to see singer-songwriter shows at Shank Hall. I've spent some memorable nights with Rhett Miller, Robbie Fulks, Todd Snider, Stephen Kellogg and dozens of other artists over the years. It's a no-frills club, to be sure, but I started going to see music at that location when it was still Teddy's, so I guess something about it just feels comfortable.
The Pabst Theater
I think the Pabst Theater is by far the best place in town to see a show. The intimate size, incredible sound and classy chic red velvet create a venue reminiscent of the size of the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul or the class of the Fillmore Theater in San Francisco. I love the winding, intricate stairwells and classic ornate gold woodwork. The theater's sound is clear and balanced and every seat in the house puts you right up to the stage. And of course, you can't beat the $3 Tallboy of Pabst.
Turner Hall Ballroom
I'm more music fan than spectacle fan, so I like to see bands in small rooms. Anything from around the size of the Cactus Club and Shank Hall and up to The Rave, Northern Lights and Turner Hall and though The Pabst works for me (and I've seen loads of good shows over the years at the Eagles Ballroom, although the sound is sometimes an issue up there). Beyond that, the experience loses something. Springsteen in the Bradley Center, for example, makes me feel like I'm at the mall or something. Sure, the band is rockin', but it's all the way over there and I'm here and there are people milling about only looking vaguely interested, and I'm priced out of the market for tickets to shows like these.
Because it's in the heart of Downtown and because it's got two-thirds of a balcony, I like Turner Hall. I like the rise along the north wall that lets you stand a bit out of the path of the P.A., which every time I've been there has been cranked to 11, and still have a great view. The high stage helps with that, too. For a sit-down venue, there is nothing that can really compete with The Pabst for a bigger gig and Shank for a smaller one.
Hands down, the Pabst Theater is my favorite place to see live music in Milwaukee (and anywhere else, for that matter). To me, the quality of the acoustics in a room is the single most important quality in a concert venue. To that end, Shank Hall does a great job. But with ambience ranking a close second, the mix of excellent sound and an amazing atmosphere makes the Pabst Theater a superb place to see a show. The history, the sightlines, the coziness and the gilded glitz -- the theater is a wonderful gem and Milwaukee is lucky to have it.
i think Points East Pub generally has great sound and a fun atmosphere. bte-The Rave has never charged $10 for a cup of beer. If you misunderstand how the "two drink minimum" thing works, that's YOUR problem.
Forgot about the Northern Lights Theater. I agree - that's the best, then The Pabst.
Northern Lights Theater in Potowatomi.... Hands down the best venue in the city. Small cozy and great sound!
Alpine Valley has the potential to be the premier outdoor music venue of the midwest, If they only had a steady schedule of shows. Great acoustics. A bit of history also.
What about BBC? Not bad for a smaller setting. Has that grunge feel to it. Granted, a number of frauds (cover bands) play there...but I enjoy it.
Show me the other 8 Talkbacks
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