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Best big live-music venues

You want big and loud? You got it.

Photograph: Grace Chu

Sometimes you just want to go big, and if you're an NYC music lover, you've got plenty of options. Catch an Jay Z megagig at Barclays, shell out for Fleetwood Mac or another legacy act at the Garden or sweat away your cares with a dance-friendly band like Hot Chip at Terminal 5. You'll probably overpay for drinks, wait too long for the bathroom and have to stand on your tiptoes to see over someone's head, but hey, these are the prices you pay to see the world's biggest acts on the world's most prestigious stages.

Madison Square Garden

Some of music’s biggest acts—Jay-Z, Neil Young, Britney Spears—come out to play at the world’s most famous basketball arena. Whether you’ll actually be able to get a look at them depends on your seat number or the quality of your binoculars. The arena is far too vast for a rich concert experience, ugly and a little bit musty, but it remains part of the fabric of New York and begrudgingly beloved. There’s also a smaller theater within the complex.

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Midtown West

Barclays Center

The splashy 19,000-seat Barclays Center opened in September 2012, and brought with it the Brooklyn Nets, the borough's first major pro sports team since the Dodgers left in 1957. Besides NBA, the venue hosts concerts by superstars such as Rihanna and (former part owner) Jay-Z.

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Prospect Heights

Radio City Music Hall

Few rooms scream "New York City!" more than this gilded hall, which has recently drawn Leonard Cohen, Drake and TV on the Radio as headliners. The greatest challenge for any performer is not to be upstaged by the awe-inspiring Art Deco surroundings. On the other hand, those same surroundings lend historic heft to even the flimsiest showing. Bookings are all over the map; expect everything from seasonal staples like the Rockettes to an evening with Charlie Sheen. 

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Midtown West

Hammerstein Ballroom (at the Manhattan Center)

Queues can wind across the block, drink prices are high, and those seated in the balcony should bring binoculars if they want a clear view of the band. Still, this cavernous space regularly draws big performers in the limbo between club and arena shows, and it’s ideal for theatrical blowouts; Kylie Minogue, the Pet Shop Boys and Grace Jones have all wowed here.

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Hell's Kitchen

Izod Center

New Jersey’s answer to Madison Square Garden has hosted Beyoncé, the Jonas Brothers, and, of course, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band. Sometimes, shows that sell out at the Garden may be available here, just a bus ride away.

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Nassau Coliseum

Long Island’s arena hosts mainstream acts such as Lil Wayne and Metallica, punctuated by teen shows (Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers) and, best of all, over-the-top Bollywood showcases.

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Long Island

Nikon at Jones Beach Theater

This Long Island theater is where classic-rock buffs from the burbs meet their NYC counterparts. The booking alternates between iconic nostalgia acts like Foreigner and contemporary pop-rock sensations such as Paramore. Whoever's playing, expect a populist, ballpark-style concert experience.

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Long Island

Terminal 5

Opened by Bowery Presents, this three-floor, 3,000-capacity place is the largest midtown venue to set up shop in more than a decade. Bookings include bands that only a short time ago were playing in the smaller Bowery confines (Odd Future), plus bigger stars (Florence and the Machine) and scruffy veterans with their loyal fan bases (Robert Earl Keen, the Pogues). It’s great for dancey acts (Chromeo, Girl Talk), but be warned: Sightlines from the T5 balconies are among the worst in the city.

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Hell's Kitchen

United Palace Theatre

This renovated movie house, which was once a vaudeville theater, dates from the 1930s. And it really does feel as if you’ve entered a palace here, with its shimmering chandeliers, ornate detailed ceiling and gold-drenched corridors. The venue’s sporadic yet solid booking has ranged from Adele, Vampire Weekend and Bon Iver to Bob Dylan and the Allman Brothers Band. At the top end of Manhattan, far beyond the traditional nightlife or tourist zone, the theater is nevertheless easily accessible by subway.

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Washington Heights

The Town Hall

Acoustics at the 1921 "people’s auditorium" are superb, and there’s no doubting the gravitas of the Town Hall’s surroundings—the building was designed by illustrious architects McKim, Mead & White as a meeting house for a suffragist organization. Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Pat Metheny and Rufus Wainwright are just a few of the big names to appear here in recent years.

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Midtown West

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