Live music: Best rising-star venues

See 'em without binoculars, while you still can.

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Music Hall of Williamsburg

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

When, in 2007, the local promoter Bowery Presents found itself in need of a Williamsburg outpost, it gave the former Northsix a face-lift and took over the bookings. It’s basically a Bowery Ballroom in Brooklyn—and bands such as Sonic Youth, Arctic Monkeys and Antlers headline, often on the day after they’ve played Bowery Ballroom or Terminal 5.

  1. 66 North 6th St between Kent and Wythe Aves, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Book online

Bowery Ballroom

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

The Bowery Ballroom is probably the best venue in the city for seeing indie bands, either on the way up or holding their own. Still, the Bowery also manages to bring in a diverse range of artists from home and abroad. You can expect a clear view and bright sound from any spot in the venue. The spacious downstairs lounge is a great place to relax and socialize between (or during) sets.

  1. 6 Delancey St between Bowery and Chrystie St
Book online

Highline Ballroom

This West Side club, which is situated next to a Western Beef grocer, is L.A. slick and bland, in a corporate sense. But despite this, it has a lot to recommend it: The sound is top of the heap and sightlines are pretty good. The bookings are also impressive, ranging from hip-hop heatseekers like Yelawolf and Wiz Khalifa to singer-songwriter pop, world music and burlesque.

  1. 431 W 16th St between Ninth and Tenth Aves
Book online

Gramercy Theatre

  • Price band: 1/4

The Gramercy Theatre looks exactly like what it is, a run-down former movie theater; yet it has a decent sound system and good sightlines. Concertgoers can lounge in raised seats on the top level or get closer to the stage. Bookings have included such baby-boom underdogs as Loudon Wainwright III and Todd Rundgren, and the occasional hip-hop show (Kool Keith, Pusha T), but tilt toward niche metal and emo bands.

  1. 127 E 23rd St between Park Ave South and Lexington Ave
Book online

Irving Plaza

  • Price band: 4/4

Lying just east of Union Square, this midsize rock venue has served as a Democratic Party lecture hall (in the 19th century), a Yiddish theater and a burlesque house (Gypsy Rose Lee made an appearance). Its name received a Fillmore addition in 2007 and was inaugurated with a Lily Allen show, but has since reverted to its original moniker, Irving Plaza. Phew. Most importantly, it’s a great place to see big stars keeping a low profile (Jeff Beck, Jane’s Addiction and Lenny Kravitz) and medium heavies on their way up.

  1. 17 Irving Pl at 15th St
Book online

S.O.B.’s

The titular sounds of Brazil (S.O.B., geddit?) are just some of the many global genres that keep this venue hopping. Hip-hop, soul, reggae and Latin beats figure in the mix, with Raphael Saadiq, Maceo Parker and Eddie Palmieri each appearing. The drinks are expensive, but the sharp-looking clientele doesn’t seem to mind.

  1. 204 Varick St at Houston St
More info

City Winery

Unabashedly grown-up and yuppie-friendly, this slick club launched by oenophile Michael Dorf is New York’s only fully functioning winery—as well as a 350-seat concert space. Acts tend to be on the quiet side—this is, after all, a wine bar—but that doesn’t mean the shows lack bite. Younger singer-songwriters such as Keren Ann and Diane Birch have appeared, but the place is dominated by older artists (Steve Earle, Los Lobos).

  1. 155 Varick St at Vandam St
More info

Joe's Pub at the Public Theater

One of the city’s premier small spots for sit-down audiences, Joe’s Pub brings in impeccable talent of all genres and origins. While some well-established names play here (Steve Martin’s bluegrass crew, the Steep Canyon Rangers, to give an example), Joe’s also lends its stage to up-and-comers (this is where Amy Winehouse made her U.S. debut), drag acts and cabaret performers (Justin Vivian Bond is a mainstay). A small but solid menu and deep bar selections seal the deal—just be sure to keep an eye on the drink prices.

  1. 425 Lafayette St between Astor Pl and E 4th St
More info

Webster Hall

A great-sounding alternative for bands (and fans) who’ve had their fill of the comparably sized Irving Plaza, Webster Hall is booked by Bowery Presents, the folks who run Bowery Ballroom and Mercury Lounge. Expect to find high-caliber indie acts (Animal Collective, Battles, Gossip), but be sure to show up early if you want a decent view. A smaller space downstairs, the Studio at Webster Hall, hosts cheaper shows, mainly by local bands.

  1. 125 E 11th St between Third and Fourth Aves
More info

Best Buy Theater

  • Price band: 1/4

This large, corporate club begs for character but finds redemption in its creature comforts. The sound and sightlines are both good, and there’s even edible food. Those who wish to look into a musician’s eyes can stand in the ample front section; foot-weary fans can sit in the cinema-like section at the back. It’s a comfortable place to see a well-known band that hasn’t (yet) reached stadium-filling fame.

  1. 1515 Broadway at 44th St
Book online

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