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California knows how to party.
It's the unofficial state motto. But not only do we know how, we know where. Los Angeles is home to a wide spectrum of live music venues, from the teeniest Echo Park hole-in-the-wall only you and five friends know, to grand ol' dames who've weathered the city's ups and downs, to infamous Hollywood haunts where traces of the glitter glam-rockers left behind still sparkle. But that little club's sound system might leave you deaf and you probably won't be able to see the stage in one of those big arenas. So what are the best venues in L.A. to hear live music? We polled L.A. Weekly's music writers for their favorites, and the full list is compiled below.
10. The Smell
For more than a decade The Smell has provided an all ages location for music lovers in L.A. Keeping things cheap (most shows are only 5 bucks), the Smell has an accessible, welcoming vibe, and is run entirely not for profit. This space was essential in the development of the unique L.A. noise and punk scenes, with acts like No Age, Mika Miko, and Abe Vigoda as regular guests. Now, bands like Pangea, Bleached, and FIDLAR carry the torch. -Kai Flanders
9. Eagle Rock Center for the Arts
This Eastside jewel is a community center for arts education, organizing art camps and after-school programming, but it's also a hub for beat culture. Why else would Peanut Butter Wolf have chosen to throw the most massive of his numerically aligned parties here? Last year, for the Stones Throw honcho's 11-11-11 party, he pulled exactly 1100 of his own records, renting a U-Haul to tow them to the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts. Brainfeeder label mates Teebs and Austin Peralta also are regular performers in this historical space, taking advantage of its classic architecture and open floor plan to create a unique performance venue definitely worth making the drive for, Westsiders. -Kai Flanders
8. Blue Whale
Located in a corner of Little Tokyo that sees the least amount of foot traffic, the Blue Whale is a jazz sanctuary. The sound system is perfect, the house piano is a jewel and the bar staff takes care of you. Whether you want to hear avant-noise from serious-looking Europeans or soak up some straight-ahead sounds from our vast collection of local talent, the Blue Whale is always a worthwhile bet. -Sean J. O'Connell
There's a magic spell that is cast when you walk through the doors of the Orpheum. All of the despair and decay of Broadway melts away into the lush red carpet and you're suddenly humbled by the building's beauty. Once you find your seat and look up at the golden painted ceiling, your imagination goes haywire and you can see the ghosts of the Marx Brothers, Ella Fitzgerald and Jack Benny dance across the stage. The Orpheum is one of the best places to see a show because it commands respect. No one knows exactly how (we're pretty sure magical pixies sprinkle dust on you when you enter), but no one talks out of turn in that theater and if a cellphone goes off the culprit dies of mortification. It's one of the few places in Los Angeles where you are guaranteed to hear the whole concert without interruption from the people behind you, which in itself is pretty miraculous. -Molly Bergen
In a city full of historic theaters, the Wiltern is unique. Officially known as the Pellissier Building, the theater and office complex was designed as a vaudeville house. The Wiltern Theatre opened its doors on Oct. 7, 1931, as the Warner Theatre, but the theater went dark only two years later, due to the Depression. In 1956 the building was sold to Franklin Life Insurance and by 1979, with tax benefits exhausted, Franklin Life Insurance decided to file for a permit to demolish the building and sell the vacant lot. Developer Wayne Ratkovich bought it, and his architect Brenda Levin began massive renovations. Today Live Nation, the behemoth promotions company based in Beverly Hills, hosts a wide variety of events — not just concerts, but everything from benefits and galas to Lebowski Fest. Eight decades in, it's both a reminder of, and a contributor to, our local cultural history. -Lainna Fader
5. Music Box
News of the Music Box's overnight shuttering this month was met with shock, followed swiftly by disappointment. The gorgeous venue, which opened in 1926, hosted stars like Clark Gable and Marlene Dietrich. Even though it was recently renovated, the black-and-white checkered floor and thick red curtains made you feel you were stepping back in time. Perfect setup for shorties or those with a touch of claustrophobia — wrangle one of the VIP wristbands that allowed you upstairs or hang back beside the elevated main bar. The legendary venue's website is frozen for now, very likely a wink from the old owners. “Can't stop the music,” reads a banner. No buttons work, and the music player is paused with the words “Stand by” above. Oh, we will. -Rebecca Haithcoat
4. Walt Disney Concert Hall
Looks this good don't come cheap: the architecture, designed by Frank Gehry, and the acoustics, designed by Yasuhisa Toyota, of the gleaming L.A. Phil's home cost an estimated $274 million. (Actually, the glare coming from a couple of those gleaming panels was so great neighbors complained, and the Gehry Partners had to sand them down.) The auditorium was designed to look like a ship's hull, with the orchestra in the middle. Toyota worked on the principle that concave, rather than convex, shapes are more conducive to concentrating sound; the result of his innovative design is that the sound is pristine from any angle. Note: Don't think just because you're sitting up high you can doze off — the seating is on a steep incline, and the view down is dizzying. -Rebecca Haithcoat
3. Greek Theatre
Surrounded by towering pines in the heart of Griffith Park, it's easy to forget you're in the middle of a bustling metropolis at this intimate amphitheater. But you're quickly reminded when bands gush (and they almost all do) about how the Greek is one of the most magical venues in L.A. The incredible setting and the not-a-bad-seat-in-the-house design make it worth braving the overpriced stacked parking. And if you can manage a VIP invite, it boasts one of the best backstage bar areas around. -Laura Ferreiro
2. Hollywood Bowl
It's hard to think of a venue as quintessentially L.A. as the Hollywood Bowl. Nestled in the Hollywood hills with spectacular views of the city — especially from the cheap seats at the top — the 17,400-seat venue is the ideal spot for spending a balmy summer evening with a picnic dinner and the sounds of the L.A. Phil, Radiohead or John Williams washing over you. With nine decades' worth of legendary performers gracing its stage and countless movie cameos, its history is palpable. -Laura Ferreiro
Is there another club in the city with this much rock n' roll history? Lenny Bruce got arrested on obscenity charges, Elton John played his first U.S. date, Janis Joplin partied there the night before she died of a heroin overdose. Warrant made their debut, Guns N Roses and Tom Waits got discovered, Prince played two secret shows. Unlike other spots whose heydays are past, any time you see a show at the Troubadour, there's a chance history will be made. It's intimate — the stage is small and in the summer, you'll probably leave drenched in sweat. We wouldn't have it any other way. -Rebecca Haithcoat