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Welcome to the Club 

There's nothing that starts a Pavlovian drool response among New Orleanians like the promise of live music. It's the sort of enthusiasm that not even towns like New York or Austin can really match. Sure, the former pretty much has whatever you could want to see whenever you want to see it — Tuvan throat singing? Try Union Square station, right after the all-kid gospel rock band/gymnastics team — and the latter's sledgehammer-over-the-head branding of itself as the " Live Music Capital of the World" is so pervasively obnoxious, you kind of want to just agree with them to shut "em up. But New Orleans? We just love the stuff, period. No apologies or explanations needed. Even the most ill-attended, industrial-music DJ night is guaranteed to have at least one dedicated goth doing a peculiar, self-involved twist as if his or her life depended on it. The worst blues guitarist in the Quarter will always have at least one red-faced drunk staring at him like he invented fire. And that's just the bad stuff. The point is that live music, whether it's played on a tuba, an accordion, a zither, a guitar, a turntable (and yes, we consider that " live") or whatever, isn't simply a thing to do here, or a lifestyle choice — it's like religion. It flips our switches and is something that is such a defining part of life in New Orleans that it's almost taken for granted. Almost. Luckily, New Orleans is home to a wide variety of venues that do anything but take live music for granted, and there's something to suit every taste. Even with our reduced population and uncertain future, the map of our city is dotted with everything from world-class clubs with million-watt sound systems to neighborhood juke joints with barely one microphone to call their own. And there's everything in between. Looking for somewhere to spend an evening getting goony to hardcore punk, or maybe just a nice hole-in-the-wall to hear someone wail on some trad jazz? We can help. The Big Ones The 800-pound gorilla in the city is the House of Blues (225 Decatur St., 310-4999; www.hob.com). Corporate and kinda impersonal? You bet. Does it get good touring shows? You bet. We've seen both Slayer and Dr. John here, though not at the same time. There's a show room called the Parish for smaller shows and singer/songwriter events. If you're searching for something a little more down to earth, One Eyed Jacks (615 Toulouse St., 569-8361; www.oneeyedjacks.net) is the place to catch everything from starry-eyed indie rock like Dr. Dog to heavy stalwarts the Melvins, and it has an intensely popular " 80s DJ night on Thursday's. Tipitina's (501 Napoleon Ave., 895-8477; www.tipitinas.com) is the grand old dame of the local club scene, playing host to big and small local acts and touring bands like the Drive-By Truckers and Wilco (which spent two nights there on their last visit to town). In its 30 years, it's been a home to New Orleans legends like the Meters, Neville Brothers and Professor Longhair. The Howlin' Wolf (907 S. Peters St., 522-9653; www.thehowlinwolf.com) is easy to find with large murals of musicians on the outside. The club hosts local and touring acts, especially college-rock bands. A block down the street, Republic New Orleans (828 S. Peters St., 528-8282; www.republicnola.com) hosts some touring indie-rock shows but is more often a velvet-roped club with DJs spinning music, like weekly Throwback nights on Fridays. The next bump up in club size is to the New Orleans Arena or UNO Lakefront Arena. The city's downtown mid-size venues are still flood damaged. There's no telling when the Saenger Theatre will reopen. The Sugar Mill (1021 Convention Center Blvd., 586-0004; www.sugarmillevents.com) is a more frequent venue for convention events, but it sometimes schedules concert tour dates for major acts. The Little Guys Sometimes, a hot and sweaty little room is all a soul needs. The Maple Leaf (8316 Oak St., 866-9359) and Le Bon Temps Roule (4801 Magazine St., 895-8117) are two longtime linchpins in the Uptown music universe. Both heavily feature what one might call New Orleans roots music — blissfully loud, ecstatic blends of jazz, rock and funk. The Maple Leaf has a much larger music room and is home to legendary Tuesday night throwdowns by the Rebirth Brass Band. Le Bon Temps is more of a bar with a music room in back, but it hosts regular shows, generally with no cover. Frenchmen Street in the Marigny is littered with good clubs. The rickety Spotted Cat (623 Frenchmen St., 943-3887) features acoustic old-timey jazz and there's no cover, but be a sport and drop by the tip jar. Yuki Izakaya (525 Frenchmen St., no phone) is a cozy Japanese bar serving sake and tapas-sized Japanese dishes. DJs spin great Afropop and TropicÁlia while subtitled giant-monster flicks are projected on the walls. The small stage at the back of d.b.a. (618 Frenchmen St., 942-3731; www.drinkgoodstuff.com) features everything from blues to jazz to alt country. The Blue Nile (532 Frenchmen St., 948-2583; www.bluenilemusic.com) hosts New Orleans jazz, rock and funk. Also worth mentioning is the Dragon's Den (435 Esplanade Ave., no phone), a two-story affair that rotates a variety of musical acts, from gutbucket blues to homegrown hip-hop to local indie rock like Other Planets. If you've been missing going to parties at that cool kid's house whose parents were away, you can always get your fix at the Circle Bar (1032 St. Charles Ave., 588-2616; wwwcirclebarnola.com), which feels like a clown car in Williamsburg on some nights. A liberal booking policy means you may be pleasantly surprised or honestly bewildered at what you get. The Hi-Ho Lounge (2239 St. Claude Ave., 945-4446) also has an eclectic array of offerings, from alt rock to bluegrass. The Neighborhood Hangouts Everybody has their favorite neighborhood joint. It's a personal thing, and one person's favorite place may be another's excuse to stay home. The St. Roch Tavern (1200 St. Roch Ave., 945-1094) sits on a corner in the shadow of the shuttered landmark St. Roch Market, and it's quintessentially a neighborhood bar. Everyone there literally seems to know each other's names, from the crusty punk to the video poker addicts, and its booking policy runs the gamut from punk DJs to suspiciously smooth jazz. Under new management, the Saint Bar & Lounge (961 St. Mary St., 523-0050) is still an elegantly dank Lower Garden District bar offering a variety of DJ nights, and expects to start booking more live acts. The R Bar (1431 Royal St., 948-7499) is slowly adding more DJ nights to supplement DJ Pasta's regular garage rock and soul Fridays, including an occasional Thursday night hosted by DJ Bees Knees who's promising " booty beats," funk and raunchy Baltimore hip-hop. Mimi's in the Marigny (2601 Royal St., 872-9868) is the de facto home of Soul Sister, a veritable homegrown celebrity DJ who plays great old-school soul and funk. Mimi's also schedules the likes of local neo-traditionalists like Magnolia Beacon, Wazozo, Linnzi Zaorski and a laundry list of other bands who are playing beautifully weird old/new music. A stone's throw away from Mimi's and the St. Roch Tavern you'll find Melvin's (2112 St. Claude Ave., 944-0088), which has been described as " looking like someone opened a bar in an old Chinese restaurant." Make no mistake — it's nice and lowdown, and is another place that features a catholic booking policy guaranteeing that on any night you'll see something slightly off-kilter. And it serves righteous tamales. The Unclassifiable The city is also home to a handful of alternative venues that defy any sort of simple categories, weird little meccas of the bizarre and unique. There's the old-school cinderblock jazz hut, the Candlelight Lounge (925 N. Robertson St.). The Big Top (1638 Clio St., 569-2700; www.3rcp.com) is an art gallery that's an all-purpose performance art center. One night there might feature performance art, and the next could be a straight-up jazz combo or a troupe of avant-garde noise musicians. The Venue (1755 Tchoupitoulas St., 309-9941) is also a blank slate, but of the dance club variety, and is notable for hosting frequent appearances by bounce legend DJ Jubilee. One of the oddest and most special venues in town is the Spellcaster Lodge (3052 St. Claude Ave.), which is less like a place to see shows and more like a basement clubhouse featuring amazing musical acts. Don't go knocking on the door looking for a show; just wait for word of mouth. The scarcity is tough but it guarantees that every event is like Christmas, Halloween and Mardi Gras rolled up into one party.
click to enlarge Local bluesman Little Freddie King plays a gig in high style at Tipitina's. - CHERYL GERBER
  • Cheryl Gerber
  • Local bluesman Little Freddie King plays a gig in high style at Tipitina's.
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