Indy Live Music Clubs: A Quick and Dirty Guide
So you're looking for some live music in town and you just don't know where the heck to go. Ok, maybe you're not, but for the sake of this post, let's pretend that you are. By no means am I a club hound, bar hopper or even much of a scenester anymore, but I've spent my time in some of the more infamous juke joints this town has to offer back when I did my music journalism thing. So if you will, allow me to blather my perspective on Indianapolis music clubs.
First of all, if you're looking for a comprehensive guide to the local music scene, keep on clickin'. Secondly, if you're looking for a "Top Ten Corporate Beer Company Sponsored Pick-Up Swill Joints That Have Hootie Bands", try looking over at Intake or Indy Mens Magazine. I bet they crashed some sort of party at Big Bobs Nice Day World Shaft some time recently. And thirdly, if you're looking for a review of who has the best beer on tap – sorry – this boy thinks that alcohol is poison.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let me tell you what I'm getting at. Music. Live music. Dangerous music. Music with the amps turned up. Sweat and guitars. Turntables and noise. Broken drum sticks and bruised ribs. You know… rock 'n' roll. It happens to exist in this city and some clubs are known more for their live music than they are their beer selection or sushi bar. In no particular order, and completely belonging to my own opinion, here's the low down on some of Indy's music clubs.
The Melody Inn
3826 North Illinois
The kind of place your mother warned you about.
Everything you can possibly think of.
Cover ranges from $5 to $10 and the cokes are a buck and change.
What to Wear
An open mind.
The Melody Inn has a rich history as one of Indy's music hot spots. Established back in 1953, the long narrow hall of the main room has seen many performers and many owners. However, what stays is the overwhelming coziness of the bar.
It's a small room. No doubt about it. On a decent night, you're going to be rubbing asses and elbows to get a drink. Luckily an added lounge area has expanded the space, though not by much. The stage is even smaller than the room. Think about that one and let it sink in. But the intimacy of the space makes the visit so much more worthwhile. You can be mere feet away from the performers and the bar at the same time!
The Melody is our own little CBGBs. Music of all kinds has graced its stage – rock, punk (every Saturday night is Punk Rock Night), metal, hip-hop, big band, experimental jazz, goth, rockabilly, country…. you get the idea. Theme nights are common, but you never know what you're going to get. Prepare to be amazed.
If you can make it past the occasional change beggar as you cross the street from the parking lot, you'll find that the crowd at the Melody is just as diverse as its music. Leather jacketed punks will often show up to hear bluegrass. Hip hop fans may drop by for a dose of metal. And if you're lucky, you may spot Bill Levin (legendary local music promoter) and his entourage checking out the scene. They're all part of the Melody Inn family. The staff is friendly and the doorman may try to hug you. Well... he tried to hug me at least.
1119 East Prospect
Best I've seen.
Alterna rock with lots of artistic experimental non-mainstream performance. And rockabilly.
Cover ranges from $5 to $10 and the cokes are once again a buck and change.
What to Wear
Art school black. Or whatever goes with your glasses nowadays.
Dave "Tufty" Clough runs a tight ship. If he doesn't like it, he'll flip on the lights as soon as he can and tell everyone that the show is over. Take that as you will, but as this local businessman knows, customers mean that he can keep the doors open, and shutting down early isn't meant to drive himself out of business – it's just that it's his joint and those are his rules. So you're going to get a measure of quality from the acts that appear at this Fountain Square bar.
Tufty opened his doors 'round about 2000, after many years behind the counter at his Broad Ripple based clothing store, Future Shock. If anyone cares, he's also spent time in pivotal punk acts such as The Zero Boys and Toxic Reasons. His love is in music and his town is definitely Indy.
If The Melody Inn is the snotty young kid who hit stop signs with a bat just to hear what it sounded like, then Radio Radio is that same kid who grew up a bit, went to college and started drinking coffee. The room is spacious, populated by café tables and stools (straight from Fountain Room diner around the corner I believe) and the atmosphere is sedate – feeling more in the way of upscale rather than "rock club". The bar was purchased from the failed Planet Hollywood venture from so many years ago and its illuminated counter top adds another level of cool.
But you can't talk about Radio Radio without mentioning the bathrooms. Most restaurants don't have bathrooms this nice – translucent doors with a '30s flare, clean floors and mostly graphittii-free stalls. It's simply amazing. Also, since Tufty likes his health, he made the place smoke free long before anyone was banning anything. Coupled with a power house ventilation system, you may smell better coming out than going in.
The music featured on stage ranges from rockabilly/swing, jazz, down-tempo electronica, experimental rock, art music theater, and even some old fashioned rock and roll. Tufty has also played host to long time legends within the alternative music scene - presenting names such as Curt Kirkwood (Meat Puppets), Michael Gira (The Swans), Levinhurst (The Cure) New Model Army, and even Wesley Willis.
A typical crowd at Radio Radio will range more into the area of navy p-coats and Dr Martens mixed with cuffed denims and car-club jackets. Everyone who has known anyone will hang out here for the music. Roni and Pam tend a mean bar and are pretty good at knowing your choice of drink before you ask. Park where you can and be warned, the thrift store down the block has signs posted that they will tow. I've never had this happen, but you have been warned.
2131 East 71st Street
Sure, why not?
Rock. Lots of it. When you're done with that? More rock.
Cover ranges from $5 to $20 and the cokes are once again a buck and change.
What to wear
Your moms old AC/DC shirt.
Ok, I'm a bit harsh in my summation of Birdy's. But that's the first impression you're going to get when you step through the door. The vaulted ceilings, beer propaganda, and sports on the TV make me think "blue collar sports country bar". But if you can get past that, Birdy's becomes one of the better places in town to see small time national acts, as well as some of the best rock music that Indianapolis can offer.
Birdy's has been part of the local scene for quite a while, once calling itself "Where Friends Meet" (I think that's right). And indeed that's what it was. The "family" atmosphere that energizes The Melody and the sophistication that cascades north from Radio Radio usually ends up here. Its large main floor, solid sound system, top notch light system and second level balcony make it a great place to see live music. Dan The Sound Man has won the hearts of the music community; coming in second only to The Patio's Jonee Quest.
Pop, jam, rock, country, and hip-hop are the diet of the stage. Theme nights have included metal and punk, but somehow those two don't seem to translate well to the room. Maybe it's the Golden Tee video game in the corner. National acts such as The Reverend Horton Heat, Local H, The Genitortuers, Nashville Pussy, and even Prince have played there!
You heard me. Prince.
Yes, after he was famous.
It was an after party!
No… he wasn't wearing the ass-less pants. Look – you really had to be there.
Be sure to park somewhere other than in Birdy's parking lot, because it is tiny. Your best bet might be across the street at the Knights of Columbus hall. I think the funeral home, also across the street, still tows cars that use their lot.
6259 North College Avenue
Yuppie hook up joint.
Haven't been in them since '92. The urinals that went to the floor and the lone doorless stall scared me.
Stuff the frat boys can mosh to.
Cover ranges from $10 to $30 and they charged me for a cup of water once.
What to wear
A certain level of disgrace.
It should be mentioned that The Vogue has stepped up as "the place for live local music" since The Patio was bought out and turned into some sort of restaurant. I guess that they think hosting the Benchmark Battle of The Bands finals offers some sort of "cred".
Aside from that, I feel like the venue caters to whomever will give them money. And that's usually the twenty-something party crowd. Too many times I've paid some hard earned dough to see an act that I count myself lucky to have seen, only to notice that the doorman has started admitting the Dance Dance Revolution Hook Up crowd 20 minutes into the headliners set.
So on top of getting my share of nicotine death from overly perfumed honkies, I'm inundated with the nasal sorority girl whine of "Who is this?" "What?" "What?" "They're loud!" "I need another drink!"
So let's not talk about The Vogue. Sure, it was an x-rated movie theater once and it's nice to have a smaller place where national acts will play, but it's like Verizon Center if it were in-doors.
Jim will be interested to know that Built to Spill will be at The Vogue on April 25th.
The Emerson Theater
4634 East 10th Street
Cavern of despair.
Sometimes. Watch out for those kids making out in the stall though.
Death. Metal. Death. Punk. Death. Rock. Death. Surf.
Cover ranges from $5 to $20. Be a sport and pay the buck for the coke instead of running over to McDonalds.
What to Wear
Boots. Or comfortable shoes.
The Emerson is a shining Mecca in a void of black that is the under-age rock scene in Indianapolis. The eastside theater traces its roots back to when it was an honest to goodness real movie theater. During its life it made the transition from first run attractions to an art house/underground fare and then finally to the all-ages music venue that it is today. I saw numerous films there in the '80s and then numerous bands under its roof starting in the '90s. For an all ages venue to exist so long in a town that actively attacks its youth culture, it's nothing short of miraculous.
The Emerson itself gets a lot of flack from the city and nearby businesses for the kids that run rampant outside – so much that for larger shows, no passes outside are allowed. But some local establishments have seen the potential that the music brings, such as the neighborhood pub known as J. Clyde's. This tiny bar around the corner is a refuge for the over 21 crowd, seeking a beer and some television between sets.
This once ample movie theater has had its seats removed, walls painted black and a monster sound system installed. Historical details of the old ticket booth can be seen and the lobby boasts a humble concession stand. Large enough to compete with The Vogue for serious concert goer attendance, it's possibly the largest all-ages original music venue that I have seen this side of the old Arlington Theater/Ritz.
A standard fare of local music that fills the stage leans towards the heavy side – metal, hardcore and punk. Though in recent years, the pop/rock acts of the city have been leaving Broad Ripple and make a solid attempt to hit the stage at The Emerson for the sake of the kids and the local scene. National underground acts such as Tiger Army, The Distillers, Coheed and Cambria, and The Used have played here. Staple punk rock/hadrcore idols such as DRI, Avail, NoFX, 7 Seconds and Agnostic Front have shaken the walls. And even national pop/rock acts such as Everclear, Black Eyed Peas, and 30 Seconds To Mars have made the roster of Emerson alumni.
If you're afraid of kids, then The Emerson may not be your spot. But if you can recall back to your own disaffected youth and miss those days of slam-dancing over at Olivers every Sunday, then you should probably catch a show here. Don't worry, you won't be the only adult. The enthusiasm of the kids mixed with the energy of just having fun means that even a soccer mom or two will find themselves in the pit.
Parking can be had in the sleepy Little Flower neighborhood that is nestled behind the theater. Many people park in a nearby bank parking lot, but they also run the risk of being towed.
Rest In Peace. The Patio was one of the few clubs in the city where you could see up-and-coming acts while also having a beer. Almost everyone who bothered to stop through town played The Patio (even The Ramones) and for a local band, The Patio was a shot at "the big time" of local rock. Indy lost part of its heart when the doors closed.
One of the few surviving all ages venues on the cities far south side (Franklin). The club boasts games and recreation as well as a professional sound system for bands. 154 1/2 E. Jefferson Street. Franklin
United States of Mind Community Center and Poets Cafe
USM is more of an artistic collective gathering place than a rock destination. However, they have hosted some very eccentric and unique performers - art weirdness from Lord of Yum Yum and cultural soaked tribal sounds from The Undefeatable Beats to name a few. 291 West 40th Street
Blues. There you go. It's downtown. It's safe. No one is going to sweat on you. 372 South Meridian Street
Haven't been there for a show, but I've heard good things despite being light in the area of local rock. 3720 East 82nd Street
The folks at Tailgators really do try, but I feel that they're too entrenched in being a downtown sports bar and possibly too close to the Red Garter. Competetion for attention, donchaknow. It also helps when the room that has the stage in it isn't walled with bricks. 373 South Illinois Street
In the same category of Tailgators, Zanies Too showcases local original talent second while being a bar first. They may find themselves a bit too isolated on the east side to be a destination for the over 21 rock crowd. 5914 East 10th Street
Enh… why not… If you have to go into Broad Ripple anyway, and you feel like you should see a live band, The Rock Lobster might do something for you. It doesn't for me. 820 Broad Ripple Avenue
What The Fuck, Dude?
So that's it.
What? I didn't talk about your favorite hip-hop/country/soft-rock/adult oriented seventies cover band showcase place? Well, there's probably a reason for that. However, if you know a good spot to catch live local talent playing original music, let us know.
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