(David Malitz, Washington Post, September 15, 2011)
For those about to rock, here are the area's best spots for live music.
9:30 ClubWashington, DC
This is the gold standard for rock clubs, and not just in Washington but across the country. There are plenty of reasons it regularly wins nightclub of the year awards from such magazines as Billboard and Pollstar. Such pantheon artists as Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, James Brown and Dolly Parton have all graced the 9:30's stage.
Birchmere Music HallAlexandria, VA
Alexandria's 500-seat sit-down venue is the local home to many top veterans of country, singer-songwriter, R&B and bluegrass. Show up early if you want one of the best tables; prime spots are usually gone shortly after the doors open at 6 p.m.
Black CatWashington, DC
The Black Cat has been the undisputed king of indie rock clubs in Washington since it opened on U Street in 1993, before the area became the night life hub it is now. With the upstairs Mainstage (capacity about 700) and downstairs Backstage (capacity about 150), it hosts established and fledgling acts.
The success of this venue in the U Street neighborhood helped pave the way for the Rock & Roll Hotel and the Red Palace, which have the same management. All those indie bands with bad names that you read about on blogs with worse names? They regularly make their first D.C. stop here.
Fillmore Silver SpringSilver Spring, MD
The 2,000-capacity club Silver Spring is a new major player in the local concert scene. It is the latest in a franchise inspired by the legendary San Francisco club founded by promoter Bill Graham in the 1960s, with venues in such cities as Denver, Miami and Charlotte. It bears many of those clubs' hallmarks -- elegant chandeliers, posters from Fillmore concerts across the country and a psychedelic mural that greets you at the entrance. But this is not a counterculture hot spot, instead one that caters to audiences of all ages and tastes. There will be everything from classic rock to electronic music, jam bands to R&B.
Iota Club & CafeArlington, VA
Tucked away in the yuppie heaven that is Clarendon (Whole Foods, an Apple store and the Container Store are all within a block), this cozy venue regularly hosts alt-country acts and singer-songwriters. A recent renovation expanded the dining area, and the new layout gives the space a welcome, open feel.
Jammin' JavaVienna, VA
This converted coffeehouse in a Vienna strip mall is the go-to place for singer-songwriters, folk acts and children's music. The club is owned by local folk rockers the Brindley Brothers, and acoustic guitar is definitely the instrument of choice.
The Red PalaceWashington, DC
The newest piece in H Street's live-music puzzle and the sister venue to the Rock & Roll Hotel and DC9, the Red Palace combined the closet-size rock club the Red & the Black with its next-door neighbor, the burlesque-themed Palace of Wonders. There are still some sideshow-themed evenings, but you'll mostly see up-and-coming indie rock bands.
The Rock and Roll HotelWashington, DC
This club (not actually a hotel, of course) was one of the first foundations of the H Street revival. It's now the area's sturdy centerpiece and continues to be one of the best places in the city to see bands before they get famous. (James Blake and Odd Future were two recent sold-out shows.) There's also a giant bar upstairs that hosts regular sweat-inducing DJ nights.
The State TheatreFalls Church, VA
A converted old movie theater, this Falls Church concert hall is one of the area's most versatile venues. The main level has tables and a general admission area. And from the seated balcony, you get an appropriately cinematic view of the stage. The State is home to local '80s tribute band the Legwarmers, who play a couple of sold-out shows every few months.
U Street Music HallWashington, DC
It's rare that a nightclub can immediately become one of a city's crown jewels, but U Street Music Hall is that rare club. The brainchild of longtime D.C. DJs Will Eastman and Jesse Tittsworth, U Hall opened to much fanfare and immediately exceeded lofty expectations. From the simple layout (limited seating, lots of room for dancing) to the no-cameras policy and the heavenly bass that quickly became the stuff of legend -- this is a place by and for music lovers. The club hosts mostly DJs, but rap and rock shows are peppered throughout the calendar.