There is a vibrant live music scene in Vancouver. It is a popular destination on the touring circuit amongst other major cities and has a long tradition of hosting a diverse range of artists and cultivating its own internationally acclaimed musicians. Here are my 7 concert venues in Vancouver, Canada that you should check out.
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1. The Commodore Ballroom
This venue is one of the most significant venues in Vancouver. Since opening in 1929 it has hosted internationally acclaimed performers like Sammy Davis Jr, Nirvana, Blur, Pearl Jam, The Police and even acts as far out as Gwar! Because of wide array of artists the Commodore attracts, it was voted by Billboard magazine as one of the 10 best concert venues in North America and the only one to make the list from Canada. The Commodore is located in the middle of Downtown on Granville Street. The seating that circles around the dance floor still gives off that old ballroom vibe. The Commodore offers an intimate feel for a venue this size whether you decide to fight your way to the front of the stage or stand by the sound engineer’s booth for the best sound. The Commodore has a great sound system and one time felt so loud that Amrita said her teeth were rattling when we saw a band called Metz. The Commodore is also known for it’s bouncy sprung dance floor. It was originally padded with horse hair but has since been updated in 1999 after huge renovations. Some of my most memorable shows here have been DFA1979, The Kills, Tame Impala and The Dandy Warhols.
2. The Rickshaw
The Rickshaw Theatre used to to be called The Shaw Theatre and was mostly known for playing Kung Fu movies. The Shaw Theatre closed it’s doors in the 1980s and was reopened as a concert venue in 2009. I have been to many concerts in Vancouver and a lot of them have been at this venue. The Rickshaw lends itself towards a more alternative scene hosting Rock, Punk and Metal bands. Some of my favourite shows at The Rickshaw have been Warpaint, Cancer Bats/Bat Sabbath, Killing Joke and the War on Drugs – don’t let their names put you off. The Rickshaw is located near Chinatown, in the Downtown Eastside. This is the more run down part of town that is away from the skyscrapers and gentrification, but arguably has the best scene for live music.
3. The Imperial
The Imperial is located two blocks away from The Rickshaw. This is the more interesting part of town where counter culture and art can still thrive within reach of the glass towers further Downtown. Originally known as the Golden Harvest, The Imperial has gone from being a Chinese cinema, to a nightclub and to being renovated recently in 2013. It still has some empirical Chinese flair to the decor and has the feel of a modern club with a great sound system for live music. I always forget how big this venue is but I’m reminded when I see almost one thousand people packed in to watch a show. This is quickly becoming one of my new favourite venues since reopening. My most memorable acts here have been Jungle and Jose Gonzales. (Related Article: Cheap Hostels in Vancouver, Canada)
4. The Orpheum
The Orpheum is another historic multipurpose venue that is home to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. The Orpheum is located on Granville Street close to The Commodore Ballroom, The Venue and The Vogue. The Orpheum has the most theatrical feel out of all the venues as it was originally designed to be a Vaudeville Theatre. The Vaudeville style of theatre fell out of fashion in the 1930s and left The Orpheum showing movies and occasional live shows until the 1970s. The Orpheum’s ornate interior architecture was saved from being gutted in the 1970s. A campaign lead by the City of Vancouver along with the Federal Government helped renovate the building and turn it into the permanent home of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. My most memorable shows at the Orpheum have been The Wu Tang Clan and Pixies. The Orpheum is different to the other venues as it has assigned seating so you can be guaranteed to reserve the best seat in the house!
5. The Biltmore Cabaret
The Biltmore Cabaret, or simply The Biltmore, was the first venue I went to since moving to Vancouver. It is a small, intimate venue that allows the crowd to go right up to the stage. Sometimes the audience is so lively people end up getting on the stage with the performers. If being in the middle of the pit isn’t your style; you can go to the side of the stage and watch from there. This is my preferred spot as it means you can get really close up for photos of the musicians. The Biltmore also hosts vintage markets, themed club nights and burlesque nights. The Biltmore is set just off Main Street and is near Lucy’s 24hr diner so you can get American diner food well into the night. For me, The Biltmore rates alongside The Rickshaw as I have seen so many shows here. I have seen White Denim, Run the Jewels, White Lung and Metz amongst others.
6. The Vogue Theatre
In my mind the Vogue Theatre draws many comparisons with the Commodore Ballroom due to the feel of its design, large capacity, ability to host different events and that it’s also on Granville Street. It also shares the same creator, George Reifel who was a brewer, entrepreneur (aka bootlegger) and local legend known for his love of the outdoors and conservation. The Vogue was initially built as a movie theatre and a house for Performing Arts in 1941 and has a distinct Moderne, Art Deco style to its exterior. It closed in the 1980s due to lack of interest in single screen movie theatres and reopened as a live music venue in 1993. It was sold in 2009 and has undergone extensive renovations to closely restore it to it’s former glory. The interior has retained the theatrical fee and has the sculpted ceiling that is designed to look like waves washing onto the shore. You can also watch from the upper dress circle if you prefer to stay seated on the balcony away from the crowds. I have seen Bad Religion, Flying Lotus and Nas at The Vogue.
7. The Media Club
The Media club is situated downtown close to the Centre for Performing Arts and Queen Elizabeth Theatre. The Media Club is probably the smallest venue on the list but has a knack of hosting bands just before they make it to the big time. While watching a local punk band called Carpenter we saw a crowd member stage dive, hang from the ceiling and fall into the crowd. We later found out that he had fallen, broken his hip and had to go to hospital. Not every show ends up like this but shows that the crowd was wild that night. We even got to see local celebrity Nardwuar hanging out and seeing what new bands were on the scene. The best shows I have seen at the Media club are July Talk, Alabama Shakes and Together Pangea.
Special mentions go to the Alexander, Fox Cabaret, Railway Club, The Cobalt, Electric Owl and Fortune Sound Club. These are all great venues but I had to pick my favourites and where I had seen the most shows and had the best experiences. If you plan a trip here in the summer you may want to consider heading out of the city to either the Squamish and Pemberton music festivals. One last mention goes to Sofar Sounds that host secret concerts every month in a unique location with local talent. These are definitely worth checking out if your schedule lines up.
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