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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The magical mystery music tour

Published: September 8, 2006
Section: Arts, Etc.

Forget Duck Boat tours and toss your Not For Tourists guidebooks out the window;

sure, these resources have a lot of valuable information about Boston in them, but do they really feed your hunger for musical exploration? Most people whove been in the Boston area for at least a week are already familiar with Newbury Comics and the Roxy, or arent clueless to the fact that they exist. So, without further ado, here is a quick little guide to some places that will awaken you to the many musical experiences available in the area.
Allston: Widely known as the student ghetto, this beautiful piece of land is the area in between Boston University and Boston College;

in this space, students from all universities in the area, new apartment holders, and poor musicians take up residence to create a vibrant, if not completely sanitary, community. Concert posters, graffiti, and homeless people line the streets as shouts for change and announcements for the newest musical acts blend into the background;

the best places to find some musical treasure are in the small, nameless thrift, book, and antique stores that fill the streets.
Allston provides a home for those storied tiny venues where musical craft is far more appreciated than name presence and the stages are often the size of the pool tables that fill the area bars. The International Community Church plays host to a number of hardcore and underground punk acts, while Great Scott is the most widely known club in the area, providing space for numerous up-and-coming acts. Local acts frequently stop by OBriens and Harpers Ferry, while the rest of the neighborhood carries a history of house parties featuring the best and brightest local acts;

local acts ranging from indie darlings Karate to the polished boy band the Click-Five all created, developed, and polished their sound in the apartments that are crammed into Allston.
Brookline: Allston usually takes the cake for attracting the musical crowd of Boston while Brookline tends to provide residence for the upper crust of Boston society. Still, Brookline manages to steal some spotlight with the Coolidge Corner Theater;

one of the most ornate movie theaters on the Eastern Seaboard, Coolidge Corner usually hosts an array of quirky indie films, as well as a number of midnight movie presentations, special classic film screenings, and even author Q+A sessions in conjunction with Brookline Booksmith. With all of those fantastic events, its a wonder how the theater manages to squeeze in musical performances between midnight showings of R. Kellys Trapped in the Closet (yes, all 12 chapters of it) and book readings by Harry Shearer (October 26th). Still, the theater manages to host a number of rock, jazz, and experimental music into its spacious theater, with acts often providing a live soundtrack to whatever film the theater workers have dug up.
Boston University/Fenway: Most people know Avalon and Axis, either for late night clubbing or as two of the larger music venues in the city. Still, the area has a lot more to offer, starting on Commonwealth Avenue next to BU with the Paradise Rock Club and In Your Ear Records;

sure, Paradise is relatively well known, but its gained a lot of momentum to hold the claim of the club for premiere indie music. Since the Pixies held a surprise concert/DVD filming in the tiny space one summer ago, the club has attracted a wealth of entertaining and unique acts;

within the next few months, the club will play host to Band of Horses, Brazilian Girls, Michael Ian Black & Michael Showalter (they may not be musically inclined, but theyre too funny to leave out), Badly Drawn Boy, TV on the Radio, Del Tha Funky Homosapien, Lady Sovereign, and Hot Chip.
In You Ear Records sits quite comfortably next to the Paradise, a gem of a record store and a musical wonderland;

massive numbers of records, CDs, and cassette tapes share a cramped space with vintage T-shirts and movie posters, used audio devices of every sort, and a wealth of other gems. The store provides a cheap resource for practically every essential album of any genre, as well as the largest cassette collection in Boston, and a wealth of old music magazines for the musical archivist/geek inside everyone.
Down by Fenway, Nuggets provides another spot for the average musical collector;

their music collection varies only slightly in terms of musical artist diversity in comparison to In Your Ear, so the big difference here is that Nuggets collection is slightly pricier than the former. Still, they might have that one album that youve been running through back-alleys to find, and price really holds no impact on something like that. Meanwhile, over on Lansdowne Street, right behind the ever-popular Avalon and Axis, rests Bills Bar;

while the least known musical venue on the block, Bills Bar is a premier event for local acts on the brink of musical super-stardom, as the location would certainly predict. Just like the clubs in Allston, its small, cheap, and is sure to provide a consistently good show.
Newbury Street: Yes, everyone knows it, but there is reason to mention it;

Newbury Comics on Newbury Street is a little extra special not just because its actually located on the street that holds the same name, but because it offers a little something extra that no other Newbury Comics location can offer. Newbury Comics continually offers a number of in-store performances that keep the locals returning, putting the store on the map while a few hundred feet away, Virgin Records must plan for its impending closure. With acts ranging from locals Cave-In, the Dears, M.I.A., Queens of the Stone Age, and even Mission of Burma playing within its tiny walls in recent years, Newbury Comics is a fundamental part of the Boston music scene.
Not to be forgotten, the CD Spins location on Newbury Street is sure to provide a number of used CDs that can be added to any music lovers collection. Although its small in size, the store boasts an eclectic collection of music, movies, and even their own brand of T-Shirts, emblazoned with themes of rebellion against the corporate machines moving into familiar downtown areas. So, for those who find Newbury Comics a little too mainstream, march a number of yards down the block, pick up a two-dollar copy of Citizen Copes self-titled release, and a t-shirt demanding control of Newbury Street.
Museums, Downtown, and More: Most Brandeis students take the MFA for granted, even with free admission, but its hard to pass up the concerts that the museum holds;

with recent performances by Mark Kozelek (aka Sun Kil Moon, aka Red House Painters), Seu Jorge, Jose Gonzales, and Cat Power, its a wonder why the Brandeis shuttle doesnt make a stop closer to the museum. Right down the block, the Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA), usually offers a number of local and national acts for the DIY crowd.
Further downtown, the city is crawling with venues and places to hunt down music;

the Orpheum, the Roxy, and even Government Center Plaza feature semi-regular large acts from around the nation. Towards the Cambridge side resides the Hatch Shell, used more during the summer for massive numbers of free concerts and the world-famous Boston Pops performance during the 4th of July.
Cambridge: Its hard to group all of Cambridge under one headline, as the cultural institutions sprawled about the area easily rival all that is in Boston, but it all fits together so well. The Middle East, combined with TT the Bears, make up an entire city block dedicated to the best in newly produced music. Down a few blocks from Central Square lies the Lily Pad, a tiny hole in the wall in the bustling community of Inman Square, which features the best local jazz and folk. Over in Somerville is the Somerville Theater, which regularly features an odd cabaret of folk-based indie rock.
Of course, there are the dozens of tiny, tiny record stores that fill the side-streets of Cambridge;

from broken down used record stores in Central Square to the tiny shops that crowd Harvard Square, youre bound to find some musical gem in Cambridge. Yet, the musical escape that shows the true power of musical expression and its importance to people is the large presence of street performers in Harvard Square;

whether its an accordion player, a full jazz band rocking out in the Pit, or the same old guy in front of the Coop playing some odd two-stringed instrument, its the daily presence of these musicians that show the world how fundamentally important music is to people. While there are a number of great opportunities to catch music in the city, gain perspective from historical musical memories, or find a rare record, theres something special and magical when watching those who spend their endless days braving the elements in Cambridge to play music;

you may have front row tickets to the Who, but you might not experience the passion of music until you hobble upon someone playing for pennies in the rain. Then again, its all up to you to find the experience that expresses your passion for music.