Insular, rainy and oft ignored for bigger cities like New York and L.A, Seattle’s music scene in the 90’s benefitted greatly from its relative obscurity. While no one was paying attention, the city birthed some of the greatest artists and bands that have ever lived, sprouting an everlasting impact that would change music and pop culture forever.
If you’re familiar with Seattle’s legendary music scene, then you’d know this was mainly about Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and Foo Fighters. Those names, amongst others, have elevated the rainy Pacific Northwest city to the status of mecca for fellow musicians, writers and fans – a reputation that still endears today as Seattle enjoys its undeniable place in pop culture history.
If you’re coming here, and you aren’t scouting both local acts, touring bands and promising internationals, then you just aren’t doing it right. So between stuffing your face full of all the heavenly food at Pike Place Market (special shouts to Piroshky Piroshky and Beecher’s), and marvelling at the epic Chihuly Garden and Glass museum, make sure you’re across the following spots to see live music in Seattle.
The Paramount Theatre
Address: 911 Pine St, Seattle
Upcoming Gigs: Thom Yorke, Andrew Bird, Sleater-Kinney
With 2,807 seats, this is one of the more substantial venues in Seattle to catch big names. Opened in 1928, it has become the site for many of Seattle’s landmark music events and has even appeared in music videos from Nirvana and Pearl Jam.
In terms of performances, everyone from Pink Floyd to Madonna has been through here, although much like other Seattle venues, there’s a strong dedication to all genres in the arts, which is why the program is always such a mixed – and exciting – bag.
Upcoming Gigs: Cashing in Karma, Mama Magnolia, TK & The Holy Know-Nothings
Standing in the heart of downtown Ballard for the past 20 years, Tractor Tavern is the spot for lovers of Americana, both in aesthetic and in sound, with roots, folk, bluegrass and alt-country well represented at all times.
Many a boot has been stomped in this gritty venue, although there’s also a reputation for booking big-name acts that fall outside of the aforementioned genre walls, like James Blake and Mumford & Sons.
There’s plenty of love for local bands too, so it’s always worth popping in to see what’s on.
Address: 216 Union Street, Seattle
Upcoming Gigs: Tia Fuller, Massy Ferguson, Frank Kohl Trio
This is the most intimate music venue in Seattle, squeezed into a former movie theatre in Downtown Seattle with its own dinner theatre, lounge and music venue.
Complete faith in the venue’s origins defines this vintage fit-out, which houses both local and international acts throughout the year, offering up a good dose of comfort and warm hospitality as well. If you’re looking for a more relaxed night out, sipping wine and listening to live music, head straight here.
Address: 925 E Pike St, Seattle
Upcoming Gigs: JPEGMAFIA, Julia Jacklin, Battles
The likes of Oasis, Goo Goo Dolls, Pearl Jam and Neil Young have all been through this Capitol Hill institution. It originally opened as Moe’s Mo’Roc’N Cafe in the early 90s, and has remained one of the Seattle’s most important music venues ever since.
Neumos (which means ‘new-moes’) regularly attracts the big ones, and it being in the centre of Seattle’s trendiest neighbourhood means there’s plenty to do before and after a – often sold out – gig. The likes of Adele, Cut Copy and The Shins are recent names that have played here.
Jewelbox Theatre at the Rendezvous
Address: 2322 2nd Avenue, Seattle
Upcoming Gigs: Chris Trapper, Alternative Rock Collision, Jordy Searcy
Rumour has pegged this place as haunted, but that could just be because the creaks and overall creepy vibe from it’s wonderful sense of vintage glamour. 1926 is the time-stamp here, although it has since been restored, sticking true to its old-fashioned look with a tiny, red-curtained stage that hosts a whole heap of performances across comedy, cabaret, burlesque, and live music.
Address: 1426 1st Ave, Seattle
Upcoming Gigs: Four Tet, Tyler, the Creator, Thom Yorke
This is one of the big ones, and the place to go for big commercial names during your trip to Seattle. A music hall since 1939, it’s been one of the fixtures of Seattle’s market area and was recently granted historical landmark status, conferred by residents and famous musicians who showed out in droves to save the venue after redevelopment plans.
Eight decades of music history is built into these art deco walls, which have hosted everyone from Louis Armstrong and Sammy Davis Jr, to PJ Harvey and local heroes Pearl Jam. This should be the first website you’re checking if you want to see what live music is on when you’re in Seattle.
Address: 2200 2nd Ave, Seattle
Upcoming Gigs: Delta Rae, G Perico, Hilltop Hoods
Also called Belltown’s ‘Living Room’ in reference to its legendary status in Seattle, The Crocodile shot to fame in the 90s off the back of its diverse line ups. This included everyone from Cheap Trick to Yoko Ono, a reputation for open-mindedness that has persevered across decades and today sees big acts like Macklemore and Alabama Shakes come through.
It’s got two stages – the main and the beloved Back Bar, which platforms local acts all the time, and only charges around US$5 as cover. If you’re looking to celebrate where Seattle’s local music scene is at right now, look absolutely no further.
The Moore Theatre
Address: 1932 2nd Ave, Seattle
Upcoming Gigs: Max Richter, Steve Hackett, FKA Twigs
As oldest running theatre in Seattle, The Moore is understandably adored by locals and visiting musicians, squeaking with history calling back to 1907 when it was one of the ritziest social addresses in the city.
Like the Paramount, it’s also found a way into many recordings from world renowned musicians, featuring in music videos by the likes of Pearl Jam, and live recordings from bands like Alice in Chains and Mad Season.
The Neptune Theatre
Address: 1303 NE 45th St, Seattle
Upcoming Gigs: Big Boi, Ra Ra Riot, Ladytron
Are you noticing a trend here? Seattle has some of the most historic theatres on the West Coast. The Neptune Theatre is no exception, having been built as a playhouse in the 1921 and operating as a single screen movie house for decades, right up until 2011 when it was renovated and readied as a performing arts theatre, spanning numerous genres.
With an exploratory program, the Neptune dips into every corner of the arts, and it’s versatility – and 800 seat capacity – lends itself to really intimate, memorable performances from contemporary music greats.
Columbia City Theater
Address: 4916 Rainier Ave, Seattle
Upcoming Gigs: Keith Harkin, Zhavia, The Weeks
This is the state’s oldest vaudeville theatre, built in 1917 and going on to play a massive roll in the great jazz boom that took over the city in the 40’s. During that time, the now iconic venue hosted a who’s who of jazz luminaries including Ray Charles, Fats Waller, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. It’s even one of the very first venues Hendrix ever played, making this an extra special spot in Seattle’s rich music history.
Now you’ll find all types of art performances here, and for music the program is as wide and varied as any other in the city. It also helps that this is one of the best sounding venues you’ll find in Washington state.
Feature image: The Crocodile | Photo by Rudy Wilingham.