A large part of what makes cities great is the art that they produce. Whether it’s visual, theatrical or musical, art is the cornerstone of a city’s identity. Art expresses the ideas and spirits of the people in an untouched organic manner.
Toronto has always had a rich artistic history, particularly with music. The Toronto music scene has produced many talented and influential artists. In the 60’s the Toronto folk scene gave us artists like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot and the 70’s produced influential rock legends like Rush. Today, artists like Drake, The Weeknd, and Justin Bieber are topping the charts, and groups like Broken Social Scene, July Talk, and Death From Above are producing some of the most original, creative music that has ever come out of this city.
Not only is Toronto home to many great musicians but also fantastic music venues. Toronto has some of the most historic music venues around, and as a music lover, it’s important to know the best live music venues in Toronto leaving live music lovers with many options to catch a show.
Here are the best live music venues in Toronto.
The Hideout is one of the premier spots for blues and rock bands in Toronto. This venue was originally located at Queen and Spadina with a much grungier vibe, but has recently moved locations and revamped the interior. Although the new location has a different tone, The Hideout maintains the same charm with its new location and offers live music 7 nights a week.
The Hideout is always a great go-to venue during festivals like Canadian Music Week, as it showcases some of the most entertaining musical acts in the city. The Hideout offers open mic nights for anyone who wants to go out on a Tuesday night and test new material or just have fun. The Hideout also has dining options with features like Rock n Brunch Saturdays and Sundays for anyone looking to get food and drinks while watching some live music.
What truly makes The Hideout one of the best live music venues in Toronto is the acts that play there and the crowds that watch them. The bands that play The Hideout are quite often high energy and put on great live performances. The crowd is often times people who really appreciate good live music, making for a great night out to watch fun bands with fun people.
Danforth Music Hall
The Danforth Music Hall is one of the more historic venues on this list. Fun fact: this building was originally a movie theatre in 1919. Although it should be noted that it was not used as a music venue until the 1970’s, this venue has hosted some incredible acts like James Brown, the Clash, The Police, and more recently Arcade Fire and Rhianna for her 2012 appearance as part of her 777 promotional tours.
One of the best aspects of the Danforth Music Hall is that it hosts popular and lesser-known artists of different genres. Although this is a larger venue compared to other ones mentioned on this list, The Danforth Music Hall still has a very intimate feeling. One of the best parts of this setting is the excitement of a large venue with the charm of a smaller one. The Danforth Music Hall is the perfect hybrid of a big theatre and a small club, making it an incredible place to perform for live musical acts and for anyone looking to go out and experience a great show.
The sound system and lighting is great quality and enhances the performance of all the artists that play there, this makes it an ideal concert spot for live music lovers and one of the best live music venues in Toronto.
Located on Bloor Street West, Lee’s Palace was established in 1985 by Chong Su Lee, also known as Mr. Lee (as in Lee’s Palace). Although alternative music is the general sound that is heard there, Lee’s Palace hosts artists of different genres.
Historically, Lee’s Palace has hosted some of the biggest names in alternative music like The Smashing Pumpkins, Oasis, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Queens of the Stone Age, The Arctic Monkeys and Nirvana who had a particularly crazy performance here.
Lee’s Palace was also featured in the film Scott Pilgrim VS The World, with one of the film’s climactic showdowns.
Attached to Lee’s Palace is The Dance Cave which is one of the more low-key dance clubs in the city. The Dance Cave caters to a younger audience, mostly college kids. The genre of music heard here is diverse, ranging from retro rock, Mod, the ’60s, Britpop, and indie rock during the week, with mostly alternative on Saturdays and Sundays.
A part of what makes Lee’s Palace incredible is that it’s one of the few great live music venues for artists that is still remaining today. Although they occasionally host bigger artists, when entering Lee’s Palace you really do feel the presence of greatness that was once on that tiny stage. With great acoustics and grunge aesthetics, when watching performances at Lee’s Palace you really do feel the energy and creativity being projected throughout the room and get the feeling that you’re a part of something great, no matter who’s playing.
Lee’s Palace definitely still stands as one of the best places for musicians to perform in Toronto and one of the best live music venues in Toronto for music lovers.
The Mod Club
The Mod Club definitely has some of the more diverse performances of all the venues on this list. With different genres performing on different nights, some of the styles you can catch at The Mod Club are rock, pop, electronic music, and hip-hop.
The interior of The Mod Club is very intimate with a layered floor plan that consists of a standing area in front of the stage, balconies, and tables to the side of the room. Along with this, there are video panels that allow the audience to view the performers.
One of the more interesting features of the Mod Club is the art that decorates its walls. The art is inspired by the Mod subculture that emerged in the late 1950’s London.
Along with the aesthetic of the venue, The Mod Club’s sound system and lighting are one of the best in Toronto for a club of its size. The diverse crowd at The Mod Club makes it a great place for meeting new people all while enjoying some of the best musical acts in the city, making it one of the best live music venues in Toronto.
The Horseshoe Tavern
The last on this list, and what truly may be the best live music venue in Toronto is The Horseshoe Tavern. This venue has a rich history with a book even being written about it titled The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern: A Complete History. The Building that’s home to the Horseshoe Tavern was constructed in 1861 and was at one point a saloon.
The Horseshoe Tavern has housed some of the major music genres of every decade with the folk and blues artists of the 1960’s, the punks of the 1970’s, the new wave bands of the 80’s and the alternative bands of the 90’s.
This Horseshoe Tavern has had the best music of every decade between its walls and has hosted some of the most influential acts of all time including The Rolling Stones, The Ramones, The Band, The Police, Etta James and Talking Heads.
The venue was immortalized when it was acknowledged in The Tragically Hip’s 1998 single “Bobcaygeon” with Gord Downie referencing its “checkerboard floors”.
Although the aesthetics are not modern or extravagant by any means, the Horseshoe Tavern has a simplicity about it that makes it special. When artists perform there, it is them and the audience with no distractions, creating a setting that is easy to get lost in. The acoustics might be some of the best of all the small venues mentioned on this list, making the Horseshoe Tavern a great venue for anyone that has particular preferences for live sound.
With a historic charm and raw, intimate setting that cannot be matched by any venue in the city, the Horseshoe Tavern is one of the best live music venues in Toronto.
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