Top 10 Twin Cities clubs to see bands before they break big
Photo By Erik Hess
Within some music circles in the Twin Cities (and beyond), dedicated fans frequently play a little game called "I saw them when," where the "winner" is the lucky one who saw a band play live first, typically at a small local club, before they went on to play bigger venues and enjoy more widespread appeal. We are truly fortunate to have plenty of intimate rooms here in the Twin Cities, where local and national bands alike can find their footing in a live setting while building a solid reputation within the Minnesota music community -- a rep that will follow them as they return to the area to play bigger clubs to match their rising profile.
So, if you're looking to catch bands on their way up before they make it big, here is a list of the best clubs in Minneapolis and St. Paul to see a band before everyone else does.
Photo By Reed Fischer
10. Amsterdam Bar & Hall
6 W. Sixth St., St. Paul
This new St. Paul club is perfectly suited to host large and small acts alike, with a room that can easily be configured to fit the size of the audience. The typical setup encourages smaller shows, while the room can be expanded to accommodate a larger crowd. While Amsterdam is still establishing its growing reputation as a live music venue, the club has seen its fair share of breakout acts, including Cloud Nothings' rousing first local performance (pictured above), and the emergence of the Girls Got Rhythm Festival (day 1, day 2), which shines a well-deserved spotlight on both new and established female-driven bands from a local and national level. No matter who is playing at the Amsterdam, it's a great sounding room, and the venue's local rep will only increase as time goes on.
9. Kitty Cat Klub
315 14th Ave. SE, Minneapolis
This ornate, opulent Dinkytown club is the type of room that encourages experimentation and originality, so it's no surprise that the venue has seen its fair share of breakout acts in their early stages.
Photo By Erik Hess
2528 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis
Icehouse is quickly establishing itself as one of the area's best live clubs, with a varied and eclectic concert calender that is always packed with fresh, innovative artists. And you never know who might pop on stage for a rare, once-in-a-lifetime collaboration or improv set. Last year's now-legendary Totally Gross National Party packed the place, inside and out, with local breakout stars like P.O.S.,
7. Dakota Jazz Club
1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis
The Dakota has provided some magical musical nights as of late, playing host to Prince's legendary three-night stand that gave local fans of the Purple One memories that will last a lifetime. The stately room has also hosted plenty of young, up-and-coming stars that have gone on to play to bigger, sold-out rooms throughout the Twin Cities and beyond. British songstress
Photo By Erik Hess
6. Fine Line Music Cafe
318 First Ave. N., Minneapolis
The Fine Line used to be the go-to place in the early 2000s to see breakout U.K. stars before they inevitably returned to play larger and larger rooms. P.J. Harvey, Elbow, Stereophonics, Badly Drawn Boy, and Beta Band were just a few of the steady stream of hotly tipped British bands who played the club at the turn of the century, letting American audiences know first-hand what was happening across the pond. While the club still books plenty of up-and-coming U.K. acts, its range has expanded to include the likes of Robyn, Lady Gaga, the Black Keys, and the Avett Brothers, all playing smaller stages in order to give their fans an intimate look at their live shows. Recently, the Joy Formidable, the Drums, Father John Misty, Michael Kiwanuka, Swans, and Gossip have all graced the Fine Line stage, providing local music fans an up-close look at some of the biggest music stars of the moment.
Photo By Erik Hess
5. The Cedar Cultural Center
416 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis
The Cedar is such a wonderful room. From the moment you walk into the club, you just know that something is different about the place, in the best way. The artists who perform there recognize that as well, which often makes for a truly memorable concert experience. And if you are lucky enough to catch a breakout band on their way up at the Cedar, you won't forget that experience any time soon. Beach House, Grizzly Bear,
Photo By Jon Behm
4. Varsity Theater
1308 Fourth St. SE, Minneapolis
The Varsity is an undisputed jewel of Dinkytown, consistently playing host to countless breakout bands of the moment within its lush surroundings. I can't tell you how many bands I've heard mention on stage just how wonderful they think the Varsity Theater is, and that lavish setting typically inspires an indelible performance as well. Phoenix (pictured above) played one of the hottest shows I've ever experienced at the Varsity, both figuratively and quite literally. While, in addition to recent sold-out shows by Divine Fits, Alt-J, and Frightened Rabbit, the club has also hosted performances from the XX, Phantogram, Yuck, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Best Coast, Wavves, Surfer Blood, the Drums, and numerous other young stars of the moment before they went on to bigger (though it's hard to get better than the Varsity) things.
3. 7th St. Entry
701 First Avenue N., Minneapolis
The Entry is First Avenue's kid brother/coat closet, and this place, even when it's empty, has the ghosts of countless legendary shows lingering within its dank walls. In the '80s, the Entry was seen as a proving ground for local and national acts alike to earn their live stripes before they made the bold move to the big room next door, and in many ways the club still retains that arrogant edge to it -- one where if you stink in the Entry, chances are you're never going to play the Mainroom. But if you win over an Entry crowd, your big break might just be a few steps away. The Strokes played here twice in the lead-up to their breakthrough debut, once even serving as the opening act for Doves. Japandroids, Daughter, Metronomy, Twin Shadow, Titus Andronicus, Foals, Ty Segall, and METZ are just some of the modern acts who have solidified their reputation with storming live sets in the Entry, guaranteeing that next time they come through town, any door they want will be open to them. The Entry also serves as a place for bigger artists to reconnect with their audience in an intimate way, as the live pendulum certainly swings both ways in the tiny little club.
Photo By Zoe Prinds-Flash
2. Turf Club
1601 University Ave. W., St. Paul
The Turf Club has been doing things right in Midway since the '40s, and thankfully doesn't show any signs of slowing down. There is a homey edge to the Turf that is at once welcoming and familiar, and that vibe carries through to the stage as well, as most bands appear comfortable (and often quite intoxicated) from the moment they start playing.
Photo By Emily Utne
1. Triple Rock Social Club
629 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis
The Triple Rock is right to have diamonds on their decidedly retro sign out front, as the club is a definite jewel of the local music scene. The club was created by musicians for musicians, so the sound is always pristine, the sightlines are perfect, and the vibe is edgy while expectations for any show are always high. The club has hosted its fair share of memorable shows over the years, and the list keeps getting longer with each action-packed week of performances.
Vampire Weekend made their Minnesota debut at the T Rock back in 2008, while the Kills (pictured above), M83, the Pains of Being Pure At Heart, Twin Shadow, 2:54, Big Business, Now, Now, Handsome Furs, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Howler, Sleigh Bells, Alt-J, Deerhunter, the XX, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and countless others have all built their local live reputation with stellar shows at the Triple Rock. On any given day of the week, the next breakout band of the moment might just be playing the Triple Rock Social Club, and you're definitely going to want to be there when they do.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.