Danny Shapiro is an avid music lover who has the good fortune to live very close the music scene on the 14th and U corridor. A list of his previous reviews is at the bottom of this column. Comments or questions? Send Danny an email.
And now, for something different.
Attending dozens and dozens (and dozens) of concerts over the past year, I’ve acquired a sharp perception of what makes a good show: where to find tickets, when to arrive, where to stand inside and how to have a supreme gig experience. I’d like to take this opportunity to pay it forward.
A story in three acts, ‘Anatomy of a Concert’ dissects the world of my three favorite venues in DC — 9:30 Club, Black Cat, Rock & Roll Hotel — and exposes the ultimate and best methods for enjoying the show, according to Danny, the resident Borderstan expert. (This is also a live forum for debate; if you disagree with me, leave a comment below and/or send me an email!)
Staying in DC for Thanksgiving? Danny’s picks for this week: Tuesday, Nov. 23 @ Black Cat (JUNIP – Jose Gonzalez, Elias Araya, Tobias Winterkorn) ($15)… Wednesday, Nov. 24 @ 9:30 Club: Carbon Leaf ($25)… Saturday, Nov. 27 @ 9:30 Club: KT Tunstall, Hurricane Bells ($25)… and Monday, Nov. 29 @ 9:30 Club: Brandon Flowers ($30). Check out Danny’s additional recs for shows through the year’s end.
Of the 1,200-capacity crowd at my favorite venue in DC (and perhaps the world), I want you to be the most well-informed, advantageously positioned, and most highly entertained patron inside the 9:30 Club. Here is my simple tripartite surgical-like procedure to follow.
Step 1, Betadine: Tickets
Finding tickets for the best shows begins the process, and this requires a certain sense of agility. All 9:30 Club shows are sold via Ticketfly, and you can also navigate the 9:30 Club’s website to purchase tickets. (I prefer the Ticketfly site).
New shows are announced on Ticketfly every Thursday (mark your calendars!). Not every show will go on sale at that time, so pay attention to ‘on-sale’ dates for hot tickets (for example, My Chemical Romance’s presale was announced on Thursday of last week, with an on-sale date for Saturday, 11/19. Within minutes on Saturday morning, the show sold out).
“But I don’t know any of the upcoming bands” — If I hear that irresponsible statement one more time, I’m going to buy a one-way ticket on the newly-minted ‘Hipster Highway’ bus from H Street NE to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where at least those kids have the initiative to discover new music! Jump onto MySpace, YouTube, Grooveshark, etc., and scroll through the discography of some upcoming artists. If the 9:30 Club deemed them worthy of their venue, I’d say there is some talent worth seeing.
Fees (!) — Whenever possible, I prefer to buy tickets at the box office in order to avoid service fee ($4.75 per ticket) and order processing ($4.00 per order). The 9:30 Club box office is open every day a show takes place, as well as during the day on the weekends. Always call ahead to double-check before you make the trek over (202-265-0930). If you can’t make it to the box office, here’s a hint: purchase multiple tickets online at once, so you pay only one processing fee. At the Ticketfly checkout page, click on the link for another gig and keep adding to your order.
Step 2, Scalpel: Arrival and Entry
Finally, the sold-out concert day has arrived. When the pre-gaming and primping ends, a true 9:30 Club connoisseur should have an arrival and entry strategy.
First, check the 9:30 Club website for the ‘doors open’ time. For sold out shows, a long line of die-hard fans will begin to accrue far prior to this time. Fear not, fellow music lovers. That long line — sometimes stretching way down V Street and around the corner—only fills about the first 1/3 of the 9:30 Club floor space. To illustrate, that initial eager crowd to fill the front 1/3 of the floor is always the most sardine-like grouping and will only detract from the night’s enjoyment. And, the quality of sound and spatial surrounding is superior starting behind this front 1/3.
For those with Will Call tickets, take note of two separate lines: (1) will call line next to the window along the brick wall (where you want to be) and (2) main entry line (where you don’t want to be), so make sure you don’t join that latter keen queue. Once collected, I sincerely recommend frequenting a nearby establishment for a pre-concert beverage or snack until the initial wave wanes.
Following this first tranche, make your move and go inside. Once past the security and ticket check, the time is ripe to stake out the best spot in the house. From my experience, the 9:30 Club floor offers best concert experience this side of the Mississippi. The balcony offers a great bird’s eye view — and may be better suited for those who fear the Tallest Man On Earth standing directly in front of him/her — but nothing compares to the floor.
Tips to make your way to the ‘sweet spot’ right in the middle of the floor: Upon getting your 8:15 or 9:30 stamp, walk past the first entrance on the right and meander down the narrow corridor ahead of you, past the bathrooms until you reach the far side of the floor (stage right). The crowd is usually thinner on this side (away from the merch table), and will allow you to meander your way to the ‘sweet spot’ of the floor, center stage 2/3 back.
Rule of thumb: always stand behind someone who is slightly shorter than you.
Step 3, Needle & Thread: Showtime & Departure
Here are a few tips once you’ve staked your claim on the floor:
Earplugs! Earplugs! Earplugs! — We concert fiends don’t want to let the experience of incredible live music leaving us audibly impaired. Therefore, earplugs are essential. The merch table sells earplugs for a buck, grab a napkin from the bar and bunch it into each ear, or buy professionally fitted earplugs. Your future self will thank you.
Eat, drink (water) and be merry! — The 9:30 Club has its own made-to-order easy access cuisine, ‘Food Food’, located stage right on the floor next to the bar. The selection of wraps, sandwiches, and snacks—with great vegetarian options—is affordable and quite tasty. If you’ve arrived to the gig on an empty stomach, make your way over to the lighted yellow & red sign. (Note: ‘Food Food’ closes about halfway through the show).
In addition to the high quality ample selection of 9:30 Club beers, every bar in the house offers free pitchers of ice water. A concertgoer must stay hydrated throughout the night, so don’t feel embarrassed to pass on the beer and just stick to the H2O. It’s a great way to save money, too!
Head-Start Out! As a New Yorker, a major pet peeve of mine is waiting in line behind slow people. Therefore, I find it prudent to make a beeline for the exit as soon as (and even get a head start towards the rear slightly before) the artist says goodnight after the final encore. You’ll save some time (and frustration) by not inching slowly outside behind the other 1,199 folks.
Don’t Leave Empty-Handed! — The 9:30 Club plasters its walls with concert posters for upcoming gigs. Patrons are not prohibited from pulling the posters off the wall and bringing them home as a souvenir. If you see your favorite band in poster form, feel free to bring it home as a free gift. It makes great room decorations; anyone who has seen my bedroom wall can attest.
Most of All: Have Fun!
My favorite memories of the past year center around 9:30 Club concerts. So many bands express gratitude for playing at the iconic venue, so wise up and take heed to my advice, readers. The greatest concerts await you.
Previous Posts from Danny
- Danny’s Weekend Picks for Live Music
- Danny’s 4 Nights, 5 Concerts (Part 2)
- 4 Nights, 5 Concerts: 1 Week in Danny’s Life (Part 1)
- On The Lookout: Danny’s Upcoming Must-See Shows
- Danny’s Journey Through Three Unforgettable Concerts
- Music: Danny’s Back with 3 Weekend Picks
- Danny’s 3 Quick Picks for Weekend Live Music
- Weekend Recs: A Live Music Road Map
- Live Music: Recap of a Great 3-Show Weekend