Best Classic Music Venues

"When the lights go down in the city/ And the sun shines on the bay/ I want to be there in my city/ Ohhh, ohhh." When Steve Perry sang those lines on Journey's "Lights," he wasn't fucking around: San Francisco is one of the greats, and its music scene is no different. From Jerry to Janis to Billie Joe, this town has played home to no shortage of Hall of Famers. We built it, and they came. Specifically, a handful of people built (or bought) a handful of venues that have hosted a parade of both local and nonlocal talent, which in turn has given S.F. its sterling reputation as a music city. Here are some of our favorite classic haunts.

The Fillmore

1805 Geary (at Fillmore), 346-6000, www.thefillmore.com

Just look at the goddamn walls. The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, the White Stripes, Snoop Dogg -- if the posters from these shows were taxidermy, they'd be saber-toothed tigers and elk with horns the size of airplane wings. You don't go to a concert at the Fillmore, you attend a service there; it's a cathedral where live music is played, and these days it looks and sounds better than ever. Hell, within the last two weeks the place hosted System of a Down, Gang of Four, and Coldplay, as the ghost of Bill Graham looked on approvingly.

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St. (at Missouri), 621-4455, www.bottomofthehill.com

New York City has the Mercury Lounge, Detroit has the Magic Stick, Los Angeles has Spaceland, and we have Bottom of the Hill -- the smallish, divey venue you go to when you want to see next year's rock stars today: the Strokes, Death Cab for Cutie, Joanna Newsom, etc. There's not a lot of wiggle room and sometimes the bands barely fit on the stage, but when the place sells out (which is often) and the crowd becomes a reverent throng (which is always), you get the feeling that in a few years you'll be telling anyone who'll listen, "Man, I was there."

The Independent

628 Divisadero (between Grove and Hayes), 771-1421, www.theindependentsf.com

Yes, the Independent has only been open about a year, but it stands on such sacred ground that it qualifies as a classic. More than a decade ago it was the Kennel Club, where legends like Galaxie 500 and Superchunk held court. Then new owners transformed it into the Justice League and booked hip hop acts like DJ Shadow and De La Soul. Today, the club is run by homegrown concert promotion team Another Planet, which has improved the sound system and installed a swankier bar, yet kept ticket prices low. The music runs the gamut -- from hip hop to indie rock to world beat -- but it always delivers.

Great American Music Hall

859 O'Farrell (between Polk and Larkin), 885-0750, www.gamh.com

When legendary local troubadour Mark Kozelek performed a mellow acoustic set at this joint in 2004, the sold-out crowd was almost entirely seated. On the floor. This is a rare occurrence at the venue -- its typical fare of indie rock, metal, world beat, and other flavors usually has audience members jumpin' and jivin' -- but it points to one of the Hall's finest qualities: The place just feelslike home. Opened in 1907 as Blanco's, today's Great American has a warm, old-timey ambience, magnificent sightlines, great sound, and a dance floor that's clean enough to, well, sit on.

 
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