Club Action

Reviewing the places I go to review the music.

With the conversion last year of the old Jackie Gleason Theater to the Fillmore Miami Beach, Miami-Dade County gained yet another live music venue. And it was yet another enticement for bands to play down here, rather than make the rest of us trek up to Broward or even Palm Beach.

Which got me thinking: People are quick to say there's no live music in Miami, but that's becoming less and less true. While a couple of new spots have opened, others are being recycled. That doesn't mean it's all rainbows and lollipops, though. There are three things I think you should be able to do at a rock show: Get a drink easily, pee when you need to, and, um, hear the band. (I used to also think smoke a cigarette in peace, but with lungs newly starting to function again, I've realized the folly of that. Sorry, smokers.) The ease with which you can do these things can completely change your impression of a band from one venue to the next.

So for once I figured I'd review the places where I go to review shows. I stuck to Miami, and for brevity purposes, these are venues that mostly feature live pop music (as in, not jazz or classical), as opposed to DJs. I've also left out huge arenas and outdoor amphitheaters; considering all of those places would open a whole separate can of worms. For hilarious club reviews, visit www.miaminights.com; especially check the spot-on bathroom ratings, an idea I've borrowed in my thoughts on these places.

BankUnited Center

Overall: Confusingly named (sounds awfully close to the BankAtlantic Center, which is in Broward) and not very centrally located, it's on the grounds of the University of Miami in Coral Gables. Though there's lots of parking, this venue is dry. Literally, unbelievably, no booze, although, weirdly, they serve an array of junk food. Interpol fans want to drink, not eat nachos. It's also cold inside, and the managers' solution for smaller shows is a wall of tarps behind one row of seats that creates an apocalyptic feeling. And speaking of apocalypse, smokers are corralled into a patio on the ground level, although luckily for them, it's pretty spacious and partially sheltered.

Bathrooms: Stellar, with lots of stalls. I guess we can thank UM students' tuition for that.

Carnival Center/Adrienne Arsht Center/whatever it's called at press time

Overall: Although this is mostly a place for highbrow stuff, there have been several world and pop concerts here, or hybrid events, such as the Merce Cunningham troupe's performance accompanied by Sigur Rós last spring, in the Ziff Ballet Opera House. The sound is great; the sightlines are flawless. However, the niceness of the place makes it weird to see the chick next to you chowing on a sandwich pulled from her backpack (is that even allowed?), and the drinks are nine bucks and up.

Bathrooms: Lovely and spotless; they must be attended by bathroom fairies, because they stay that way with nary a staff member in sight. In Manhattan they would be considered luxury apartments.

Churchill's

Overall: This place's grime is its glory. If Churchill's glamorous squalor changed, I would be upset. It's about the history, the people-watching, the obscure bands you might never see again, the FTW attitude. But hey, it's not a bad place to see a show. You can get a great perch with a view of the main stage from the front bar. Said bar conveniently wraps around into the main show area, so it's easy to get a cheap drink. All things considered, the sound is pretty good, and the cover is always reasonable, even for semi-famous touring bands.

Bathrooms: The women's room has, of course, one stall, with an inexplicably tiny anteroom and double doors that don't always lock. This means you have to pee while leaning forward to hold the closest one shut, or while mashing your knees against the door (well it's tiny, so that's easy) to maintain some privacy. It's usually Trainspotting-style filthy, but that's fine with me.

Fillmore Miami Beach

Overall: Now inhabiting the historic Jackie Gleason Theater, it had to overcome the ho-hum reputation of its predecessor. They've gutted all the pastel grandma stuff from the inside and made it look like a proper rock theater with warm tones and sexy, low lighting. Lots of expensive bars are everywhere. You get great sound and unobstructed sightlines from anywhere, although sitting in the back rows of the main floor can feel distant, what with the looming mezzanine levels above. Smokers are screwed, banished to a scrap of side patio with no cover from the rain.

Bathrooms: Lots of 'em, and sparkling — hey, that $10-plus cocktail should pay for something.

Gusman Center

Overall: Why don't they have more gigs here? Ben Harper and Café Tacuba both had the right idea to try out this lovely vintage theater in the heart of downtown. The Casablanca-style décor and faux starry-night ceiling are unmatched in vintage loveliness. While this place gets used for things like film festivals, music promoters should keep it in mind.

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