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Best Live Music Venues In New York City, 2011 Edition

On any given night in New York City, it can be overwhelming when it comes to hearing live music. From the massive big-room setting of Madison Square Garden down to the rapidly expanding Rockwood Music Hall, listeners benefit from a cut -throat environment for musicians. The truly great tend to stand out. If seeking good live sound and as pleasant an atmosphere as possible, the following venues are either historical or trending that way. By Bob Margolis.

Joe's Pub

CMA Songwriters Series
Bob DiPiero (left), Mark Sanders, Carson Chamberlain and Easton Corbin perform at the CMA Songwriters Series in the East Village Tuesday, June 21. (credit: Julie Parise/CBSNewYork)

425 Lafayette St
New York, NY 10003
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Part of the Public Theater complex in lower Manhattan, Joe's is like Chicago weather. If you don't dig it, just wait a minute and everything will change. The venue just underwent some aesthetic changes, remodeling their interior. While the periodic CMA Songwriter Series are a local favorite, Joe's Pub hosts everything from record release parties to drag interpretations of Joni. This room books top-end artists, takes some risks, sounds great, sports terrific sightlines and serves up excellent food. Shows tend to start on time, so if your act is set to play at 9:30, don't be fashionably late.

Living Room

The Living Room
(credit: The Living Room/Facebook)

(212) 673-5179
54 Ludlow Street
New York, NY 10002
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It's almost too bad that this excellent room is forever linked with Norah Jones, since so many songsmiths make this lower east side venue a solid choice when seeking singer songwriters or guitar-driven improvised music. Monday nights now belong to guitar wizard Jim Campilongo.

Brooklyn Academy of Music

Brooklyn Academy of Music
(credit: Roger Kisby/Getty Images for American Express)

30 Lafayette Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11243
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BAM, right in downtown Brooklyn, offers up numerous venues within a larger over-arching structure. Their prime theater , the BAM Harvey Theater, will host musical and dance performances which draw up to 3,000. Paul Simon, David Byrne, and Lori Anderson have all held court in the excellent sounding main space. The BAM café often serves up non-pop based music free of charge during weekend evenings.

Beacon Theater

The Allman Brothers perform at the Beacon Theatre
The Allman Brothers perform at the Beacon Theatre (credit: Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

2124 Broadway
New York, NY 10023
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The 2,800 seat Beacon is a landmark venue on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, and has been recently refurbished. The Allman Brothers have, until recently, enjoyed a month-long residency in the room each March and many of their compadres in the jam-band orbit play the Beacon for multi-night runs. It sounds great and reeks of history.

Rockwood Music Hall

Karen Elson & Graffiti 6 In Concert - October 18, 2010
Rockwood Music Hall (credit: Joe Kohen/Getty Images)

196 Allen St.
New York, NY 10002
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This is a tiny live-music space with a real community vibe. There's never a cover charge, and all genres of music with a surprise guest sitting in more often than not are the joint's M.O. They have just opened up another stage next door, calling it Stage 2. There are some great cheap eats in the neighborhood. So, if you don't know what you want to do, stop in there and listen to some music.

Madison Square Garden

Madison Square Garden, Exterior Shot
Madison Square Garden (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

4 Penn Plaza
New York, NY 10001
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When handled correctly, the World's Most Famous Arena can sound like a fine-tuned living room. Really. If a band comes to town and just wants to be loud, disaster looms. Bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish learned how to dial in MSG and have made the Garden a home away from home. Madonna and Prince sounded sublime as well. It's a blast, the ceiling always looks cool and it's not one of those cookie-cutter hockey halls. It has flavor.

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