Melbourne is considered the live music capital of Australia. The city is alive with music every night of the week, from jazz basements to rock'n'roll pubs, you just need to know where to look.
By Paul Chai
Melbourne has been the home of some of Australia’s best musical exports, from Nick Cave and Crowded House to Gotye and Kylie Minogue. More recently, singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett shot to international fame and found herself a fan in former US president Barack Obama and Melbourne was the birthplace of St Jerome's Laneway Festival, that now has huge events in Singapore and New Zealand. Come and experience the city’s legendary live music scene for yourself.
Top spots for live music in Melbourne
The Old Bar
The sole focus of The Old Bar in Fitzroy, north of the Melbourne city centre, is live music and this small venue – with low-lighting, exposed brickwork, vintage furniture, pinball machines and tattered band posters – has bands on seven nights a week. The owners are a trio of musicians and music lovers who pride themselves on highlighting Melbourne’s thriving live music scene. You might see punk, indie or funk bands, many of them just starting out, so squeeze in and join the fun.
What could be more rock’n’roll than a live music venue located down AC/DC Lane? Cherry Bar is the self-proclaimed “best rock’n’roll bar in the world” and it has plenty to back that claim up: bands every night of the week, late opening hours and a dark and grungy basement location. It also holds events such as Cherryfest and Cherry Rock that close off the lane for mini music festivals right in the centre of Melbourne.
The Spotted Mallard
A fabulously quirky space in the north Melbourne suburb of Brunswick, the Rare and Reclusive Oft-Neglected Lesser Spotted Mallard (to use the venue's full name) has a coloured-glass atrium, tiered seating and some of the best pub food on busy Sydney Road. It has craft beers on tap, a wonderfully welcoming staff and gigs from some of Australia’s best-known names. Local secret: the balcony is a perfect place for an evening drink as the sun goes down and the trams rumble by.
Howler is an industrial-style converted Brunswick warehouse divided into an open-air front bar (with bike racks on the wall), a covered bar in the centre with ping pong table and booths and a back-room performance space that hosts an eclectic line up of Australian hip-hop, indie rock and open-mic nights. The bar fridge is packed full of local craft beers, so ask the friendly bartender for a suggestion.
Northcote Social Club
Grab a pre-show bite of nachos or popcorn out on the huge back deck of the Northcote Social Club, a renovated pub in the northern suburbs of Melbourne that is popular with the indie rock crowd. The snug adjoining band room sees a roster of local and international bands as well as free gigs for bands just starting out.
The Corner Hotel
For 20 years live music fans have flocked to the Corner Hotel in Melbourne’s inner-east suburb of Richmond. Get there early and head to the newly renovated rooftop bar, where head chef Shannon Rice has put together a new menu of shared plates such as whole smoked pork hock with apple and caraway slaw, pickles, mayo and mini milk buns. Then head to one of the biggest and best loved band rooms in the city.
This Art Deco theatre located right on the beach in Melbourne's St Kilda started its life as a grand cinema in the 1920s. It switched to showing ballet and opera in the 1950s before it turned into a live music venue in the 1960s. With a capacity of nearly 3,000, The Palais has seen some of the biggest acts in the world, from The Rolling Stones to The Beach Boys, and continues to draw a new generation of music lovers.
The Tote Hotel
Known as “the home of rock”, and a certified Melbourne institution in the suburb of Collingwood, The Tote has been hosting live music since the 1980s. In 2010 it was forced to close due to changes in licensing laws. City wide protests ensued and a rally attended by more than 10,000 people helped the venue reopen. The campaign to save the Tote showed just how passionate Melburnians are about their live music.
Melbourne’s newest jazz bar Bird's Basement is a sister club to Birdland, the famous New York night spot inspired by alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. Mimicking the Birdland formula, this subterranean city location offers two dinner shows a night with some of the world’s most famous jazz and funk musicians accompanied by modern Italian cuisine.