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Feature Thu Jan 24 2008

Chicago Music Venue Reviews, Vol. 1

You know how it goes, when you get into a music rut and you just won't venture outside your normal routine for anyone, killer soundsystem or no. Well, hopefully after reading this week's feature, the first in an ongoing series of reviews of Chicago music venues, you'll make an effort to take that train (or bus or car) ride perhaps a few stops further just to hear some great tunes, in a space that might be new to you. This first batch goes up to Rogers Park's Red Line Tap, and to Lakeview favorite Schubas.

Name: Red Line Tap
Location: 7004 N. Glenwood Ave.
Types of music booked: All kinds, mostly unsigned
Owner: Heartland Cafe
First opened: 1996
Capacity: 200ish?
Age Restrictions: 21+
Coat Check? No, but there's a coat rack
Parking? Street parking
Public Transit: Red Line to Morse
Perks: Billiards

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Conveniently located barely a hundred yards from the Morse stop along the Red line, Rogers Park's Red Line Tap is situated behind Heartland Cafe in the 7000 block of Glenwood. While it may seem from the outside to be just another dive with dim lighting and nightly music tucked away in an alley, the stage and soundsystem overhaul in 2007 gave it a step up on its neighborhood competition.

The room is split in two nearly equal-sized parts — bar inside the front door and music room on the far side through a wide doorway. It’s visible from almost everywhere at the bar. The bar area is pretty standard for a narrow room; long bar, televisions atop at each end, wood paneling, mirrors, and some hunting trophies (a marlin, some deer) hung high on the wall. There are barstools across the aisle and a counter to rest drinks while watching the bands over in the next room. The stage is a good size for such a small venue. It’s deep and wide enough to hold a large band comfortably, but not so large that a duo would make it look empty. Despite a backstage area, bands sometimes stow gear along the walls, where it takes up space that could be stood in, but there are still plenty of tables and chairs to sit at.

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At the back of the music room is an area with a pool table and benches along the walls. Fortunately, it is large enough that cue sticks won’t hit anyone sitting to the side. This back area is also elevated for a better view of the entire room, especially the rather low stage that sits less than a foot off the regular floor. Since it’s not far from front to back, there is no decrease in sound volume or quality either. Speaking of that, the new soundsystem can get loud. Even with earplugs it is somewhere between crisp and chunky. (And you’re all wearing earplugs, right?) In addition to billiards for those with other interests, Pac-Man and Galaga arcades are next to the bar.

What Red Line Tap does well musically are diversity and residencies. Local bluegrass quintet Sexfist plays every Tuesday and other weeknights change monthly, more or less. Weekends are booked with everything from punk to funk and covers are rarely more than $5. And for that it’s definitely worthwhile.

Name: Schubas Location: 3159 N. Southport Ave. (at Belmont) Website: Types of music booked: Rock, Pop, Electronic Owner: Chris & Michael Schuba First opened: April, 1989 Capacity: 200 Age Restrictions: Mostly 21+, but some early shows all ages or 18+ Coat Check: No, but plenty of coathooks Parking: Street parking Public Transit: Red/Brown/Purple Lines to Belmont, Belmont bus to Southport Perks: $1 earplugs, Harmony Grill attached

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No list of the best Chicago venues is accurate without Schubas. This Lakeview venue has been operating under its current ownership since the late 1980s when Chris and Michael Schuba restored the 1903 building that was once part of the Schlitz Brewery empire. The music hall in the back is a prime spot to see and hear any genre of live music. Its excellent soundsystem is crisp and clear from all spots, even next to the odd stove in the corner or from the bar behind the sound booth. And the 2-foot high stage makes it easy to view from anywhere in the room, except from behind the sound booth if you're short. Stage lighting is also optimal from all vantage points.

At first glance, the hall looks like it may have been a church. Where a stack of gear sits in the right corner has the look of a pulpit and the intricate woodwork above the stage doesn't resemble what's typical for a rock music venue. Benches along the far wall may've once been pews. (There are also benches in the hallway between the bar and Harmony Grill. This hall is full of posters from past shows. It's a nice place to sit when there's an unfortunately deplorable band playing inside.) Perhaps it's also the intimacy that gives it the feel of a church.

With a capacity of 200, Schubas caters to everyone from the band who's rehearsed in their parents' garage in your alley to the one that could sell out much larger venues. (XRT has hosted a few shows by major acts like Elvis Costello and Spoon over the last few years.) Both types of acts are flocked toward. Monday's Practice Spaces are residencies for Chicago-based bands that can invite friends to open for them each week. As the month carries on, attendance typically increases as word-of-mouth circulates about the headliner. For the bigger names that play here, tickets can sell out virtually immediately. And speaking of tickets, it should be noted that has their own online ticketing system. Unfortunately, tickets for some of the bigger names brought in by outside booking are only available via Ticketmaster.

For a venue that does bring in such high-profile acts, though, it does not have a backstage area. So anyone coming off the stage has nowhere to go except outside through the side door that is often used for loading and unloading gear. This can be a somewhat strange situation for acts who may believe they are entitled to a backstage area. (I'm not naming names, but I have noticed a few musicians irritated by this. On one hand, I can understand wanting a few private moments after being in front of 150+ people for over an hour. On the other hand, it's not like anyone playing Schubas is getting mobbed. Most people just want to say, "Great show.")

All in all, Schubas is an excellent venue. From the intimate size and sound quality to the aesthetic and atmosphere, nearly everything about this club is ace.
-James Ziegenfus

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Boxx Magazine
Brooklyn Vegan Chicago
Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
Chicago Reader Music
Chicagoist Arts & Events
Chicago Music Guide
Chicago Singles Club
Country Music Chicago
Cream Team
Dark Jive
The Deli Chicago
Jim DeRogatis
Fake Shore Drive
Gowhere Hip Hop
The Hood Internet
Jaded in Chicago
Largehearted Boy
Little White Earbuds
Live Fix Blog
Live Music Blog
Loud Loop Press
Oh My Rockness
Pop 'stache
Pop Matters
Resident Advisor
Sound Opinions
Sun-Times Music Blog
Theft Liable to Prosecution
Tribune Music
UR Chicago
Victim Of Time
WFMU's Beware of the Blog
Windy City Rock


Abbey Pub
Andy's Jazz Club
Aragon Ballroom
Auditorium Theatre
Beat Kitchen
Bottom Lounge
Buddy Guy's Legends
The Burlington
California Clipper
Concord Music Hall
Congress Theater
Cubby Bear
Double Door
Elbo Room
Empty Bottle
Green Mill
The Hideout
Honky Tonk BBQ
House of Blues
Kingston Mines
Lincoln Hall
Logan Square Auditorium
Mayne Stage
The Mutiny
Old Town School of Folk Music
Park West
The Promontory
Red Line Tap
Reggie's Rock Club & Music Joint
The Riviera
Thalia Hall
The Shrine
Symphony Center
Tonic Room
Uncommon Ground
The Vic
The Whistler

  Labels, Promoters
  & Shops:

Alligator Records
Beverly Records
Bloodshot Records
Dave's Records
Delmark Records
Drag City
Dusty Groove
Flameshovel Records
Groove Distribution
He Who Corrupts
Jam Productions
Jazz Record Mart
Kranky Records
Laurie's Planet of Sound
Minty Fresh
Numero Group
mP Shows
Permanent Records
Reckless Records
Smog Veil Records
Southport & Northport Records
Thick Records
Thrill Jockey Records Touch & Go/Quarterstick Records
Victory Records

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Transmission is the music section of Gapers Block. It aims to highlight Chicago music in its many varied forms, as well as cover touring acts performing in the city. More...
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