Best Live Music Venue 2014 | Kessler Theater | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer
Mike Brooks

If you interpret "best live music venue" as "best place to listen to live music," then the only winner in town has to be the Kessler Theater. Above all else it is a listening room: The acoustics and quality of the sound system are far beyond what anywhere else in Dallas has to offer. You'll be able to hear the smallest sound, the kind that gets lost in the mix in other places. That's not to say that other places don't know how to mix. They do. They're just not working on the same level as the Kessler, which is as good a place to listen as we've heard anywhere.

By their very nature, do-it-yourself venues tend to come and go quickly. Whether it's a house in East Dallas, a warehouse in Oak Cliff or some rotating combination of the two, staying off the radar is often integral to their survival — both from a standpoint of overexposure and trouble with the authorities. Yet these grassroots ventures are also aimed at cultivating a sense of community. These days, no one does that better in Dallas than Two Bronze Doors, which has been hosting poetry readings and living-room concerts since last April. Led by Natalie Jean Vaughn and her fiance, Jonathan Foisset, Two Bronze Doors was reportedly once the home of a psychic who did business out of the living room. Nowadays that living room is host to art exhibitions and, at quieter moments, the household dog. Located just a few hundred feet from the hustle and bustle of Lower Greenville, Two Bronze Doors aims to put down roots in the name of a thoughtful, expressive and locally driven way of life. Let's hope those roots are permanent ones.

Anyone with their finger on the pulse of North Texas hip-hop had been waiting for this one for a while. Brandon Blue, the beat-making mastermind behind local rap troupe the Brain Gang, had been carving out a fresh niche as a solo MC under the guise of Blue, the Misfit. Early in 2014, he dropped "Drugs on the Schoolyard," a murky mindfuck of a track that featured none other than Kendrick Lamar on the guest spot. But with Child in the Wild, Blue didn't need a blue-chip cameo to make a top-notch statement. These 15 tracks showcase the Misfit in all his weirdness and vivid imagination, with stuttering, restless beats that undercut the most outrageous flights of fancy and headstrong braggadocio. Blue, a natural introvert with a keen eye for storytelling, outwardly revels in the excesses of an all-night party while implicitly rejecting its cheap, hollow thrills. Blue's talents are too great to be wasted on merely being the life of the party, and Child in the Wild is proof.

Saying farewell to George Strait is bittersweet for any country music fan, but there could have been no more fitting end than the final performance of his The Cowboy Rides Away tour at AT&T Stadium. After a 30-year career and more success than almost any other artist in the genre, Strait said goodbye to life on the road in what will likely go down as one of the best country concerts of all time. In fact, he set a world record for the largest indoor concert and performed to more than 100,000 screaming fans. Joined by country legends such as Alan Jackson, Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Vince Gill and newcomers Jason Aldean and Miranda Lambert, Strait marathoned a great deal of his discography in the three-hour show before riding off into the sunset. If you weren't there, you're probably going to regret that decision.

Who says strip clubs are just for bachelor parties and tits? All night, every night, Dallas hunks are tearing off their trousers and shaking what their daddies gave them at one of the few all-male strip clubs dedicated to female clientele — men must be accompanied by a woman to enter. Slip through the black curtain and enter a masculine world of fire-breathing, strip-teasing hunks who smile and flirt as you and your girlfriends hoot and holler. It's like real-life Magic Mike, which may be why it inspired a former stripper to make a documentary about it earlier this year. But unlike watching the movie, you'll want to have dollar bills in hand.

Dallas has a surprisingly wide variety of open mic nights, from classical music to country, blues to hip-hop. The Prophet Bar in Deep Ellum offers the greatest in the latter end of the spectrum, and for the audience, few open mics are quite as entertaining. RC Williams, an Erykah Badu producer and band member, plays with The Gritz every Wednesday. After, he leads the open mic, accompanying aspiring musicians seamlessly onstage with his band. Although some of the strongest rock and R&B musicians in Dallas — including Badu — grace the stage at turns, the prevailing atmosphere is that of an unshakable hip-hop culture. With the allied community making up the liveliest crowd and its smooth production, the Prophet Bar's is the open mic night that most resembles an actual concert.

Vinyl records sales have been on the steady increase over the past decade and locally that has been most visible at Good Records, where the vinyl racks moved from their upstairs to the main floor display a few years ago. Every year Good leads the charge with an all-day lineup of DJs and bands playing in celebration of Record Store Day. The line up is always a good thermometer of what's coming up or buzzing in Dallas' backyard. This year was no exception with sets from synth prog punks Nervous Curtains and Pinkish Black, dubbed-out deepness from Wire Nest, Son of Stan, Ice Eater and an acoustic set from the slightly more notable Midlake. The standout out-of-town act came in the form of Oklahoma's Stardeath and the White Dwarf with Tyson Meade of the infamous Chainsaw Kittens. Throw in some kegs, a few food trucks and a busy parking lot from 8 a.m. till late into the evening and Good Records embodies the spirit of Record Store Day as a bona fide national holiday.

Daniel Rodrigue

Night in and night out, you can make the trip up to Denton to catch an up-and-coming punk band from literally anywhere trying to make it work in the same grim room so many of their forebears played in. Josh Baish and his crew of merry men and women have been going strong since 1997 and don't seem to be showing any sign of slowing down despite new venues to compete with opening every year. Plus, they get bonus points for going smoke-free, so you can get hot, sweaty and beer-soaked, but your lungs will be safe.

It's hard out there for the under-21 music fan. You have to sneak your own booze in and venues up-charge you on tickets as sort of a bizarre punishment for you having your whole future in front of you, but lucky for you Dada has your back. They get all the up-and-coming shows and make it a point to let fans of all ages enjoy themselves. When you think about it, it's sort of cute to see some teens running around having their minds blown by their first real show.

Patrick Williams

Far removed from the usual bar and club spots in Dallas, It'll Do has carved out a little oasis off Columbia Avenue in Old East Dallas. A big dance floor, no VIP, no bottle service and one of the best club sound systems in town make for a true-to-roots dance club experience that at times feels just like an old warehouse party. The booking is top-notch, featuring some of the best talent in underground dance music. Simian Mobile Disco, Roy Davis Jr., Doc Scott, Kevin Saunderson, Maceo Plex, MK, Mark Farina, Disclosure, Juan Atkins and James Murphy are among the international club heavyweights who have brought heat to It'll Do. To see most of these DJs you have to travel halfway across the country and still probably have to see them at a festival. Supported by the always dependable resident DJ Red Eye and every now and then some of the city's finest house DJs, It'll Do has filled a void in Dallas' long legacy of house music that had been needing a proper home for many years.

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