Are These The Best Live Music Venues In Victoria? [Part 1]

16 November 2022 | 2:11 pm | Staff Writer

A team of more than 200 music experts across Victoria definitely think so.

Coffee culture, unpredictable weather, world-class wine bars and possibly some of the worst beaches in Australia; Melbourne has built a lasting brand for itself over the years. But there’s far more to the southern state than just a perfect cup of joe and a chilled glass of Beaujolais.

Home to some of Australia’s biggest musical exports, from Nick Cave and Crowded House, to Gotye and Kylie Minogue and more recently Courtney Barnett, Baker Boy and Julia Jacklin, Victoria is also the original stomping ground for Laneway Festival, the home of Mushroom Music and a melting pot of music culture that has been born and bred in some of the country's best live music venues.

In the lead-up to the 2022 Music Victoria Awards - and to celebrate the launch of public voting categories going live - a music body of over 200 acclaimed judges, ranging from radio announces, podcasters and critics to agents, peak bodies and industry experts have come up with that they believe are this year’s best spots for experiencing live music in and around Melbourne. And they want you to weigh in with your thoughts.

FORUM Melbourne

Situated smack bang in the heart of Melbourne's CBD on Flinders Street, the Forum Melbourne, with its unique Gothic-Romanesque architecture and signature sky-blue ceiling, manages to perfectly blend the feeling of an outdoor amphitheatre with the perks of being indoors, away from the elements. Formerly the State Theatre, the Forum Theatre opened in 1929 with the largest seating capacity of any theatre in Australia. Since then the venue has been divided into two separate venues. Downstairs, Forum I is famous for its large stage, mesmerising proscenium and signature cabaret-style booths. Upstairs, Forum II is a smaller venue with tiered seating, a small stage, surround sound and a cinema-size screen.

Melbourne Recital Centre

Since opening in 2009, the Southbank staple has grown to the point in which it presents and hosts hundreds of concerts each year, with an average of 200,000 punters entering the doors every twelve months. Ranked amongst the world’s great halls for its uncompromised acoustics, the Melbourne Recital Centre has also managed to score countless design awards for both the exquisite plywood panels of Australian plantation Hoop Pine timber that line the walls of the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall and the Primrose Potter Salon, a uniquely intimate 150-seat performance and event space.

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Palais Theatre

One of the oldest and most prestigious music venues in not only Melbourne, but Australia, the Palais Theatre still remains the largest theatre in the country and has continued to provide the city with world-class performances since 1927. Typical of 1920s picture theatres - of which the Palais was one back in the day - the architectural style is ornate, eclectic and exotic, but has seen state-of-the-art improvements to its audio over the years in order to facilitate the calibre of performances it hosts.

Sidney Myer Music Bowl

The iconic Sidney Myer Music Bowl has been part of Melbourne's entertainment scene since 1959, hosting everything from huge headline acts, symphonic masterpieces, festivals and more in Melbourne's largest outdoor performance space. Inspired by the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, the outdoor bandshell layout has provided the perfect platform for shows from ABBA, AC/DC, Metallica, the Beach Boys, Daft Punk, Kanye West and what Guinness Book of World Records lists as the greatest attendance at a concert in the Southern Hemisphere for The Seekers' 200,000 person show in 1967.

The Night Cat

Established in 1996, The Night Cat has been a genre-focussed venue for the duration of its life specialising in funk, soul, Latin, disco, hip hop and R&B. Unlike any other venue in the country, the central performance space allows audiences a clear view of the stage from anywhere in the venue, with the stage literally placed front and centre. As well as an up close and intimate experience with performers, no pillars to obstruct views and a 360-degree stage means a truly unique experience.

Brunswick Ballroom

Inspired by The Continental Café, which once upon a time sat in the heart of Prahran, the newly refurbished Brunswick Ballroom features superb stained glass domes, evoking the work of Australian artist Leonard French, as well as an open-air balcony that takes in the urban streetscape below and the sights of Melbourne’s skyline. Despite only throwing open its doors in February 2021, the venue has already been a stomping ground for Courtney Barnett, Tim Rogers, Eddie Perfect, Phil Jamieson, Gareth Liddiard, Stella Donnelly, The Murlocs, Bitch Diesel, Ross Wilson, Cool Sounds, Tripod, Grace Cummings and plenty more.

Northcote Social Club

Born in 2004, after the old Commercial Hotel was given a much-needed makeover, Melbourne’s Northcote Social Club is unquestionably a pillar of live music in Melbourne. Once a refuge for teamsters and bullock drivers, the venue is now home to one of the city's most diverse and important venues; centred on inclusion and community, and placing a focus on safe spaces for people from all backgrounds to enjoy music. Home to touring musicians from across the country (and the world) NSC has also built an infamous reputation for secret gigs and surprise parties for celebrities like Lady Gaga and The Pixies.

Shotkickers - Thornbury

Thornbury’s most recent newcomer might have a name inspired by The Simpsons, but for venue owners and industry veterans Chris Windley and Mathias Northway, that’s where the inspiration ends. Instead of Flaming Moe's and Duff Beer in a suburban dive, you’ll experience a rollicking live music venue that’s run “by music lovers for music lovers”. A Midwest-style saloon meets Melbourne music venue, with American-inspired food and bev, that - while in its infancy - has quickly become one of the city's most beloved spaces for live music.

The Gasometer Hotel

Originally built in 1861, the now iconic Gasometer Hotel has been hosting a plethora of music for years. Despite closing its doors briefly in 2013, Shannon Vanderwert (of The Post Office Hotel in Coburg) and Clint Fisher (of the Retreat Hotel in Brunswick) stepped in and gave the venue a new lease on life; a knocked-down wall, brand new carpet, an overhaul to the PA system and a one-of-a-kind retractable roof paved the way for one of the most unique and important venues for music (and sometimes comedy) in the city.

The Jazzlab

Tucked unassumingly into a hole in the wall on Leslie Street in Brunswick, Melbourne’s The Jazzlab follows in the footsteps of its older brother Bennetts Lane Jazz Club (previously crowned by Lonely Planet as “the world’s best jazz club” and once a drinking hole for the late great Prince) and doesn’t skimp on the details. With a dedication to promoting and developing live jazz as an artform, The Jazzlab runs live music seven days a week, and is also home to the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, the Women’s International Jazz Festival and the Melbourne Jazz Cooperative.

Want to weigh in on who you think should be crowned the best live music venues in Victoria this year? Head over to the Music Victoria website and make your voice heard!