The world's best live music scenes

Bruce Springsteen at the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas.
Bruce Springsteen at the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas. Photo: Getty Images

So you want to see a band. Maybe a world-famous band. Maybe a hipsters-on-the-cusp-of-stardom band. Maybe just a bunch of mums and dads who brought their instruments to the pub.

Where do you go? The musical world is your oyster.

Whether you're after one night's entertainment from a local act or you're taking a holiday planned entirely around seeing your favourite bands, these are the cities music lovers should be heading to.

The 'Espy', a Melbourne music institution.
The 'Espy', a Melbourne music institution. Photo: Michael Rayner

New York City, USA

The USA really is the perfect destination for lovers of live music, and New York makes a pretty decent starting point. The NYC scene takes in everything from big shows at iconic venues like Madison Square Garden and Carnegie Hall, to musicals on Broadway, hip-hop and punk shows in the very places that spawned the whole movement, to tiny loft spaces in Williamsburg that feature bands so cutting edge they haven't even been formed yet. And the truly great thing about live music in NYC is its affordability.

Austin, USA

Time your trip to arrive during the South by Southwest Festival and you could pack an entire year's worth of live shows into a few nights. This is Austin at its best. Even during the rest of the year, however, the Texan city's music scene is manic, with scores of venues ranging from theatres to sweaty dive bars playing host to rock, alternative, folk, blues, country and alt-country acts. Combine your evening with a little Texan barbecue and you couldn't be anywhere else.

Melbourne, Australia

While Perth can boast a decent live music scene, surely our best city for seeing a band is Melbourne. You can plan to go to a ticketed event at the Corner, or the Espy, or Festival Hall, of the Hi-Fi, or the Palace, or... OK, you get the picture. Or you could wander around Fitzroy and drop in on whatever sounds good. It's a luxury citizens of the other state capitals don't enjoy.

Dublin, Ireland

It's not so much the dedicated live venues that make Dublin great, but the plain old neighbourhood pubs and Ireland's DIY music culture. Want to enjoy some live entertainment? Bring along an instrument and provide it yourself. There can't be many better ways to spend an evening than sitting in a warm Dublin pub nursing pints of black beer and listening to locals play traditional music. Steer clear of the more touristy areas and you'll find it.

Berlin, Germany

I've got a musician friend who lives in Berlin. She makes ambient electronic music spliced together from "found sounds" – a kitchen tap dripping, a car driving past, kids yelling. She plays live shows in a completely dark room so that the audience has no other stimuli but the music they're being played. It's mental, clearly. It's also the sort of thing you could only get away with in Berlin, a city where anything goes, musically and culturally, and people will give almost any experience a shot if it sounds interesting. From punk to raves to found-sound electronica, it's all in Berlin.

New Orleans, USA

If ever a city oozed live music from its pores, it's New Orleans. Even Hurricane Katrina and the GFC couldn't dampen the town's spirit for musical entertainment, with hundreds and hundreds of venues still offering nightly shows. You won't struggle to find a bar with a live act – you'll struggle to find a bar without one. It's most likely to be jazz, but it could also be soul, or blues, or funk or rock. Get there in April for the Jazz and Heritage Festival to see the city at its best.

Tokyo, Japan

As with pretty much everything in Tokyo, the live music scene is taken very seriously, and it's seriously good – with a twist of crazy. Bands play in "live houses" across the city every night. For indie and alternative acts, head to Shimokitazawa. For DJs and dance, make for "Love Hotel Hill" in Shibuya. For the hardcore and occasionally bizarre, go direct to Kabukicho and prepare yourself.

Sao Paulo, Brazil

The bulk of Sao Paulo's live venues can be found in the Vila Madalena district, the hub for the South American metropolis's nightlife. While Brazilian music like samba is the most popular, and definitely worth checking out, there are also bands playing pop, rock, indie, punk, reggae, jazz and heavy metal. Hip-hop is also gaining popularity in Sao Paulo – check out Matilha Cultural for a taste of the city's scene.

What's your favourite city for live music?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

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