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Boston's Best: Live music around the clock

Toad
This Porter Square hole-in-the-wall is one of the few remaining cover-free spots in the city. Rockabilly mandolinist Jimmy Ryan plays every Wednesday, while the Somerville-based Gilded Splinters—a brawny update of Let It Bleed-era Stones—have a regular Monday gig. There's a lot of good roots/Americana, though the joint isn't above booking a solid Beatles tribute band or a well-honed soul singer. Barely the size of a studio apartment, Toad gets packed easily, so expect to rub elbows with complete strangers. Fortunately, this place self-selects for a certain brand of open-minded musicophile, so mingling with this amiable bunch is usually a pleasure—and when it's not, the bands should be enough to hold your attention. 1912 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge (617-497-4950, toadcambridge.com)

T.T. the Bear’s Place
The Middle East might be Mark Sandman Square’s powerhouse for rock and hip-hop shows, with three stages, a restaurant, and an unrivaled reputation, but any indiehead worth their salt knows that T.T.'s is one of the preeminent places to check out on-the-cusp bands. Local groups like The Lights Out and Neutral Uke Hotel make the rounds, as well as a steady stream of touring musicians like the Hold Steady's Franz Nicolay and the British quartet One Eskimo. To a music geek, the cramped, beer-soaked 270-capacity of T.T.'s is simply Nirvana—who, by the way, played a near-empty show here a mere six months before Nevermind's meteoric rise up the charts. On Saturdays, DJ Chris Ewen spins New Wave, but this is first and foremost a spot for deafening guitars and tight-jeaned frontmen. 10 Brookline St, Central Square, Cambridge (617-492-2327, ttthebears.com)

The Cantab Lounge
This delightfully dive-y Central Square haunt offers everything from bring-your-ax blues jams (Sundays/Wednesdays) to singer-songwriter open mics (Mondays). There are a couple undisputed stars: on Tuesday nights, some of the best fiddlers and banjo-pickers this side of the Mississippi trade licks while host Geoff Bartley sends around a donation hat (More recreational bluegrass players can sharpen their skills together downstairs). On Thursday evenings, a bevy of unbridled grad students dance their cares away to the Chicken Slacks' mix of Motown covers and funky originals. A well-stocked jukebox fills in during quieter moments at the bar, which draws a diverse clientele ranging from twentysomethings to grizzled barflies. The one Cantab constant throughout is high-quality musicianship and an undeniably unpretentious vibe. 738 Massachusetts Ave, Central Square, Cambridge (617-354-2685, cantab-lounge.com)

Wally's Café
Bostonians looking for their jazz fix need not resort to forking over $40 for some tasteful, smokey-voiced singer at Sculler's. And, sure, the Beehive is a great date spot, with a strong cocktail menu and no cover charge. But for sheer history and ambience there's no beating Wally's. Since 1947, this unassuming South End spot has been the premier showcase for Boston jazz talent, including plenty of students from Berklee, the Boston Conservatory and the New England Conservatory of Music. The crowd is a colorblind mix of post-grads, South End yuppies and be-bop-diggin' septuagenarians. The drinks are strong and reasonably priced. Musical highlights include blues on Mondays, funk/fusion on Wednesdays and Sundays, and Afro-Cuban jazz on Thursdays. No matter the day of the week, it's invariably jazzy, often inventive and always free. 427 Massachusetts Ave, South End, Boston (617-424-1408, wallyscafe.com)

The Lily Pad
Only for the most devout of music listeners, this Inman Square institution deserves credit for its stubborn refusal to play by other venues' rules: no stage, no drinks, and certainly no newfangled “service charges.” Just a small performance space, some metal folding chairs and an eclectic, experimental line-up. The atmosphere feels intimate and DIY, with local art adorning the walls and a table at the front door where patrons drop their $10 donations. Any given night you might find a Brazilian rocker, a punk outfit with a string quintet, or the next Beirut (who played here in 2006). The free-jazz trio The Fringe kicks things off every Monday, but it's anyone’s guess who'll be there the rest of the week. Soak in the tuneage—and BYOB. 1353 Cambridge St, Inman Square, Cambridge (617-395-1393, lily-pad.net)

Great Scott
MGMT, Hot Chip and Of Montreal all gigged at Great Scott long before all the sold-out tours at theaters and arenas. The 240-capacity Allston bar is an unofficial feeder for larger clubs like the Middle East and the Paradise. The small space has no backstage, which makes this the perfect locale for cornering your favorite singer and cajoling them into grabbing a beer with you. The line-up is mostly various shades of rock, peppered with the occasional influences of folk, electronica and country. Fridays are famous for The Pill, wherein the hipsters take off their too-cool-for-school pants and shake it to some classic Britpop and indie rock. 1222 Commonwealth Ave, Allston (617-566-9014, greatscottboston.com)

Club Passim
Blink and you'll miss it amongst the din and clamor of Harvard Square: on an inconspicuous side street, underground and adjacent to a vegetarian restaurant, lies the finest folk club in the greater Boston area. Originally a jazz/blues spot, Passim became a central figure in the counterculture scene in the '60s when it hosted artists like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell. The singer-songwriter emphasis remains to this day. The vibe is atypical—there's no hard liquor, and Passim's proximity to Veggie Planet means that more patrons will be knocking back flatbread pizza than Long Island Iced Teas. Most shows will run you $15 to $20, but expect to pay a bit more for the likes of Lori McKenna (December 16-18) and Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers (December 27). 47 Palmer St, Harvard Square, Cambridge (617-492-7679, clubpassim.org)

Midway Café
While a bit out of the way for residents on the other side of the Charles, Jamaica Plain maintains a strong musical presence in the Boston area, particularly with its developing folk and bluegrass scenes. Midway is the tried-and-true standby. It’s a homey neighborhood bar with a dangerously diverse mix of acts from Boston and beyond, from the Spurs' drinkin' songs to the punk-rock antics of Jason Bennett & The Resistance. It also features regular DJ nights and the epic, gay-themed Dyke Nite on Thursdays. Did we mention that you can buy a 16-ouncer of 'Gansett for $3? Well, perhaps we should. Make sure to say hi to Dave, the friendly doorman who is as much a staple of Midway as the tunes and tallboys. 3496 Washington St, Jamaica Plain (617-524-9038, midwaycafe.com)

Johnny D's
This Davis Square eatery has been operated by the DeLellis family since the late Johnny opened it in 1969. Originally focused around roots music, Johnny D's has expanded to include everything from bluegrass and funk to Afrobeat and zydeco. Wilco, Gillian Welch and the Dixie Chicks have all graced the stage, and Susan Tedeschi used to head up the Blues Jams, which still happen on Sundays. Expect no shortage of blues-infused rockabilly acts like Johnny Hoy and the Blue Fish, as well as some dance-y bands like the Funky White Honkies, who play here December 4. The menu is also worth a look, with dinner items like blackened catfish. Johnny D's old-timey décor is a quirky mish-mash of vintage beer posters and vinyl albums. 17 Holland St, Davis Square, Somerville (617-776-2004, johnnyds.com)

O'Brien's Pub
The music at this tiny 70-person club skews more toward punk and metal outfits with names like Maggot Brain and Rat Corpse. Covers range from six to eight bucks on weekdays, and a little bit more on weekends. Though it's a fraction of the size of small-scale venues like Great Scott, O'Brien's doesn't dial down its sound system—so be sure to pack earplugs. PBR is the drink of choice here—ask for a “cocktail” and you'll likely get a stiff rum and coke. From the tacky wood paneling to the questionable bathroom upkeep, O'Brien's certainly keeps out folks who require some classiness in their live music—but things are probably better for everybody that way. 3 Harvard Ave, Allston (617-782-6245, obrienspubboston.com)


Comments
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