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Critic's Notebook

In praise of live music, and its many Southern California venues

Randall Roberts
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
No matter the venue, fans who love live musical energy can witness miraculous bouts of creation in real time

When Martha and the Vandellas described summer life in 1964's "Dancing in the Street," they sang, "All we need is music, sweet music, there'll be music everywhere." Little could they have known our future relationship with sound.

More than ever, music surrounds us, accompanies us, pursues us, so much so that few feel the need to seek it out. If the so-called songs of the summer don't arrive voluntarily via earbuds, car stereo, television or home system, they're piped in at Ralphs or seep out of tinny outdoor speakers at the gas station.

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FOR THE RECORD: This article says that Juanes will be performing at Club Nokia; he will be performing at Nokia Theatre at L.A. Live.

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MAP: Randall Roberts' best music venues

In our plugged-in lives, music finds us whether we request it or not. We absorb the free-floating frequencies as we do oxygen: passively.

Live performance, which is what we're celebrating here, serves the opposite and arguably more righteous purpose: feeding our desire for an active, communal relationship to sound.

Whether it arrives this summer on the stage of Staples Center with Taylor Swift, at the Forum for U2, at the new Teragram Ballroom for opening night with Spoon or in the back room of McCabe's Guitar Shop for Kim Richey, fans in love with live energy can witness miraculous bouts of creation in real time.

But not all stages and venues are created equal. Some support heavyweights, others carry has-beens. Some offer reserved seating; others promise nothing.

With its pitched floor, the Regent in downtown Los Angeles is more pleasant for short people than the Echoplex. With its vast rows of seats from its past life as a movie house, the Orpheum removes the issue altogether; it's a great place to sit and watch musicians.

The Hotel Cafe in Hollywood is the size of Beyoncé's closet — but it sounds great and has served as a launch pad for superstars. The Hollywood Palladium is gorgeous outside and in. Acoustically, though, the room is cursed. Staples was built with more regard for the Lakers than live performances, yet, bafflingly, that's where the most successful artists book their gigs.

The key to a memorable night of music is finding good pairings of artist and stage, and Los Angeles right now offers more options than any city in America. With a humming downtown venue invasion spearheaded by the Theatre at Ace Hotel, the Regent, the gorgeous dance club Exchange LA and the Teragram, the city center is once again becoming a music center for pop, rock and jazz. Open-air events on the Santa Monica Pier, at the Hollywood Bowl, the Getty Center, the Greek, Hollywood Forever Cemetery and Exposition Park promise breezy Southern California nights across the region.

This summer, acts will set up their gear while the crowd grows energized with anticipation, the machines glowing and humming on a stage that musician Allen Ravenstine once described as "an engine idling confidently on high-octane possibility."

Stages at venues across Los Angeles are idling confidently, awaiting the bounty to come.

Fans of arena rock bands Boston and REO Speedwagon will have an opportunity to see them in their natural habitat at the Forum. Later in the summer, British folk rock band Mumford and Sons will play the Inglewood arena as well.

At the Hollywood Bowl, the stage awaits the June 20 opening concert with Journey and from there will host a typically broad range. Highlights include a weekend with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, a Sunday night party with genius funk bassist Bootsy Collins and his Rubber Band and the British house production team Basement Jaxx and a perfectly paired double bill of Steely Dan and Elvis Costello. Singular artists Erykah Badu and St. Vincent will double up at the end of July.

Over at the Greek, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings will share a bill with the rootsy Tedeschi Trucks Band. Country quartet Little Big Town will bring twang, Wilco will offer inventive rock and the Alabama Shakes will celebrate its 2015 breakout year with a night of Southern soul and rock in the famed amphitheater.

In the under-500 range, Los Angeles is a feast. Native Angelenos, in fact, have no idea how lucky they are. Where other cities might promise a few ace club gigs a week, this town hosts such bills nearly every night. Whether master artist-producer Todd Rundgren at the Roxy, throwback St. Louis hillbilly singer Pokey LaFarge at the Troubadour, revolutionary Cuban band Los Van Van at the Conga Room or bluegrass duo Mandolin Orange at the Hotel Cafe, the nightly menu in the coming months is overwhelming.

Those who love joyous, dance-happy rock are encouraged to block off July 8, though, when the buoyant New York band Landlady gigs the Echo. Those interested in witnessing master songwriter John Darnielle and his band the Mountain Goats sing new work about 1970s-era professional wrestlers should grab tickets to the Mayan show.

The Mayan and other midsize theaters can offer the best of both worlds: a level of intimacy coupled with a bit of comfort. Club Nokia at L.A. Live might not be the prettiest room (it's the opposite), but it's got a hot roster this season, including supreme producer-songwriter Miguel, resurgent soul master D'Angelo and Colombian rock superstar Juanes. The Wiltern, though a frustrating space, will host a number of essential rising artists including British singer George Ezra, Los Angeles beach rock band Best Coast and excellent Alabama singer-songwriter Jason Isbell.

One of the summer's most anticipated concerts will take place at Hollywood Forever. There, over two nights, Australian psychedelic rock band Tame Impala will perform. The gigs are already sold out, so the secondary market is the only option.

Those looking for the total immersion and multi-act bounty of a weekend festival should note the following dates. FYF Fest will consume Exposition Park with a roster headlined by R&B star Frank Ocean and the inimitable British crooner Morrissey. The electronic dance music-oriented Hard Summer festival has a great lineup this year. It's set for the Fairplex in Pomona and will feature Jack U (Skrillex and Diplo), the Weeknd, DJ Mustard, Maya Jane Coles and dozens of others.

Closer to the beaches, the Long Beach rock-and-tattoo fete known as Ink-n-Iron will go hard with dozens of rock, ska and rockabilly artists including Wanda Jackson, the Bouncing Souls, Peter Murphy and Hatebreed. Up north in Santa Monica, the pier will host its annual Twilight Concerts series with performances by Morris Day of the Time (with L.A. funkster Dam-Funk), young rockabilly ace JD McPherson, oblique pop creator Ariel Pink and others.

As the sun sets and the ocean breeze carries music, fans will open their ears and let it all in. With pure focus on the artists and their creations, for a transcendent, fleeting two hours, we'll submit and immerse ourselves in sound, not smartphones.

randall.roberts@latimes.com

Twitter: @LilEdit

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