9:30 Club vs. The Black Cat – Ding! Ding!

Or should I say, “Kick ass concert venue versus a bar with a crappy stage?” Yes, I may indeed be comparing apples to oranges here, but they’re both fruit that I like to eat, so by God I’ll compare them if I want to.

OK, OK. I know I may be touching a raw nerve here, one that might get a pie thrown in my face. There are some of you who will probably agree with my assessment, while others may be deeply offended. However in my small concert-going world, these are basically my only two venue choices*, and I far prefer one over the other.

For me there are many factors that take an average concert venue and make it great, a few of them being as follows.

First and foremost a venue has to attract good talent because duh, isn’t it all about the music? Yes it’s true, if you’re playing on the main stage at either of these places you no doubt have talent, but the 9:30 Club manages to attract the elite bands, the cream of the crop. Like Super Diamond for example. And Justin Timberlake.

Continuing along with the music theme, another key factor in whether a venue is great or not is their sound system and acoustics. For those of you who’ve been to both of these places, you know that the Black Cat doesn’t hold a match to the 9:30 Club in this arena. The muddy, undecernable sound that reverberates from the stage at the Black Cat reminds me of hearing my ugly cousin practice his drums in the basement while I played Pitfall on my Atari. The video game’s soundtrack sounded much better, even on our 1981 Trinitron’s low-fi speakers. Conversely, when I saw Zero 7 at the 9:30 Club last year the sound was almost CD quality. I kid you not.

OK, enough about the music. What else does everyone else like to do when they go to concerts? Drink massive quantities of alcohol of course. Both venues are properly equipped to accommodate you on your quest for drunkenness, but I have to give the edge to the Black Cat on this one. They have a better selection of beer on tap and they’ll even serve it to you in a proper pint glass. As I recall, your choice at the 9:30 Club consists of Heineken and Sierra Nevada, which is why I go straight for the hard stuff instead.

Have I mentioned how awesome the light shows are at the 9:30 Club? When I saw Massive Attack there last year I thought the lights were going to induce an epileptic fit. Oh, and the lights at the Black Cat? I think they’re very similar to the lights that my dad uses when he changes the oil on his car. I’m pretty sure your local hardware store sells them, although I’m not sure where you buy red light bulbs.

I guess this all goes to show that you get what you pay for. The average ticket price at the Black Cat is around 10 bones, whereas you can expect to shell out at least 20 for a show at the 9:30 Club. It just depends on whether you’re on a mission to drink or on a mission to listen to great music.

In summary, The Black Cat is a dingy, smelly place with a good beer selection and cheap ticket prices. If you don’t know your date very well and aren’t sure how much time or money you want to invest in her, take her to a show here and snog her in a dark corner. On the other hand, if you appreciate hearing music as it’s meant to be heard, you fancy wicked cool light shows, and don’t mind drinking Heineken out of a plastic cup, the 9:30 Club is the place for you my friend. It’s the dog’s bollocks of the DC music scene, don’t you think?

* I’ll obviously go to the Verizon Center to see a big named band like U2 or Megadeth, but Mozart would have to resurrect himself from the dead for me to drive all the way out to the Patriot Center, and I’ve decided to focus only on venues that are inside The District and that can accommodate more than a hundred people.

Photo by Reza Vaziri

16 Comments so far

  1. ajw_93 (unregistered) on January 29th, 2008 @ 11:59 am

    "In summary, The Black Cat is a dingy, smelly place with a good beer selection and cheap ticket prices."

    So, what you’re saying is, if you miss the OLD 9:30 [yes, I’m old] and hope to recapture some of that dingy, smelly, cheap magic, then the Black Cat is the place to go"?

    I can’t be the only one old enough to remember, and also to think it is just WRONG that there’s a law firm and condos on F street now, over the address where the 9:30 got its name!

  2. digitaldefection (unregistered) on January 29th, 2008 @ 12:08 pm

    the black cat will usually give you your whiskey in a real glass. or your guinness in a real pub glass. not some plastic piece of crap (unless the bands playing are punkrock or some sort of rowdy music)

    the black cat almost never has any restrictions on photography. the 930 club ‘confiscated’ my camera during the pogues show, even though i wasnt getting in anyones way with it or using the flash.

    black cat has better bartenders.

    930’s stage is up too high.

    both get serious props for having all ages shows pretty much all the time.

    930 gets props for having multiple levels and bathrooms close to the pit area.

  3. IntangibleArts (unregistered) on January 29th, 2008 @ 12:22 pm

    Agreed, re: the old 9:30. It was a dirty, smelly little hole, but it was OUR dirty, smelly little hole. Loved that place. It had an intimacy for performances that the new one could never duplicate (although sometimes, a bit TOO intimate. capacity crowds to see Rollins Band, brutal)

    As for the beer selection at the current 9:30, they’ve got Newcastle on tap. It may not be Guinness, but it beats the snot outta the aforementioned Heineken.

    Plastic cup or no, a $5 Newcastle makes baby smile.

  4. 456479 (unregistered) on January 29th, 2008 @ 1:13 pm

    LOL. You consider J Timbertits coming to 930 a good thing? Sellout. Agreed, however, that 930 typically has better talent coming through. Notice I said TYPICALLY. Not sure about the rest of you, but I haven’t pounced on any shows going trough there in the past 2 months. Maybe that is just my musical taste tho….

    Black Cat does seem to play second fiddle to 930 but that might also have something to with a higher prevalence of local music performed there. Local music = smaller crowds (usually). And quite frankly, I just have never heard of most of the bands that play at Black Cat….perhaps I’m too old. There are, however, rare gems to be found in the BC roster however. I saw Junior Boys @ BC, and great show..

  5. Max (unregistered) on January 29th, 2008 @ 1:19 pm

    Timbertits! Hah! That’s great, and no, I wasn’t being serious when I said he was elite. I think he’s a dirty looking dude who sounds like bad Michael Jackson wannabe. WAY overrated.

  6. Steve (unregistered) on January 29th, 2008 @ 1:58 pm

    Coming up next on Metroblogging DC: Baltimore Orioles vs. the Bowie Bay Sox: which is the better baseball team?

  7. IntangibleArts (unregistered) on January 29th, 2008 @ 2:03 pm

    for instance:
    sleepytime gorilla museum at black cat = good match.
    SGM at 930? blecch. wouldn’t make sense.

  8. Max (unregistered) on January 29th, 2008 @ 2:09 pm

    Nah, I’d compare which stadium serves better beer and which has better food because let’s face it – baseball is boring no matter which team you’re watching or which stadium you’re at.

  9. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on January 29th, 2008 @ 2:30 pm

    When I was at the 9:30 on Saturday, they were offering about ten beers on draft upstairs, including Chimay, so I think the beer’s gotten better, or it’s just better upstairs. Not sure.

  10. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on January 29th, 2008 @ 2:35 pm

    There was good beer to be had upstairs at the 9:30 on Saturday, including Chimay on tap, which was a very pleasant surprise. It’s not just heiny anymore, at least upstairs at the good bar.

  11. Max (unregistered) on January 29th, 2008 @ 2:43 pm

    How was the beer at the upstairs bar, Tom? :)

  12. WFY (unregistered) on January 29th, 2008 @ 3:04 pm

    Ah, the old 9:30 Club — I can still smell it.

    Blue air when you walked in, brown air when you walked out.

  13. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on January 29th, 2008 @ 3:15 pm

    Sorry about that Max, our comment system is for shit right now. I hope it gets better.

  14. Mike (unregistered) on January 29th, 2008 @ 3:37 pm

    I was at the upstairs bar on Sunday. They don’t actually have Chimay on tap, but in the bottle. They also want $13 for the privilege. I passed on that. If it had been Westmalle, maybe.

    I would caution people to be careful about what they order in 9:30, though. They don’t seem to do a good job with maintaining their tap lines. If the beer you want to order doesn’t move, it’s probably gone bad. The Liberty Ale I tried to have on Sunday was sour and nasty tasting, not the hoppy goodness it should be.

  15. Velvet (unregistered) on January 29th, 2008 @ 3:51 pm

    Oh, I would never throw a perfectly good pie in your face!

  16. Brittany Martin (unregistered) on February 8th, 2008 @ 8:59 am

    I would posit that Cat v. 9:30 is not the right question.

    9:30 Club these days acts more like Constitution Hall – a larger space for established acts that have been to DC multiple times before and need a bigger room.

    Black Cat is more accurately compared to Rock and Roll Hotel, really. They have much closer capacities, both offer reasonable ticket prices, and both actually book the bands that people want to see.

    I cannot remember the last time I went to the 9:30. It has been years. I went there regularly as a teenager, but rarely since. It just seems odd to pay more to go to a really big club and see a band that, if I wanted to see them, probably saw them 6 – 12 months ago when they played at Black Cat.

    Sound quality might be important, but it is not as important as the size or scene of a place, both of which favor smaller clubs in general and Black Cat in particular. Friendlier people, the ability to see the performers close to life-size and not way off in the distance or looking down from a balcony, but most importantly, bands I actually want to see.

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