The Twin Cities Has A New Contender For Best Concert Venue

July 1, 2015

There’s no doubt the Twin Cities has an amazing music scene, both homegrown and as a regular stop on national and even international tours. Yes, yes, the fans make it all happen. Of course they do. But the Cities’ great venues play a huge part.

The large-but-still-pretty-cool TCF Bank Stadium and the Xcel Center. The historic splendor of the State, Orpheum and Fitzgerald Theatres. First Avenue, which is nothing short of legendary. And then there are The Varsity, the Cedar, the Fine Line, the Cabooze, the Turf Club, Triple Rock, the MN Zoo . . . this list goes on. For two smashed-together cities of this size, we’re awash in great places to catch live music.

But last fall, seemingly out of nowhere, a new venue (re)opened that may top them all: the University of Minnesota’s Northrop. (Formerly “Northrop Memorial Auditorium,” but who’s counting?)

Northrop, which first opened in the 1930s, used to seat about 4,800 people and was shaped as what I can only imagine is not the most acoustic-friendly form: a giant box.

Old Northrop pic

Northrop Memorial Auditorium as originally built.

The first show I saw at Northrop (the Allman Brothers during the summer of 1997) confirmed my hunch. The show was great, despite the fact that the room sounded distinctly like a giant echo chamber. I saw a few other shows after that, watched a couple U of M commencement ceremonies, but in large part Northrop dropped off my concert-going radar.

That all changed recently after the administration completely gutted the place and re-opened Northrop as a spectacular 2,600-seat theatre that bears little resemblance to its former self. Having seen a few shows in the new room, I’m ready to say it’s the best venue in the Twin Cities for actually watching live music.

Northrop pic

The new Northrop.

Northrop Pic 2

The new Northrop from a different view.

I’m not necessarily claiming Northrop is the best venue in the Twin Cities for seeing a live show. It certainly doesn’t hold a candle to the atmosphere of First Avenue or the Turf Club, and it has other glaring shortcomings like the fact that no beverages are allowed in the theatre during shows.

But for acoustics, sightlines, and providing an atmosphere where you can forget everything else and just concentrate on the music no matter the location of your seat, it can’t be beat. During a Ryan Adams show last fall, in seats in the back of the third balcony, we could hear every note during acoustic songs and even the band talking quietly among themselves on stage. I’ve never heard anything like that before in a venue of similar size, or even smaller. Northrop proved similarly great during the full electric onslaught of a couple My Morning Jacket shows just last weekend. For me, the bar has been raised for music venues in the Twin Cities.

MMJ 1

My Morning Jacket at Northrop last weekend.

If you haven’t been, I highly recommend it —  and I’d love to hear what you think!