Rock and roll, Manhattan-style

December 12, 1993|By Jon Pareles | Jon Pareles,New York Times News Service

Rock fans in New York are a tough, dedicated bunch. They have figured out how to snap up tickets for concerts that sell out the day they're announced. They adapt to great variations between announced and actual show times; they brave frisking, metal detectors, overcrowded halls, belligerent bouncers and exorbitant drink prices.

Just about every band in the known universe looks forward to a showcase in New York, where audiences are both discerning and diverse. But where will they play? Often, at places that would be outshone by the dives back home.

Because now is the peak of the indoor rock-concert season, this is a good weekend to look at the major rock halls in Manhattan -- some venerable, some newly commandeered.

What follows is a subjective guide to the terrain by a longtime concertgoer.

* Madison Square Garden -- Capacity: 19,000.

Atmosphere: Basic sports arena, recently redesigned with tacky, dated "Miami Vice" graphics. A mob scene in the narrow lobby as shows begin and end, with fans bottlenecked at turnstiles and escalators. If you don't know where your seat is, an usher will show up eventually.

Sightlines: Chiropractors benefit from the neck-craning in the side seats; beware of bleacher sections too far up front that can leave you staring at speaker cabinets and performers' profiles.

Sound: Varies with location; not bad on the floor, full of ricochets in the bleachers.

Survival tip: Unless you don't trust fellow concertgoers, leaving via the stairwells beats crowding onto the escalators.


Capacity: 5,600.

Atmosphere: The dumpy but serviceable Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden has been renovated as a stylish nightmare. Moving the entrance to Seventh Avenue has added a block-long walk upon arrival, sometimes through the Garden hordes. Seats are comfortable, but the non-Euclidean geometry of the ceiling lights is disorienting, and there's less fresh air than on a budget trans-Atlantic flight. Expect a headache.

Sightlines: Fine in the middle, but the broad crescent shape creates a lot of sidelong views.

Sound: Full-bodied and clear.

Survival tip: When leaving, head for the exits down by the stage instead of bucking the lobby traffic.

New York Coliseum

Capacity: 8,000.

Atmosphere: Escalators unload directly onto a vast, blank, stony floor that was built for conventions and has just been pressed into service for concerts. Nowhere to sit, nowhere to hide.

Sightlines: Pillars here and there.

Sound: Not as bad as it could be, given the exclusively hard surfaces in all directions.

Survival tip: Agoraphobics beware.

Radio City Music Hall

Capacity: Almost 6,000.

Atmosphere: One New York institution that still lives up to its legend. The grand Art Deco palace is gracious verging on officious, and so sumptuous that its architecture can provide a better show than some of the attractions.

Sightlines: Direct and comfortable; bring binoculars for balcony seats.

Sound: Can be ragged or rich, depending on the performer; the louder the band, the worse the treble blares, and don't expect to hear bass lines.

Survival tip: For multiple-night engagements, the sound always improves after opening night.

Roseland Ballroom

Capacity: 3,200.

Atmosphere: Once a big-band stronghold, now often a melee of colliding bodies, as the dance floor turns into a big mosh pit. Rock shows often eschew the broad main stage for a temporary one on a narrow wall of the rectangular main room, putting the band farther away from the back of the audience; the long, skinny shape can make a show feel like a concert on a dirigible. Late arrivals wander through a gantlet of dazed, bruised, sweaty mosh-pit refugees.

Sightlines: With standing room, only the tall survive.

Sound: Loud and clear, especially down the center of the room; grows garbled at the sides.

Survival tip: Arrive early, since shows start punctually and the front-door frisking backs up lines around the block. And when the moshing starts, stay clear of the railings.


Capacity: More than 3,000.

Atmosphere: Eye-popping disco dance floor, with a grid of video monitors reminiscent of "The Hollywood Squares."

Sightlines: Passable for taller people on the dance floor; nonexistent in the back or in the balcony, where video monitors offer consolation.

Sound: Worse than the sightlines.

Survival tip: Wait for the band to perform somewhere else.

Beacon Theater

Capacity: 2,846.

Atmosphere: The rock circuit's Old Reliable. An opulent movie palace, recently regilded to show off its fanciful interior reliefs; the old, sprung seats have been replaced.

Sightlines: Just fine.

Sound: Disappointing; grating trebles and sludgy bass.

Survival tip: There's always a delay at the box office.

Webster Hall

Capacity: 2,000.

Atmosphere: The former Ritz is now usually a dance club, but has also returned to concert use. It's the same old place: surly, overcrowded, beer-soaked.

Sightlines: Be tall or be early.

Sound: Adequate on the floor, annoying upstairs.

Survival tip: Between the balcony and the bathrooms are four flights of stairs.


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