READERS' PICK: It's new and improved! At least it was about 10 years ago, when a splendid renovation saved the beloved 1927 Temple of Music and Art from crashing like a dot-com stock. The place had taken such a dive that one short-term owner proposed ripping out the stage area and erecting an office building on the site. Mammon's loss was Melpomene's gain, as Arizona Theatre Company helped save the Temple and secure it as its permanent home. The main building houses a lovely 600-seat balconied theater occupied about 85 percent of the time by ATC; with its fine acoustics and excellent sight lines it's as elegant a venue for stage plays as almost any of the old Broadway theaters. It's versatile, too; last year the place was rewired for a live quad audio mix during a Steve Roach concert. But wait--there's more! Not only is the Temple a traditional mid-sized drama and concert hall, but it's also a small cabaret theater and an art gallery, too. And, for a modest extra fee, you also get a gift shop and restaurant! But there's never a charge for relaxing by the bubbling fountain on the Temple's peaceful, cobbled patio. Inside and out, the Temple is quality goods.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Rialto Theater, 318 E. Congress St. When it comes to the constantly aborted Downtown Renaissance, one welcome exception to the otherwise depressing familiarity of short business half-lives and boarded-up store fronts is the Rialto Theater, a classy live music venue that features what has become a rare phenomenon in the Old Pueblo these days--live music virtually every night of the week. After a somewhat shaky start, the Rialto seemed destined to meet the same fate as many other noble-minded but poorly funded and attended downtown ventures. But then, Paul Barrington and Jeb Schoonover (who is also the driving force behind the semi-annual Club Crawl and other downtown musical happenings) set the Rialto on a course that is right, steady, and in for the long haul. This comes as great news to Tucson music lovers, who have seen avenues for enjoying live music steadily shrinking over the years as even the venerable Club Congress has all but given up the ghost. The great thing about the Rialto, aside from being a legitimately retro theater with balcony seating and an ample butt-shakin' space, is the amazing diversity of musical acts booked there. Past years have seen Latino rockers and Tucson favorites, Los Lobos, Cali slacker punk ringleaders NOFX, the world-beat bluegrass of String Cheese Incident, the blues of Keb Mo', and for jazz fans this coming October, guitarist Pat Metheny (fans of whom might well want to check out the August edition of Harper's magazine for genuine nice guy Metheny's bare-knuckled verbal ass-whuppin' of pantywaist saxophone dilletante Kenny G). This broad spectrum of music gives fans of all tastes and persuasions a good reason to head downtown for a show. If the smoke-free environment of the theater doesn't fit your definition of what live concerts should be, then retire to the lobby, where you can purchase beer and other beverages and join the Second-Hand Smoke Hall of Fame. It's all good.
LOOSE CHANGE: Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Between Sixth Avenue and Stone, behind a large portrait of Ghandi, you will find Steve Eye's Art Gallery-cum-performance venue. If the slap of amazing local art is not enough to amaze and mystify you, the eclectic music will. Defenders of pure and quality music, avant-garde bands pull together from the sub-cultures of America's alternative intelligentsia. Rock and roll from Seattle to New York makes minds experience the rollercoaster of both great and god-awful tunes. At the Solar Culture, art happens, friends and strangers unite, and culture expands.