Best Of Tucson®

Best Live Music Venue

Rialto Theatre

READER'S PICK: Say what you will about the varying sound quality (it takes a wiz soundman to alchemize this tough room into a clean-sounding one), but downtown's historic Rialto garners mention for the constant and wildly varied schedule of touring acts (and the occasional local one) it has maintained since its doors reopened six years ago. While the Rialto's proprietors and in-house promoters, Jeb Schoonover and Paul "Bear" Barrington, bring in lots of roots-oriented acts, the real diversity of performances is due to the fact that outside promoters use it as a venue-for-rent, opening the space to acts too big for Tucson's smaller clubs, but not quite big enough for the TCC. In recent months, the venue has staged performances from punk vets Social Distortion and Fear, nouveau flamenco king Ottmar Liebert, reggae superstars Gregory Isaacs and Buju Banton, cult pranksters Ween, to ... well, you get the idea. Suffice to say that if you're a fan of performances by popular music artists in any genre, you've likely made a trip to the Rialto this year.

READERS' PICK RUNNER-UP: Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. The ballot-casters among you, our dear readers, must have some pretty fond memories of Congo shows past; that's the only reason we can think why Club Congress, which no longer features live music, is this year's runner-up for your favorite live music venue. Or maybe you cast your ballots when the club was still hosting live shows. Or maybe it was a whole lotta protest votes at seeing this estimable downtown hotspot abandon its roots as a staunch supporter of local and (inter)national acts. Whatever the reason, we empathize. Let's all cross our fingers in hope the powers that be reinstate both the legend of the club and the club itself by placing live music back on the schedule.

OF MYTHIC PROPORTIONS: If you don't want your view of live acts obscured by 10-gallon hats and a banal clot of reserved seating in the front, two downtown venues offer you just that. A little cabaret with your cabernet? Guns n' Roses in your open mic? Seven Black Cats combines free pool and friendly bartenders with a lineup that always rocks you clear across the Transit Center. Props are due in particular for showcasing bands dominated by the sleeker sex, for the low cover prices and for those beer specials. Seven Black Cats is at 260 E. Congress St.

OF MYTHIC PROPORTIONS: The Mat Bevel Institute brings it to you live even when you're the only person there. Arrive at least an hour early to any event there so you can gape at the wondrous mechanized society inside and rap with Bevel himself. The Institute has already gained a national reputation as one of the premier jazz venues west of New York City, but it takes a little knowledge of local legend, and maybe some scientific background, to understand the intoxicating effects that an atmosphere like this can have on the discriminately chosen performances. The Mat Bevel Institute is located at 530 N. Stone Ave., between Fifth and Sixth Streets, and at

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