"The ultimate sin of any performer is contempt for the audience."
- Lester Bangs

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Middle East - Cambridge, MA

The Middle East is a four part venue located in Central Square in Cambridge,MA. It houses two restaurants and three music stages right on the corner of Mass Ave and Brookline Street. The smaller restaurant, the Corner, serves Lebanese food and holds a tiny stage in the front window, while the other restaurant, Zuzu, has a bit more upscale menu.

However the draw of The Middle East comes from its two main performance spaces. Downstairs houses a club style stage, with room for over 500 people. There are two bars, one in an elevated side portion that is almost always roped off for 21+ and one that serves non alcoholic drinks along the right wall. Bands tend to hangout in the elevated bar, mingling with their older fans. There are no barricades, allowing you to get right up to the front of the stage. The coat check at the back is cheap and efficient, and quite useful in Boston winters when it is 10 degrees outside but 80 degrees in the crowd. Downstairs usually hosts bigger bands who want a club feel show, like Cobra Starship and Brand New.

The other performance space, Upstairs, houses smaller bands.To reach Upstairs, you must walk through Zuzu and all the way to the door in the back, past the waiters' station and coffee machine. There's usually someone at the door checking IDs (shows upstairs are often 18+) and taking money. Upstairs is painted blood red and covered in cool graffiti and band posters. Here the bands often mingle out in the crowd or off to the side of the room as the shows are usually for up and coming bands. There is a small bar in the back with cheap beer, but most of the crowd is college aged and drinking water to stay hydrated. Upstairs only holds about 150 people, so shows are small and intimate.

The Middle East does a great job booking bands, and I have only once been disappointed by a concert here. Insider's tip: they offer reduced fare parking ($3) at the 55 Franklin Street Garage between 5pm and 2am. To get your parking validated, you must give your parking ticket to the bartender at Zuzu. He must stamp it AND give you asmall green ticket that you insert into the parking machine. Not all of the bartenders know about the green ticket, but it is required for the reduced fare, so remind them that you need one. I've often seen them take thetickets off of a shelf behind the bar, somewhere near an elephant statue.

I give them a 5."

- Alex D., Fake Pink Glasses

The Middle East: 5

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