The Troubadour Is LA’s Best Concert Venue (If Not Its Biggest)
If the walls at the Troubadour could talk—well, you probably wouldn’t want to hear everything they’d have to say. Shortly after the iconic West Hollywood rock club opened its doors in 1957, comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested for using an obscenity on stage. Bruce is hardly the only celebrity who’s had to be forcibly escorted off the premises: in 1974, John Lennon and Harry Nilsson were booted for heckling the Smothers Brothers. Los Angeles concerts aren’t generally known for their strict adherence to show etiquette, but the Troubadour quickly earned a reputation as a place where anything could—and probably would—happen.
But for all of the club’s colorful dustups (90% of which, we’re guessing, involved someone from Guns N’ Roses), it’s better known for the litany of legends that have graced its small stage. From Elton John to Sam Smith and Joni Mitchell to Lana Del Rey, artists have consistently made it a point to stop by the Troubadour regardless of the club’s limited capacity. The smaller names know that serious critics and label execs are always watching, waiting to discover the next big thing. As for the superstars? They just want a place to connect with audiences again, to revisit a simpler time before arena shows took over their tour schedules.
Maybe this is what the Troubadour really represents: an elusive kind of egalitarianism, a stage that doesn’t discriminate based on how many records you’ve sold or might one day sell. The building itself is rather unassuming, with that glowing blue sign above the stage being the only hint of glamour or excess. To really get to know the Troubadour, you’ll have to take a trip through the decades. With that in mind, here are some of our favorite highlights.
Without the Troubadour, some of the greatest partnerships in musical history might not exist. The Eagles’ Don Henley and Glenn Frey met at the bar in 1970. If one of them had decided to stay home, we might not have “Hotel California” (for better or worse) or “Sad Cafe,” the latter of which is actually about the Troubadour. Leonard Cohen was introduced to his future producer Phil Spector here, and Carly Simon met future husband James Taylor at a show she was opening for Cat Stevens.
There’s nothing quite like the first time … especially if you’re Taylor, who made his solo debut at the club in July of 1969. Other performers who made their US or LA debut at the Troubadour include Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Elton John, Hall and Oates, and even hair-metal band Warrant. In more recent years, alternative bands such as Alabama Shakes and Bastille have used the club as their launching point in LA.
You don’t even need to go to the Troubadour to hear your favorite musician play a set there. This is true no matter which genre you prefer. Into jazz? Check out the 1975 Miles Davis classic, Live at the Troubadour. Power pop? Look no further than Elvis Costello’s 1996 box set and Phantom Planet’s 2003 live album. And if you’re in the mood for some old-fashioned crooning, Neil Diamond’s Gold should do the trick.
One can only hope the audience who came to see Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band in 1974 came well-rested. Bruce played for a full 90 minutes, which is nothing strange for him. The fact that he started at 2 a.m., however, makes this one of the latest shows he ever played.
With new bands continuing to seek out the Troubadour—and vice versa—there’s no telling when the next legendary performance will be. Your best bet is simply to go as often as you can. Remember: they don’t make clubs like this elsewhere.
Photo: Exterior of Doug Weston's Troubadour nightclub in West Hollywood, CA by Gary Minnaert under public domain.