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Australia's greatest live music venues

Live music: the Esplanade in Melbourne (Photo: Lonely Planet Images)

A good holiday can be made extra special by catching a top gig by an up-and-coming Aussie band.

There are live music venues all across the country, but it's the ones that have a long-standing commitment to showcasing new, largely unknown acts that have become legendary. After all, some of these acts go on to be rather bigger. But where are these venues? Where can you spot the next Silverchair or Powderfinger? We've picked out some of the best possibilities.

The Esplanade

Where: St Kilda, Melbourne

A giant bay-front drinking den, the Espy (as it is universally known) has been going since 1878 and has been since classified by the National Trust of Australia. In Melbourne, it's well known as a legendary venue, and that reputation for live music has prevented it being disgustingly spruced up into an identikit trendy bar. You can still show up in ripped jeans and have a VB and the roll call of bands that have strutted their stuff is hugely impressive. Paul Kelly, The Kills, Dallas Crane and Jet have all played there. Even Johnny Farnham has taken to the stage at the Espy.

Find out more: the Esplanade

Prince of Wales

Where: St Kilda, Melbourne

Just up the road from the Espy is the Prince of Wales, a classic people-watching pub on Fitzroy Street. The open windows are great for watching the world go by, while inside are two bars (one gay-friendly).

It's upstairs where the action is, however, and the Prince of Wales Bandroom has a six decade-long record of hosting bands. Its usual focus is local up-and-comers, but it also has an great history of hosting international artists that are yet to hit the big time. The likes of Coldplay, Lenny Kravitz, Ben Harper, Scissor Sisters and Jack Johnson have made appearances, way before they became too big to play at anything less than a football stadium.

Find out more: Prince of Wales

The Zoo

Where: Fortitude Valley, Brisbane

Despite opening as a cafe and pool hall in 1992, The Zoo has long since gained a reputation as a live music venue. It's got a cruisy laid-back vibe — it likes to bill itself as a ''please'' and ''thank you'' establishment — and that's what attracts bands that could be playing at far bigger venues.

The combination of intimacy, a relaxed atmosphere and the occasional top band makes it arguably the coolest place in the Queensland capital. Over the years it has hosted plenty of great Aussie bands — including local boys Powderfinger and Regurgitator. International acts such as Ben Harper, Mogwai and Gomez have made appearances, while you may also get served your drinks by the stars of tomorrow. Plenty of Brisbane's local musicians have been employed at The Zoo while starting out on the rocky road to fame and fortune.

Find out more: the Zoo

The Basement

Where: Circular Quay, Sydney

Sydney has some excellent medium-range music venues that catch international bands on their way up — the Enmore Theatre and the Metro on George Street are classic examples — but it lags a little behind Melbourne in terms of classic music venues.

One exception is the Basement which has been a great jazz venue for years. It does occasionally branch out — the likes of The Whitlams, Kasey Chambers and Barnesy have played here — but it's the list of jazz greats that impress. Herbie Hancock, Dizzy Gillespie and Georgie Fame are on it.

Find out more: the Basement

The Annandale Hotel

Where: Parramatta Road, Sydney

Following a disastrous flirtation with the pokies in the 1990s, the Annandale is now back to what it does best — letting rock bands let rip on stage. The pub prides itself on its concentration on live music and most of today's indie-rock aristocracy have made an appearance there at some point.

Spiderbait, John Butler, The Cat Empire, You Am I and Youth Group are among those that have got the crowds going from the small stage.

Find out more: the Annandale Hotel

The Fly By Night

Where: Fremantle, Western Australia

There are a few good live music venues in Perth, but most locals decamp to Freo if they're after a date with a band.

The Fly By Night is part gig venue, part musicians' club, which means it's specifically geared towards giving new bands a chance. Many of those that have broken out of the state to the whole country have made their early bows this venue such as The John Butler Trio, The Waifs, The Panics and Eskimo Joe.

Among the interstate and international musicians who have played there are Ani DiFranco, Xavier Rudd, The Go-Betweens and Bic Runga.

Find out more: the Fly By Night

The Cambridge Hotel

Where: Newcastle

The Cambridge has an admirable policy of giving space to new bands, but it will forever be remembered as the venue that broke Silverchair. In their early years, Daniel Johns and co were allowed on stage even though other establishments wouldn't give them a chance due to their young age.

In 1999, the band even performed a gig pretending to be their own tribute act — The Australian Silverchair Show.

Find out more: the Cambridge Hotel

Love rock n' roll? Been to gigs at any of these venues? Share your favourite live music memories with us:

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