The Middle East in Cambridge, MA is an institution. If you're from Boston, I'm probably not telling you something you don't already know, it's that much of an institution. And with good reason.
The Middle East Downstairs is one of the few rooms in the city with a perfect size capacity for showcasing exactly the kind of bands the in-the-know kids want to be in-the-know about. You get the breaking artists on the cusp of going gold, before they graduate to Avalon-sized stages and beyond. And you get legendary acts who have never lost their street cred. Hopefully, they've perfected the sound since I've been back, as I've had a few nights where it was so loud I thought my ears might bleed. Definitely warranted earplugs. But with this kind of well-earned clout, all true music fans eventually find themselves Downstairs at the Middle East.
The great equalizer that saves the Middle East from becoming holier than thou and too cool for school is its two upstairs rooms. Enjoy some belly dancing music, freak folk or an accordion artist while you hoover some hummous and grape leaves in the restaurant. Or enjoy a local band earning its stripes in the Middle East Upstairs back room.
Getting a gig at the Middle East is famously difficult, which is why it is so jealously coveted. And putting a band through its paces before it can make it to the holy grail of gigs in the big room downstairs is what being in a band in Boston is all about.
And how can I forget the mural?! It's part of what makes the M.E. the M.E., and integral to the visual identity of one of metropolitan Boston's most culturally diverse neighborhoods, Central Square.