Venue Review: The Theater of Living Arts (TLA)

I understand why everyone raves about the TLA (Theater of Living Arts). It’s a little grimy & grungy, really feeling like a genuine venue for a punk rock (or heavier) concert. (Punk Rock is about as heavy as I go, but many metal heads love this Philly venue as well.) 

The bathrooms begin surprisingly clean and end up pretty much trashed, with toilets virtually turning into port o potties, becoming rather unflushable. But that’s just one way that I think this venue really captures the essence of rock & roll. It’s that perfect amount of anarchy ringing throughout the venue. The venue is also quite loud, which is yet another perk. 

For those of you who have not had the opportunity to attend a concert at the TLA, let me try and paint you a word- picture. At about 4th and South, the venue sits in the center of South street culture. The outward appearance is subtle enough that it blends in, while still having an old movie theater-esque sign keeping you up to date with current and future concerts.  You walk into a cramped foyer where the bands sell their merch and the downstairs bathrooms reside. Walk through one of the two sets of doors into the venue with the soundboard area either to your left or right. There are also two staircases that lead up to the balcony, the one on the left being the main entrance to the balcony. A small, modest bar area is also to the left. To go upstairs or in the small bar area, you need to show your id and get a “TLA” stamp on your hand. 

There is also a small concession stand to the right if you are too young to go to the bar areas. And behind the sound board, there are a few high-top tables with stools if you just want to listen to the show and not see it all that well. If you desire to stand downstairs and really feel the show, you just walk through the doors and find your place in the audience. The large main room has three gorgeous chandeliers hanging from the ceiling with black curtains lining the walls. It also gets pretty dark during the concert. The stage is raised up a bit so those in the back can see it. The floor also has a slight incline so that those in the far back can see a bit easier– much appreciated for short people like myself.

Upstairs, there is a lot of seating and room to stand and see quite well from the balcony. There are also mini chandeliers hanging above to keep the same theme from down below. At the balcony’s bar area, there are 3 TV’s  that say “Rock Responsibly” at the top and provide quirky guidelines like “Stay classy, not trashy”. The beer is fairly pricey, with a craft beer on draft at 16 oz for $8, while also providing 24 oz draft beers, for the aggressive beer lovers. They also sell cans, many of which is craft beer. The second floor bathrooms have painted graffiti quotes from some of the artists that have played there, or maybe just quotes from some favorite bands, I’m not so sure. Nevertheless, these bathrooms were the slightest bit cleaner. 

In between acts, a screen comes down with Live Nation advertisements; which, in my opinion, takes away from the fun of watching the switches. But, maybe that’s just me. I was pleased that the music in between sets wasn’t the typical rap music that I have heard at way too many venues across the city. Instead, they play great alternative/ indie rock that you might hear on radio 104.5 or 93.3. And, since I was there to see mewithoutYou and Say Anything, I’m glad they took the memo that we might not exactly be the rap music crowd. I’d be interested to see if they play the same type of music in between acts for each show, or if they switch it up.

A few other random notes– I noticed that around the second act, people really started filling in. Of course, the show I was there for had a total of 4 acts, so I guess that’s what you get when there are basically 3 openers. I also found it interesting that there is a”No Re-Entry” sign in the foyer, but it didn’t seem to be enforced all that well, since people were flocking to get out for smoke breaks in between the acts. I also noticed that there were a few waiters on the ground floor going around delivering drinks to concert goers.

All in all, I find the TLA to be a very solid venue. It doesn’t have many frills and that’s exactly what I like about it. It could afford to take away some of the Live Nation in-your-face marketing, but I guess a venue has to stay afloat somehow. If you are into punk, heavy metal, or really any kind of rock music, this Philly venue should be on the top of your go-to list.






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