Speech’s Fave 5 Live Music Venues in Atlanta
He’s originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but Speech from Arrested Development has been in Atlanta for so long now that he considers it to be his hometown.
“I’ve lived here for over 30 years now,” the rapper and frontman muses. “It’s my city.”
Speech (AKA Todd Thomas) relocated to Georgia to attend the Art Institute of Atlanta in 1987. He almost immediately linking up with DJ Headliner to form Arrested Development the next year. It took a few more until the conscious hip-hop ensemble broke into the charts but they did so in spectacular fashion, taking home 2 Grammys and selling 6 million copies of their 1992 debut album: 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life Of…
The group has gone through a few changes since, but still regularly record and tour. Meanwhile, Speech has branched out and collaborated with artists like Zap Mama and 1 Giant Leap, as well as producing, acting, and releasing a number of solo albums. The pandemic hasn’t slowed him down; in February he dropped his 8th solo effort, Expansion, along with the video for A Different World, inspired by the right wing siege of the Capitol Building in Washington on January 6th.
“It’s an historical building, and kind of a dream venue for anyone in Atlanta who plays music. I saw Stevie Wonder there with my son when he was a year old, and I saw Prince there. I mean, I’ve seen Prince lots of times in other places, but it was just special to see him at the Fox Theatre. Probably the biggest reason why that venue is so important to me is that the very night I was at Prince, I squashed a long standing beef I had with Dionne Farris, who was one of the guest artists on Arrested Development’s debut album. Ironically, she quit performing with Arrested Development at the Fox, so it was kind of full circle. It was our very first big show, and we were opening for En Vogue, and she quit before we got on stage. So, lots of memories for me in that place.”
“Tabernacle is an old, abandoned church that became a House of Blues for a time before it changed to Tabernacle. It’s an infamous place; the sound sucks, but I’ve seen some great acts and monumental events there. In Atlanta there’s a thing called FunkJazzKafé that happens at Tabernacle, a revolutionary party that shines a light on black artists who are not getting exposure. Lots of funk and jazz, conscious hip-hop, afro beat, and neo-soul, and the guy who puts it on, Jason Orr, has helped break some great artists in the past, like Jill Scott. It’s one of those events that’s just so important to the community.”
“Before Arrested Development blew up, the Masquerade was my venue of choice. It’s been there forever, and I have a lot of dear memories of seeing people like Bjork and other artists I adore. I dreamed of performing there, and before the Grammys and the millions of records sold, I felt like if I could ever play Masquerade I could say that I had made it. It’s a really old place that used to be the Excelsior Mill, and it’s made out of this dilapidated wood. It has this old southern feel, and later I would end up promoting there. I would have musicians come in and I would mix genres, cross-pollinating artists like Ben Harper, The Pharcyde, Fishbone and Goodie Mob. Just tossing together different styles of music, which is something I love doing.”
“This is where Arrested Development does a once a year residency for 2 to 4 nights. We sell out, there’s tons of fans, and it’s a special tradition that means a lot to me. City Winery isn’t just a venue; it also serves food and wine, so it’s a unique place to play. You sit down for some elegant dining, have a glass of wine, and then you enjoy a raucous concert. It’s amazing.”
“It’s not an indoor venue, but Piedmont Park has had some fantastic shows. It’s a very popular place in town, and they often allow festivals and concerts, some of which I’ve promoted. It’s also one of my favourites because that was where I had one of my first dates with my wife, who I’ve been together with for 30 years. I’ve had some good times there, like when I brought in KRS-1, Ohio Players, a group called Gumbo that I was producing, an African Dance Troupe called Ko-thi Dance Company, and another called African Ballet. They were all on the same bill, and everyone in the crowd of 50,000 people went crazy for them. It was such a memorable night for me.”
Andrew Murray is a journalist and jobbing musician in northern Alberta. He lives with his wife, two dogs, and several amiable ghosts in a turn of the 20th century house built by a prominent politician. Andrew has written for newspapers, horror and food magazines, business periodicals, and ad campaigns, but he especially enjoys interviewing hair metal musicians.