By Matt Chesterton
August 07, 2014
Marcos Brindicci/Reuters/Corbis

I remember the precise moment I fell in love with Buenos Aires. It was 2003 and I was commuting home in a near-empty carriage on the subway’s B line. At some point, a frail old man with a smoker’s cough got on and painstakingly opened a threadbare case to reveal a battered bandoneón (concertina). He looked too weak to lift it. Then he belted out the best version of Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango I have heard before or since, passed around a fedora, coughed some more and left. Which is just a roundabout way of saying that all Buenos Aires is a stage, and that sound-hearing can be as rewarding as sightseeing.

If you’re here in spring or summer, look out for free concerts in Palermo Woods or down by the Rio de Plata river. If you lean more toward four kids with three chords and two songs in a bar that has one beer, San Telmo and Abasto will be your happiest hunting grounds. Just don’t forget to take the subway.

La Trastienda

The trusty Trastienda has been showcasing top acts and upcoming hopefuls for two decades now. As of writing, tickets are selling for leading Argentine singer-songwriter Fito Paéz, Vampire Weekend wannabes Banda de Turistas, and ska-punk survivors Las Pelotas, among others. Kaiser Chiefs and Two Door Cinema Club are among the international indie bands that have gigged here recently.

Teatro Colón

Considering the number of architects who collaborated on its design and construction, one of whom was shot dead by his former valet mid project, the Colón, which opened in 1908, is a miracle of aesthetic harmony. But it’s the acoustics that place it among the world’s top five concert venues: you really can hear a pin drop in here. If you can’t catch a performance (and you must), at least take a tour.

Boris Club de Jazz

Any place whose house band is called the Boris Big Band is alright by me. This 14-piece outfit brings the swing every Sunday night, while weeknight players run the gamut from poker-faced quintets to kitschy Paul McCartney and Amy Winehouse tribute acts. For a nosh, there’s everything from empanadas to salmon with couscous, though the cocktails are a safer bet.

Ciudad Cultural Konex

This leftfield cultural center in Abasto offers a varied program of events for adults and kids, from experimental theater to puppet shows to live bands. But most people will tell you to forget about all that and go on a Monday night at 7 p.m., when drum circle troupe La Bomba de Tiempo take the stage—and never fail to bring the house down.

Teatro Gran Rex

With its rationalist facade of reinforced concrete and asymmetrical, shell-like auditorium inspired by New York’s Radio City Music Hall, this venue completed in 1937 is as much a part of the city’s architectural heritage as its musical one. As of writing, Chick Corea, Damon Albarn, and Johnny Winter are slated to gig here, highlighting the Gran Rex’s eclectic reach.