I couldn’t agree more with your general sentiment. There is no comparison between large venues and clubs and small theaters for the enjoyment of live music. Unless you are on the floor dead center, stadiums and arenas are the pits. First tier near the stage is acceptable but be prepared for sticker shock. Anything else you might as well stay home.
Thankfully tastes and trends shift and other then a small handful of top artists, you can catch most “Rock” talent at acceptable smaller venues. We are so lucky in DC. We have the 9:30 Club which sounds exactly like the Paradise. Incidentally, you can see the Paradise in all its intimate glory on a widely available release of a Pixies show from their first reunion tour.
DC also has two other venues worth noting. Gypsy Sally’s is a tiny club in Georgetown with a limited first run schedule (Lots and lots of Dead and Phish tributes fill the gaps between must see events) but anywhere on their floor is a treat for sights, sounds and dancing.
The Birchmere is another ok DC venue. Unfortunately, is is almost strictly seated. The Bottle Rockets, Squirrel Nut Zippers and a hot Graham Parker and The Rumor show should NOT be seen seated but you have to take what is offered and the sight lines and sound are quite good.
Having lived part of my life in New York and LA, I have to sadly report that there are plenty of intimate venues but you have to hustle to keep track of them all. So the House of Blues is as good as it gets for intimate consistency in LA.
Fillmore’s are also not bad for intimacy and The Greek in LA is a surprisingly great larger (and outdoor) venue. Too bad it hasn’t become a model of its kind nationally.
And for those new to the experience, standing is always better then sitting but consider the show. Sitting is probably fine for a solo or duo act where dancing or swaying is not a requirement and will not be missed. Finally, and above all (literally), no matter how tall you are and unless you jam yourself against the stage, someone taller then you will ALWAYS stand in front of you!