[1 December 2004]
Taking you there to the night of the show, allowing you to live the performance through words, portraying the personality (or lack thereof) of the musician. Whether it’s whetting the appetite for an upcoming show on the calendar, or making you regret the one you knew you shouldn’t have missed, the things that make all good concert reviewing work are the things that make live music such a visceral pleasure. Reviews are an expression of the audience, and whether or not a writer praises or dismisses a particular show, concert reviews give readers a sense of what they themselves can hope to experience. They also work to solidify music’s place as a form of lived culture, something that exists in the immediate communication between artist and audience, and well written reviews make this connection apparent and hold it up for analysis.
Devon Powers and her crew of writers work hard to bring PopMatters readers excellent reporting on the experience of seeing musicians ply their craft on stage. The tours they cover are often the names on the lips of critics everywhere, and our writers cut through the hype to present objective and analytical observations that expose weaknesses and uphold strengths. More importantly, they allow the reader a chance to piggyback on a writer’s shoulders, taking them into the show itself and experiencing a concert through their eyes. Such immediacy allows for some impressively adept writing, and each of the examples below highlights why this section continues to be one of PopMatters’ great pleasures.
PopMatters Editors’ Picks
JC Chasez concert, 12 May 2004: Roseland Ballroom New York
Review by Devon Powers
PopMatters reviews go beyond the basic, and this review is an example of how every good writer at the magazine has such comprehensive knowledge of their subject and uses that knowledge to construct important, timely pieces like this. Plus, they can be quite clever in their style: “To mix metaphors, homeboy is not only plagued by a 900-pound gorilla, but he’s got an albatross around his neck and there’s a huge pink elephant chilling up in his crib.”
South by Southwest 2003: A Field Journal (sample page)
Feature by Tobias Peterson and Terry Sawyer
PopMatters has been on the scene at some of the major music events of the past five years, and this feature is an excellent example of how the magazine has worked to keep readers abreast of the latest media events. The page linked here is merely a sample of collected works covering this event. Readers are encouraged to browse the whole piece.
Dolly Parton concert, 17 August 2002: House of Blues Chicago
Review by Charlotte Robinson
Robinson has a fabulous way with words, and a knack for setting a scene. Her concert reviews are fun to read because, while they get down to it regarding the artist performance, she manages to take us right into the venue, which all concert-lovers know is just as important.
Feature: CMJ Music Marathon 2003 (sample page)
Review by Devon Powers
As with SXSW, this coverage of the 2003 CMJ Music Marathon in New York City shines as an example of PopMatters reporting trends as they develop. Powers takes us into the clubs and bars in her inimitable style, and really brings the event home with more than simple news reporting.
Ween concert, 9 May 2003: Murat Theater Parking Lot Indianapolis, Indiana
Review by Matt Gonzales
Sometimes we just want a good laugh. Gonzalez provides it here with a witty yet insightful look into one of the great mysteries of our time: why do smelly pseudo-hippies love Ween? It’s easy to feel Gonzales’s pain, and it’s certain the boys in Ween would find solace in his words.
Review by Scott Waldman
Another fine example of a writer being able to convey the importance of an event and really taking you there through words, this is the kind of writing that makes you feel like you’ve been missing out on something, but you won’t let such a good thing pass you by, again.
Love with Arthur Lee concert, 19 August 2003: House of Blues West Hollywood, California
Review by Kandia Crazy Horse
This review shows how covering a concert can also be a history lesson; conveying not only a sense of place and performance, but also the weight of an event. Through graceful writing and attention to detail, Crazy Horse manages to make this concert seem like an occasion, something that carried the full weight of music history on its back.
Stephin Merritt concert, 11 October 2002: Brooklyn Academy of Music Brooklyn, New York
Review by Shannon Wearing
In this review, Wearing does a good job of analyzing an artist through the persona of their performance, painting a portrait of Merritt as much as reporting on the actual concert itself.
Radiohead concert, 30 June 2001: Santa Barbara Bowl Santa Barbara, California
Review by Shan Fowler
At the height of Radiohead media frenzy, Fowler turned in this piece that justifies the attention heaped on the band. A fine example of writing both as a fan and as a critic aware of the subject in the context of a media environment, Fowler’s take strikes a balance that results in a fair and astute evaluation.
The Polyphonic Spree, 21 April 2003: Aladdin Theater Portland, Oregon
Review by Cori Taratoot
All good concert reviews give you some sense of what the show was like, but here Taratoot takes the reader on a moment-by-moment, first person ride through a show, drawing out not only a description of the performance, but a real sense of the emotion and thrills of being in the crowd. This is a wonderful example of a concert review becoming a vicarious experience.