Five Years of PopMatters: Concerts

Our crew works 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.

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.

Merlefest 2002
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.





The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

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