Daily Archives: 9 September, 2011

What makes a great concert?

Today’s Music: Levon Helm
Today’s Adventure: Surfing Vicariously

I’ve been to a decent amount of concerts. I’ve seen ’em in small rooms ( Rodney Crowell at Dixon’s Place – about 75 seats), big rooms ( U2 at Sun Life Stadium), and venues of all sizes in between.
I’ve seen bands multiple times, some shows great, some not so much (I’m looking at you, Black Crowes). I’ve been to shows where I didn’t know what to expect but absolutely loved them ( Toshi Reagon ), and I’ve seen acts I expected to love, but really really didn’t (Steve Earle).

So what makes a concert great for me?
1-It has to be a good room
Johnny Clegg at City Winery was a fantastic show, but I spent half of it trying to maneuver for a view around the support columns. You present live music. Let people see it.
Town Hall is a pretty good room to see a show, although the balcony seats are a bit close together.
2-The band has relate to the crowd
Blues Traveler at Roseland Ballroom. 90 minutes of watching the band jerk each other off for their own amusement. No playing to the crowd or engaging them.
On the other hand, I saw Hootie and the Blowfish at Irving Plaza . They were just up there playing, having a good time, and it was infectious. I got the feeling that if no one showed up, they’d still have been up there, playing, passing the bottle of SoCo, laughing themselves silly
3-Do What you do best
Stanley Jordan at Birdland. Solo, alternating between 2 guitars. Lights went down, he came on, and I sat with my jaw hanging there for 2 hours, astounded. He does one thing. And he does it better than anyone else. If you don’t know him, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
4- Tell a story, for goodness sakes.
We’ve come out to support you. Show us you appreciate it. Change lyric for the city you’re in. Tell us a story of how great the women/food/drugs in our city are.
One of the best shows I saw was John Hiatt at The Bottom Line (we miss you, Bottom Line!) Between every song, he told a story. There was some interaction with the crowd. An amusing anecdote. It makes us feel like we’re part of your world a little, even if it’s just for that set.
Groovelily is really good at that. Joe Cocker isn’t.
5- Be in a condition to perform
Shane McGowan shows up. Several hours late. Looking like hell. But he does show up eventually. It’s well known, and adds to the effect of his live performance.
Axl Rose? Not so much. If you’re going to live the rock n roll lifestyle, figure out how to do it while still performing. Otherwise, we won’t waste our ticket money on you.
6- Get me in a good mood
Ok, this isn’t totally on the performer, but some of it definitely is. I caught Jimmy Buffett
years ago. Went in in a really bad mood, came out in a great one. (Jimmy is also really good at conditions 2, 3, 4and 5!)
But I went to see Florence + The Machine at Central Park Summerstage. I was in an awful mood. And I stayed that way. Don’t know if it was the crowd, or the prices, or Florence’s overwhelming winsomeness. But I couldn’t get into it. And I don’t know why. Saw them a few weeks later in Miami, and I thought it was a much better show (same set list).
Had the same experience with John Mellencamp, but to be fair, he was going to a funeral the next day, so he wasn’t too happy either.

This isn’t an absolute or essential list of conditions. There are so many things that going into a great show. But I’ve found that if most of these aren’t met, I’ve just flushed my money away on a night where I’m spending my time waiting for the show to end.

I think I’ve been lucky, overall. I’ve seen a lot of good and really good shows. I’ve seen a good number of great shows. And I’ve only seen one that I got up and walked out of.

but that’s a story for a different post…