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Not With The Band: Never Trust A Review


My Paul McCartney nosebleed ticket at the Dodger Stadium


We review shows big and small, we review gigs in big places (especially Iman) and tiny ones (especially me), we write reviews about famous artists or some who are almost unknown, and we try to treat them with the same eye and an open mind. But is this even possible?

I bet not! Reviews are always subjective and certainly never objective but I think it’s even worst than that: we are distracted and influenced by so many things that it’s basically impossible to trust a review and a reviewer.

First of all, the seats! Considering you are attending a concert in a large venue with assigned seats of course. This will influence your impression greatly, and if this seems obvious at first – just compare a garden box at the Hollywood Bowl to a nose bleed at the same venue – I can’t insist on this enough, the same concert can be improved a million times by a good seat. I remember a night at the Bowl attending the 1999 Bob Dylan/Paul Simon tour, and I had a seat in the super upper part of the venue, one of these wood benches where you need binoculars to see anything of what is happening on stage. Dylan was a tiny ant, and I won’t even mention Simon, but I managed to walk down and when the security guard was not looking, I went down and down till I reached the garden boxes. There. A nice couple offered me a seat since their friends hadn’t made it to the show — these spoiled rich people! For some reasons, it was easier to do it 18 years ago, as security is much tougher these days, but I enjoyed the rest of the concert with a royal ticket, and I even spotted Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson standing and clapping a few boxes away. It changed everything! 18 years later, I have about zero memory of the show from my wood bench, but I clearly remember the view I had later on.

I have plenty of similar experiences, watching Paul McCartney from the top of the Grand-Canyon-like Dodger stadium… not so great even though Macca was great, but there was no comparison with being third row during his concert on Hollywood boulevard for his Jimmy Kimmel Live performance! I am only happy when I can almost breathe the same air than the artists, when I can look at the color of their eyes, and watch the length of their fingernails… otherwise it is a concert-long frustration. Obviously I am going to be much more enthusiastic when I review a show after a stay in the pit than a sitting on a nosebleed. in short, your seat matters a LOT.

Then, there are many other factors that can influence your appreciation of a concert: people around you. First, people who are accompanying you, if there are any, can be a real distraction, and even worst if they are not a fan as you are. They may need a drink, they may use the restroom, they may need to sit down, and prevent you to stand closer to the stage. Also you will necessarily feel obliged to socialize at one point and so be less focused on the show. And if your friend has had a bad day, or is in a bad mood, distracted by anything… forget about your concert! My best musical experiences have been, me, alone, standing in the pit, period. I know it’s not possible to do two things at the same time, contrarily to what people ordinarily think, and a concert has to be a complete submerging experience, or something is missing.

Of course other people around you can be a huge distraction too, what if you are standing, or worst siting, next to an asshole? An asshole who is going to go buy a beer 5 times during the show? Who is going to sing along loudly to all the songs? Who is going to push you all the time, while pretending to be pushed himself? All of these situations happened to me more than once.

Then there is the concert itself, what the artist is gonna play… will he/she play the hits? The songs you love? What if you can’t relate to the setlist, what if he doesn’t sing this hit, this favorite song of yours? Of course performers are not always there to please each of us by singing the same old tunes, Bruce Springsteen didn’t sing ‘Born to Run’ when I saw him, Radiohead didn’t do ‘Karma Police’ or ‘The National Anthem’… but so what? I was in the pit and there was no one to deconcentrate me from Thom Yorke’s crazy dance.

Even if you are seeing your favorite band at the best of its form, a concert can be a disappointing experience and it depends a lot on you, your mood when you left the house, and the ticket you managed to pick… but I retract this, a lot doesn’t depend on you, it’s luck, serendipity and that’s why a concert is always a magical and unique experience. And that’s why you should never trust a review

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