10 Worst Things I Ever Did As A Live Music Critic

I just read another gem of a list from Collapse Board, and I’m delighted to say that I’ve not done any of the things on the list, save for making the odd comparison, and this one:

You may get inappropriately drunk, scrawl meaningless notes which you can’t decipher the next day, forget most of what happened during the show and rely on friends’ accounts and sheer bulls*** to scrape together your pitiful pile of words to meet the limit.

Actually, that’s pretty much how I spent the whole of the 90s. My comment on the post about how I used to scrawl pithy one-liners in biro on my arm for me to read when I woke up on the floor isn’t much of an exaggeration. Still, while I might recoil in embarrassment from my youthful antics, by this generation’s standards I was positively teetotal.

Here’s a list – in no particular order – of some of the crimes I have committed when I was supposed to be reviewing the band:

10 . Write for something I don’t read

It’s far too easy to say “yes” to people, especially when they’re offering you money and the ego gratification of national publication. If you wouldn’t ordinarily read the magazine you’re writing for, it will cause you to lose interest in the whole process over time.

9 . Write about things I don’t love

If you’re not a good fit for the publication, you’ll find yourself being sent on assignments that don’t interest you, and writing too often about things you don’t like. Then when something good comes along, you’ll lose all objectivity and heap undue praise on it, simply because it contrasts so much with all the other crud you’ve heard that week. It takes a long time to get your enthusiasm back once lost, so if you’re hating most things most weeks, just leave now before you end up bitter and hollow.

8. Criticise … to their face

“How were we?”
“Um … I think you were a little out of time at one point.”

It’s not that reviewers aren’t allowed to criticise at all – it is, after all, in the job description – but that the very last thing anyone who’s just walked off a stage wants to hear is anything that isn’t “you were great!”

The correct protocol in these circumstances is to shout “LOOK! A BEAR!” and scarper.

7. Ignore the support act

I’ve rarely actually missed the supporting act, but I’ve often been at the bar or too busy chatting to someone else to pay much attention, and that’s something of a crime when it comes to watching a gig. Of course, the truly great bands cut through you like a knife, causing you to pause in mid-sentence and confer your undivided attention on them for the rest of the gig – but a reasonably good band who might be battling with a muddy sound that night would be lost to such background chatter.

6. Be embarrassingly pretentious

Mine was the era of “thunderous tribal percussion” (which I still get the urge to wheel out on occasion). It was before “angular” or “edgy”, but thankfully after “sonic architecture of the highest calibre”. Still, I don’t think anything can justify my Foetus live review, except that a) it was a fanzine review, b) I was a teenager, and c) I was drunk. Then again, I wince sometimes when reading back my magazine reviews. At least I never used “cathedrals of sound”.

5. Get my dates mixed up.

I turned up when my name wasn’t on the list for that night of the band’s residency. I just managed to keep the girl on the door talking for so long that eventually she got bored and started serving the person behind me, so I just wandered in.

4. Go home … five days later.

Wait, no, that was the best.

3. Turn up drunk

Usually when I say I was “drunk”, what I mean is “I was tipsy”. Being tipsy is when you find yourself singing along at the top of your voice. Being drunk is when you wake up in another town, wearing somebody else’s clothes.

2. Turn up sober

I think I might have been to a gig sober twice in my life. There was the Smashing Pumpkins gig, which is on my “best ever” list, and then there was Sleeper. My friend was driving so out of fairness I laid off the booze, and thus remained fairly bored throughout the gig. Afterwards we headed for the aftershow party, but of course we still had the problem of having to drive home. We went up to the free bar, ordered a six-pack each of beer … and then left with the beers in a carrier bag to drink at home.

1. Get sacked

The magazine I was writing freelance for had the poor sense to send me to a death metal gig. Not being a fan of the genre, I asked around at work, and was reliably informed by metal fans that they were really bloody awful, even for death. I quite liked the support act, but the headliners … how can I put this politely? They f***ing sucked. I mean, more than any band I’ve ever heard in my life. It was eyewateringly painful to listen to them. I remember forming the review in my head while standing forlornly at the back: “this is death as in done to death: the last gasp choked from a dying genre. Try tunes – they’ll help you breathe more easily.” I then spent the rest of the set in the toilets with my fingers in my ears, but unfortunately I could still hear the horrible din.

A few weeks later, my editor told me that fans of the band were sending in death threats. I said they could “f***ing have a go if they think they’re hard enough.”

There I was, Scrappy Doo in a babydoll dress and New Rock boots, who thought that since Mortiis and Cradle of Filth had turned out to be rather sweet, I had little to fear from death metal fans – but the editor remained deeply concerned, not least because of my unrepentant attitude.

I never heard from him again.

One comment on “10 Worst Things I Ever Did As A Live Music Critic

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention 10 Worst Things I Ever Did As A Live Music Critic « Reinspired -- Topsy.com

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