2008 Best Concerts Year-End Lists: Why Bother?

 

They say that year-end lists tell more about the list maker’s emotional journey in the last 12 months than they do about the year in music. Knowing the truth in that thought, I took a more sociological approach when I looked at some of the most popular music blogs/sites to see how they listed their favorite concert experiences in 2008.

I wondered…

Would it show me what I already knew?

Would it show me things I wish I never found out?

Would it show me some kind of new fantastic revelation about live music culture?

As I compiled my list and started exploring the sites, I found answers to some of those questions and found new questions to ask. Most of all, I loved learning, as an amateur sociologist, how and why music writers and fans are classifying, remembering and ranking their favorite live music experiences for 2008.

Patterns, List Styles
One of the first things I noticed was a variation of patterns. Each site approached the year end lists differently, adding their own twist and ranking perspectives. I found that a few lists only included venue shows and left out festivals while others had several festivals, and listed different sets within the same festival. A few fans comments challenged this by asking if a festival is it’s only show and shouldn’t be listed more than once. When it came to ranking, some used the top 10 format while other the listed their top 20 or even 30.

As a writer for Popmatters, I’ve always enjoyed being a part of their Best(and Worst)approach to the year in live music. All the Events writers have a chance to chime in on different catagories ranging from “the best rawkers to worst heckling moments” we’ve covered in 2008. It’s a fun mix of humor and honestly refreshing criticism. As always it was great reading how my fellow music writers were impacted by the concerts they covered.

Top Bands
Groups like Of Montreal, King Khan and the Shrines, Fleet Foxes, Radiohead, My Bloody Valentine and Monotonix showed up on several lists. Rookies or veterans, all these bands figured out a way to captivate using live horses, LED light shows, X-rated stage-jiving, layers of feedback fuzz or heavenly harmonics. All of those bands are of the rockin’ type except Fleet Foxes, and Stereogum’s Amrit Singh takes a astute stab at figuring out why they were top performer this year.

Album buzz vs. live fizzle
The hyped buzz of Vampire Weekend’s debut album didn’t translate into a great live show like Fleet Foxes debut did. And it was Monotonix who charged on the scene via their You didn’t hear the buzz of the trio from Tel Aviv and their 2008 debut Body Language, but their explosive live show created sufficient buzz in my body going into 2009.

The Long Tail live music experience
The Long Tail seems only to be getting longer and deeper while niches increased. These lists also showed that both fans and critics alike are still going to shows but the variety of their experiences are fracturing and splintering into more niches with every show.

The diversity of concert experiences is good, but I wonder, is this good or bad for the community of live music? Or is this just the expected result of concertgoing in the age of myspace, DIY bands and the fall of the major labels? What kind of impact will this have when we try to relate with one another via live concert experiences in the next 10-20 years?

Rethinking the summer music festival
The impact of the summer music festival on the communal music experience can’t be underestimated. I mentioned several times in 2008 how the summer festival scene has grown and become over-saturated. I questioned the negative effects wondering about unique music experiences versus our music experiences becoming a assembly line product.

But looking at these year-end lists, I realized that the festival scene might actually sure a positive purpose and be an ally that brings large amounts of fans and artists together where the standard venue experience tends to segregate music fans.

When I read through the lists I felt a sense of shared excitement about several of the festival shows because I remember being there, too. Though I had never met most of the writers of these year end lists, or the fans who left comments about the show, nonetheless I still felt a strong sense of connectedness and solidarity around shows like Saul Williams and Radiohead at Lollapalooza where thousands of fans took in the music on a large sensational and diverse scale that you would not get in a smaller venue.

I still believe the saturation of the market is not good for the music scene because it takes away from the uniqueness of the show for each individual fan, but I now have my antennae up looking for other possible sociological benefits in 2009.

Here are some other interesting facts:

  • Each list had a unique disclaimer explaining their listing format/choices
  • Some used breif summarys while others listed shows with original review links
  • Some just listed in-door concerts excluding festivals sets entirely
  • Most lists had a balanced mix of genres and shared the same artists in those genres
  • Only one list described the impact of audience demographic and concert setting
  • Some used only a photo gallery to sum up the year of concerts
  • Some let only the fans do the talking, while others didn’t even ask for fan comments

    All of these things are important to cataloging our favorite live music experiences. But this list of facts also showed me that we catalog our concert experiences in many different ways, showing me how important it is to spend time thinking about the significance of our live concert experiences, and not turn into mindless concert consuming machines.

    Was it worth it?
    As an amature sociologist, I learned how others are feeling about their 2008 concert experience and why. Taking the time to do this also kept me from falling into the trap of secluding myself with my own concert experiences, which is an easy trap to fall into, and counterproductive to the communal necessity of the live music experience. I hope to connect with and learn from more fans and other music writers in 2009.

    Music writers rule or drool?
    Looking at all these lists also made me wonder if music writers are doing their job. Are music writers and their concert reviews reflecting, enlightening or challenging our beliefs and preconceptions about live music? Are they doing too much of one and not of enough of another? Whenever I’m left feeling jipped after reading a review, I always wonder if a reviewer was just short on time, had a block, wasn’t inspired, or being told to cover the show by their editors. Some of these lists really made me wonder if I was reading an honest rundown of their favorite shows.

    I’m not calling anyone a liar, I’m just saying that music writers, especially concert reviewers can fear rejection and that fear can make us write a review or create a list that might not be entirely truthful or honest to our actual experience. It’s easy to like and list what everyone else does when it comes to popular, or especially indie music, and I just wonder about the personal and editorial motivations and the emotional back stories of some of these lists.

    Does it matter how many concerts you went to?
    I know numbers and demographics are important to sociological studies but since I am an amateur here, and time is of the blogging essence, I don’t have any “official” numbers for every list I looked at, but I still wondered how many shows each writer saw in 2008. Did they hit a wall at a certain time of the year or at a certain number of concerts? After a certain amount of concerts did these reviewers burn out or lose perspective? And really, how much does the number of concerts a writer saw factor in? (If you have the official numbers for anything I’ve mentioned here—by all means pass them along.)

    It’s your turn now
    If you were to make a list of your favorite concerts what would that list say about you? I challenge you to think about how you remember your favorite concert experiences and see if you’ve changed from last year. There are many ways to remember our favorite concerts. What’s your method?

    How will you remember your favorite concerts of 2009?

    Here’s a list of some of the blogs/sites I used in this post:

    Chicago Tribune: Greg Kot’s Turn It Up Blog

    Chicago Sun-Times: Jim Derogatis

    Stereogum

    Rolling Stone

    Popmatters: Best (and Worst)In Show

    Pitchfork Photo Gallery and Reader Poll

    Muzzle of Bees

    Pollstar

    Idolater

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