I review a lot of live shows, and I have a very specific routine that I go through each and every time I settle down to write.
Last night I saw VANT and You Me At Six for the second time in two weeks, and because the shows were practically identical I didn’t want to write a standard review.
So instead, here is my step by step guide to writing a concert review.
Step 1: Buy tickets
- Direct quotes. If the lead singer of a band says something inspirational, jot it down as quickly as you can.
I’m lucky, because I can type extremely fast on my trusty Blackberry, so I can normally get very accurate quotes. If you can’t type as fast, just get a couple of words and write around it – it gives the gist of what was said, but you won’t be putting words into someone’s mouth.
- Setlists. Getting a complete setlist is invaluable.
If you’re attending a show that’s early in a tour, getting a setlist helps people who are going to a later date, especially if you upload them somewhere like setlist.fm. But it’s also good for your personal records: you can compare and contrast setlists from different tours, and because you made it you know it’s 100% accurate.
Step 2: Google lyrics
I pay very close attention and jot down some lyrics during the show, then Google them when I get home.
For example, last night during VANT’s set I wrote:
‘The Answer / Man on the moon shot JFK / Peace and Love / immigration laws / everybody’s gone baby / twisted heartache surrounds me / wait a minute cause your heart’s not in it / alien / get this feeling that I’m all alone’
So, when I open up a new post to start my review, I automatically input:
Peace and Love
The hyphens are the songs that I need to search.
Typing in ‘VANT Man on the moon shot JFK lyrics’ into Google automatically fetches the song ‘Welcome To The Wonderful World of Berners Lee’. Ding, we have a winner! So in it goes.
Repeat this for the rest of the setlist, and by the end of your searching you have:
Welcome To The Wonderful World of Berners Lee
Peace and Love
Do You Know Me?
Easy as that!
It’s even easier if you already know the band well. During You Me At Six, I jotted down:
‘wwwy / bite / fsf / Loverboy / safer / Stay With Me / Little Death / Plus One / Reckless (snip) / forgive / lived / Swear / win some / Underdog / too young / no one / Room / night’
And that ends up being:
When We Were Younger
Bite My Tongue
Fresh Start Fever
Safer To Hate Her
Stay With Me
Reckless (When You Were Young snippet)
Forgive and Forget
Lived a Lie
Win Some, Lose Some
Too Young To Feel This Old
No One Does It Better
Room To Breathe
In this case the hyphen indicates the split between the main set at the encore.
If you know the band you’re reviewing very well, taking notes is even faster. You can properly enjoy the show, and still have enough material for a review afterwards!
Some advice on getting setlists:
- It’s harder if the band is local, because they’re likely to be too small to have their lyrics on Google. I find that sometimes just asking them helps, which is how I got a full setlist when A Way With Words supported Fort Hope: I mentioned that I was writing a review, and they gave me a setlist so that I’d have the song titles!
In the past I’ve had to spend two or three hours trawling through a local artist’s back catalogue on Soundcloud to get a full setlist. It paid off, but it was very time-consuming.
- It’s also tricky if they’re a hardcore band with screaming vocals, as it can be very difficult to decipher lyrics. I don’t normally attempt to get setlists for bands performing in this style, as it’s frustrating and detracts from the enjoyment of the show.
- The biggest problem is when a band is performing a brand new song. The majority of artists introduce songs that are new, so you might be able to get the name of the track that way, but if they don’t just grab a lyric and refer to it using that phrase. When it gets released officially, you can edit it in!
Step 3: Begin procrastinating
Step 4: Choose an image
I wish I was better at concert photography so that I could use my own images on my reviews, but instead I run back to Google and scroll through until I find a recent photograph of the band that I like. This could also be step 3.1, because it definitely helps with the procrastinating – especially when the image I like links to a tumblr dedicated to the band…
(One day I’ll learn how to link this blog with Instagram, and then I might upload more of my own live shots!)
Before you start writing, read through your notes and decide exactly which bits you’d like to talk about. You don’t need to go into detail about every single thing that happened, so some of your notes are going to be obsolete, but it’s better to have more than you need than not enough.
I sit down after my many hours of procrastinating, start typing, think I’ve finished the review, check my notes at the end… and realise I’ve missed a load of really awesome stuff.
I start editing. I put in all of the stuff that I’ve finished, then I’m definitely 100% finished, fingers cramping and eyes burning because I forget to blink a lot when I’m writing. (Should that be one of the steps?!) I sit back, relax, press publish… And my review is a mile long, coming in at almost 10,000 words.
Step 6: Rein in your inner fanboy or girl
If you like a band enough to go and see them live, they mean a lot to you. You wouldn’t buy tickets to go and see a band you hated, because that would be a huge waste of money!
But you can’t be biased when you’re writing a review. It’s not possible to just say “I loved this show because I love this band”. That wouldn’t be a review.
Even your favourite band can play a bad show. I’ve had to write critical reviews for You Me At Six, All Time Low and Bring Me The Horizon in the past, and while it’s difficult, constructive criticism helps everyone grow.
(There’s an exception to every rule, and in this case mine is Waterparks. I can never say a bad thing about Geoff Wigington.)
Step 7: Find some good in everything
In the same way that your favourite bands can play a bad live show, the bands you hate can always surprise you in a live environment. If a band you really don’t like are announced as a support act, don’t just skip their set – go along and see if they’ll surprise you.