Saturday, September 17, 2011


I’ve known this week’s topic since last Friday, when I was being jostled by drunks at the Bon Iver concert. Even though I got in a bit of a tiff with said drunks, and even though I stood for six hours straight, and even though all I’d had to eat since lunch was a palmful of almonds, I walked out of the Uptown thinking, That was a good concert.

What makes a good concert? Surely, if you like the artist, you’ll like the concert. In the past twelve months, I’ve gone to ten shows, and I can assure you that my level of enjoyment was pretty varied.
For example:

Sufjan Stevens: October 17, 2010 at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, Missouri.
The concert was comprised of mostly Sufjan’s new, experimental album—complete with backup dancers wearing tinsel on their heads. I spent most of the show with my head cocked to one side, baffled by what was occurring on the stage before me. One song was twenty-five minutes long. I was being played at, not to. And it was evident that Sufjan was miserable. “Music left me,” he told us.

Josh Ritter: February 18, 2011 at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, Kansas.
Josh is one of the greatest story-telling musicians currently recording. His show still is the best I’ve ever been to. He played the full range of his discography, as well as some as-yet-unrecorded tunes, like the side-splitting “Sir Galahad”. He also sang “Thin Blue Flame” unplugged to a dark and silent room, soliloquized on winter ending and skirt season approaching, and led the crowd in a slow dance to “Kathleen”. His ever-present grin made it clear that he was having just as much fun as we were—if not more. “I’m singing for the love of it,” he sings. “Have mercy on the man who sings to be adored.”

What made these two concerts—both put on by men I really like, and at similar venues—so vastly different? I had this discussion with my right-hand man Clark, who’s been to six of the aforementioned ten shows with me, and my friend Beej who writes music reviews for The Modern Culture Blog. Beej said, “If a concert sounds too much like the album, it’s nothing special seeing them live—but if the experience is enhanced via seeing them perform the music, then the concert is successful.” This was my problem with Sufjan. The only difference was watching him lose his mind, rather than just listening to the aftermath. Compare this to Bon Iver: while they played both old and new music, Vernon changed the way he performed some of the songs. He was able to showcase their musicianship and creativity while still preserving the integrity of the melodies and the familiarity of their distinct sound.

But even more important than the set list is the musician’s attitude. “You can tell when a band or a musician thinks they're doing you a favor by performing,” Clark told me during our conversation. Bon Iver was a confident but unpretentious performance, and this was Josh Ritter’s strongest quality. He was earnestly grateful—sincerely thanking us for coming, rather than using “thank you” as a cue for us to clap. As the review in the Kansas City star said, Josh “arouses a tide of energy and exuberance that sweeps the room. Resistance is difficult, if not futile. It’s like trying not to get wet while white-water rafting.”
To be carried away by the current and completely drenched, rather than standing ankle-deep in the kiddie pool—that’s how you know it was a good show.


  1. I get a mention! Woop!! Good article Melody! Glad our convo the other day has come good :) I also wrote a kind of similar article but mostly focussed on PJ Harvey at Bestival, tis on the MCB :) xxx

  2. I felt the same way about the Sufjan concert! It was the second time that I had seen him, and I was disappointed.