As I had noted in a previous column (see Editor’s Notes dated May 10, 2011), there are five basic categories of what I listen/look for when I’m reviewing the live performance of a band – these are based on my classical training as well as all my years playing and listening to bands:
Musicianship – this includes:
* Timing – do all the musicians play together? Do the drum and bass guitar keep time (most bands have a tendency to start speeding up as they go through a song)? A popular thing to do (and very cool when it is done right) is to switch time signatures – it’s difficult and can oftentimes end up getting away from you (turning sloppy).
* Tuning – are the instruments tuned correctly? and to each other?
* Equipment – is the use of guitar pedals/boxes, sample machines, percussion equipment (cowbells, drum pads, etc.), and other special equipment effective?
Vocals – this includes:
* Pitch – are the vocals on pitch with the instruments? with each other?
* Equipment – if uni-directional mics or special effects (distortion boxes, etc.) are used, how well are they handled?
* Clarity – can you understand the lyrics? or are they muddled?
Originality – this includes:
* Lyrics – do they make sense within the song? do they fit the style of music being played?
* Material – is it unique? Or does it just sound like every other wannabe garage band?
Professionalism – this includes:
* Showmanship – do the musicians connect and interact with the audience? do they hold the audience’s attention? how does the audience respond to them? (when I see folks drift off the floor, that tells a lot)
* Appearance – are there any special effects (lighting, fog machines, etc.) that are included? Do they add to or detract from the performance?
* PUII – it takes years to be able to perform well while under the influence (and that only slightly) of intoxicants – if I see bands swigging brew before or during a performance, I’m especially watching for this. Some bands (even the most well-known/respected groups) never do this well.
Marketability – this includes:
* Music Style (genre) – does this particular type of music have a wide range of appeal in the current mainstream market?
* Merchandise – are there shirts, EPs/albums available for purchase at the show? Are there webpages featuring bio and current touring info with high-quality recordings of marketable singles?
Most bands will have some strengths in all of these areas, and partial (or negligible) strengths in others, resulting in a fraction (like 3 1/2 stars). And yes, all of these ratings are subjective (similar to Ebert’s “thumbs up” ratings for movies). Music, like all other art forms, is a matter of personal taste. These ratings aren’t based on whether I personally “like” any style (genre) of music per se. Each performance is reviewed solely on its own merits.