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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, April 24, 2014

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Sometimes the bands we review aren't our favorites.
Sometimes the bands we review aren't our favorites.

The fun and the challenges of reviewing a band you don't love

We review a lot of shows at OnMilwaukee.com, but we really kick it into overdrive during Summerfest. In addition to every Marcus Amphitheater act, we also cover a ton of the side stage shows.

Usually, when it comes to writing reviews, our staff picks bands we like to see. And that makes it easy. When you know all the words to every song, and if you've seen the band live before, writing a concert review is just transcribing all the thoughts that were in your head, anyway.

But it doesn't always work that way. While Summerfest has something for everyone, we can't all review the bands we want to see the most, since it does the reader little good to have five reviews of one Marcus act, and zero of another. Occasionally, we have to bite the bullet, take one for the team and review a band that we either like just a little, or sometimes not at all.

This year, my three Summerfest reviews are Hall & Oates, Katy Perry and Britney Spears. I wouldn't call myself a fan of any of them, although I don't particularly dislike them, either. Obviously, I was most familiar with Hall & Oates' work (yes, I owned their greatest hits album), but for Perry and Spears, I know only what I've heard on the radio and out and about.

When you don't know, or don't especially care to know a band's set list, it's true, you do have to work harder. But you are also free to focus on different parts of the concert when you're not singing along and cheering like everyone else (being a concert reviewer, at least at OnMilwaukee.com, isn't like sitting in the Miller Park press box – you're not banned from clapping and enjoying the experience).

When I see Perry tonight, I will focus on the set, the attitude of the crowd and how she sounds, compared to the radio. Same goes for Spears: Will she be lip-syncing? Will she mail it in? How will the audience react?

Really, I write about these things when I'm seeing my favorite band, too, but it's easier to be totally objective when you don't really care about what you're listening to. Not that being objective is necessarily the goal of a concert review – to me, the best concert reviews are the ones that either make the readers feel like they were there; or if they were, it reaffirms what they saw and fills in the blanks from what they missed.

So I'm telling you before the next two reviews run after the shows tonight and Saturday: I'm far more interested in the spectacle surrounding Katy Perry and Britney Spears than if they play my favorite songs by them. Because even though some of their music is catchy, I don't think I could name any favorites.

And that doesn't mean I will take them any less seriously than if they were a Radiohead or Beck or Dandy Warhols show.

These kinds of reviews present their own challenges, but they're also a writing exercise that helps sharpen our skills. Just like previous Summerfest shows I reviewed that I could've lived without, like Steve Miller, Eric Clapton or Kid Rock, I'm still excited to go.

Every big show review is a popular article on OnMilwaukee.com, and I'm ready for the challenge to cover the bands I don't care about as if they were a Beatles reunion.

Talkbacks

mug89 | July 11, 2011 at 6:39 p.m. (report)

I agree 100% on your Brewer thoughts. I dont think they are a team that is ready to win a World Series; I am by no means a baseball expert just a fan. I do enjoy going to the games and feel it is money well spent and I will continue to go! #gobrewers
Summerfest.Hmmmm I use to take a vacation for the run of Summerfest. I was one of those guys that went every day, not this year. This year I only went 2 days. I am not a fan of the new schedule (open on Wednesday close on Monday) there were only a few bands I wanted to see this year. For me part of the fun of going to Summerfest was finding a new band I like. I just did not want to go allot this year. Still Summerfest is a great event and over all is well run. Some change I would like to see is more of Milwaukees craft beer available (Coors light available come on whats Milwaukee about that?) and maybe a Milwaukee Food Truck Day on the grounds.

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dukefame | July 7, 2011 at 3:58 p.m. (report)

While I can agree with some of the sentiment in this blog, I do have a major problem with local music/art critics who are afraid to criticize things they review. Far too often the critic will go to the end of the earth to praise anything local, when in actuality there needs to be more weeding out of what is exemplary. I'm fairly sure David Fricke, Robert Christgau and Jim DeRogatis don't/didn't always spin everything positively...

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mistertony25 | July 7, 2011 at 1:44 p.m. (report)

If I went to see Katy Perry, I'd focus on the "set" too. HEEYYY-OOOHHHHH!!!!

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