Monday, June 21, 2010

Forest, Trees, Bark…Sap

Not seeing the forest for the trees can be a real issue for some fans. Like a movie critic willing to sit through endless movies and attempt to construct a review that all readers can relate to, fan reviews can seem more than a little self indulgent.

How many times have you seen a movie with a poor review and have gone anyway? Why? Most likely because you knew what you were getting yourself into. No one goes to see Michael Bay movies hoping for an M Shamalan reveal at the end. What was the last romantic comedy you saw that had a series of car chases and explosions? If you know you don’t like those kinds of movies, why would you go to see them? (Besides your significant other…) Perhaps a closer analogy would be the sports franchise. Loyalty can produce an interesting breed of fanatic. You can bitch about the players, stats, and management, but you are still there in the seat at game time rooting for your team. You will be every time. You may also feel that you have a right to complain, because you were there during many stages of the team’s history.

Phish fans are similar, but a funny breed themselves. There are statistics. There are certain songs that are either liked or disliked. However, when the music is happening, there are a lot of varying opinions as to what is ‘good’. ‘Good’ can mean many things to many people. In my experience, there are fans that refuse to acquiesce that show reviews are subjective. In the same way that examining a quark changes it’s nature, claiming something as fact that has affected you personally changes a piece from a review to a rant. Subjectivity is what fuels many of the “best version ever” debates online. You will never find reviews here, but you may find highlights of things I enjoyed.

If you find yourself analytically inside the sap of the tree, try panning back out to the forest and take in the band’s history. As fans, we came very close to losing the thing that makes us so fanatical. Thankfully, the band continues to evolve and move forward. Those that refuse to move along and grow are forced to themselves become caricatures, while the band continues to reinvent itself. The complaints coming from people who have never picked up an instrument echo like those of a cynical movie reviewer who has not spent a second in front of the camera. It’s just impossible to dissect those moments of wonder into something scientific. There is no way to factually prove I had a good time other than the smile on my face.


  1. I normally agree with you, but I gotta say... one of the things I absolutely hate hearing is people saying that you have to play an instrument to be able to truly review music. Not true. You can know and learn plenty about music without playing an instrument. The same goes for movies and acting. They're not mutually exclusive.

    Now I will agree with you on the point that people who yearn for the past with the band have become caricatures of themselves (though Phish is sounding more like their early-mid 90's selves than the late-90's).

  2. "The complaints coming from people who have never picked up an instrument..."

    I should have been more specific with this comment, as it was pointed directly towards complainers of Phish's style. There are those who don't understand the multiple mechanics of what it takes to pull of "Wow!" every night with no exception.

    While I don't think that you have to know how to play to know how to listen, I think that it's easier for a non player to pass off an evening as bad because they didn't relate to the improvisation.

    Great response! Thank you for reading!

  3. I always look at reviews (and I review shows myself on my blog) as just the opinion of a friend. Just as my friends & I may have debates about shows we have attended together, a reveiwer's opinion is just one opinion and shouldn't necessarily effect your own opinion of a show. It is difficult sometimes when you see a bad review of a band you love in a big media outlet like Rolling Stone. But if I liked the show and like the band, I just figure that will keep it easy to get tickets. :-)
    It also helps to know your reviewer, whether that's a friend, blogger or media member who you read often. For example, the Philadelphia Inquirer used to have a movie reveiwer who was the "art house" guy. I knew that if he reviewed a Hollywood flick, to bump the review up a star. Similarly, if you know a reviewer generally doesn't like jam bands, then read any review he makes of a jam band with that in mind.
    The other thing I think is to look at reviews in total. Its easy with movies, tv and albums because we have sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. But you can look at comments or reviews of a show in the same way. If 90% of the reviews/comments are positive, than it was probably a pretty good show. If only 50% of the comments are positive and those are middling at best, then the show probably wasn't very good.
    Love the blog and thanks for the "Light" compiliation. Been listening to it a lot lately. Great job!