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Yesterday the Miami New Times blog ran a review of Wilco's show the night before in the Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater (try saying that five times fast), written by staff critic John Hood. It's an unspectacular piece as concert reviews go, except for the fact that Hood admits that he didn't even catch half the band's set.
There's a predictable thread in the post's comment section of readers who are just not having it. Predictable because when people read a concert review they tend to expect that the person writing it did not miss 17 of the songs played at the concert, at least not without an extremely good reason.
To Hood's credit, he does give a reason, though you'd have to be generous to call it a good one: the song "Handshake Drugs" apparently reminded him of a not-very-well-elaborated-upon time of shadiness in his past, and he had such a deep emotional reaction that he decided to leave rather than have that feeling diluted by the rest of Wilco's set. Fair enough, I guess. I've had experiences like that as well. But I think a little more exploration of his reaction would've made for a more interesting read—the feelings that music evokes in the listener are legitimate fodder for criticism.
What's surprising, at least if you're as jaded as I am about the direction arts criticism is taking, is that people—people on the Internet, even—can still be outraged by someone reviewing something they've only given a half-assed listen to. (Hood, having stuck around for 15 out of 32 songs, more accurately gave a .46875-assed listen.)
Critics aren't immune to the attention-sapping effects of the nonstop, always-on Internet music machine. Worse yet, they're on deadline, so frequently they're giving cursory listens not just because they're ADD cases—they're doing so because that's all the time they've got. Not to mention the fact that producing Internet content is generally thought of as a race against anyone else who might have the information. There probably isn't a single music blogger out there who hasn't written a review of a song during a first listen, likely with another song paused in a second browser tab. I know I've written reviews under similar circumstances. Rolling Stone just ran a review of Erykah Badu's upcoming New Amerykah Part 2: Return of the Ankh, even though (as Badu complained on Twitter) the reviewer didn't even have the finished version of the album. This is increasingly the case with major-label albums, which are now commonly tweaked mere weeks before their release date. (Granted, the labels and occasionally the artists share some of the blame.)
It would obviously be nice if this weren't the case, but music fans' attention spans are being totally atomized. I'm sure in a couple more years people will marvel at Hood's ability to sit through 15 whole songs in a row.