The Critics: Rock: Somewhere over the rainbow is the perfect gig

So you want a good review? Then you'd better follow our man's 10-step guide to concert success ...

As the season of goodwill is upon us, this week I have two gifts for the pop musicians of the world. First of all, I'm not going to review any of their concerts. And if that weren't magnanimous enough, I'd like to present, at no extra charge, a handy, cut-out-and-keep, 10-point guide to live performance. Simply memorise the advice below and you'll always get a glowing write-up, unless you're Phil Collins in which case I can't make any promises. We'll start with the basics.

1. Put On A Show. The punters are not a gang of uninvited eavesdroppers who might go away if you ignore us. We'd appreciate some acknowledgement of this fact, in the form of back projections, creative lighting, maybe some pyrotechnics ... at the very least, some clothes that you haven't been wearing all day.

2. Talk To The Fans. Only at a party conference will you find an audience more eager to laugh itself sick at the feeblest wisecrack, so you've got nothing to lose by attempting a greeting, a joke or an anecdote. If the power of speech is really too much to ask of someone who is paid to communicate, we'd settle for eye contact, some foot-tapping or any other hint that you weren't forced on stage at gunpoint.

3. Think About Pacing. One of the confessions which turn up regularly in pop interviews is, "We vary the order of the songs from night to night, so that it doesn't get boring for us." But who cares if it gets boring for you? What about us? We like our entertainment to be organised for maximum possible momentum and drama. We don't expect a film projectionist to run the reels in the wrong order to stop himself getting bored and we don't expect theatre actors to mix up scenes.

4. Start Early. When, at a recent London gig, Naughty By Nature slouched on at one in the morning, six hours after doors opened, did they believe they were being considerate of their fans? Did they imagine that said fans would have felt cheated if the rappers had come on as early as midnight? I don't think so. And a gap of more than half an hour between support act and headliner is pushing it, too. Similarly ...

5. Don't Outstay Your Welcome. And I'm not talking about Boyzone's career. I'm referring to the widespread fallacy that the longer a concert is the better value it is - as if film-goers come out of cinemas saying, "That was great! Three whole hours!" Seventy-five minutes is fine in most venues. Add 15 or 20 minutes if you're playing in a stadium. And I'll make an exception for Meat Loaf, given that so many of his songs last a quarter of an hour each.

6. Don't Do Encores. I know I keep writing this, but we must never underestimate the menace that is the patronising fake encore. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, Blur completed their "Singles Night" tour. The concept of each gig was that the band would play every one of their singles in the order they were released. And that's exactly what happened. So why did Blur feel the need to leave the stage after "Charmless Man", only to reappear a minute or two later, as if they couldn't resist the cheers of the crowd. We knew they had more songs to play. They knew they had more songs to play. So why pretend it's an encore? Why? Why? WHY?

7. Play Your Hits. Maybe you've recorded only one song that has captured the public imagination. Maybe that one song has brought you wealth and recognition way out of proportion with the tiny amount of time and effort you invested in it. And maybe, rather than being grateful, you have grown to resent the song, mocking as it does your subsequent failure. Well, tough. He who pays the piper calls the tune - and the tune he calls is the hit you knocked out in ten minutes a decade ago. On the other hand, we also want you to ...

8. Play Some Unusual Songs. Reduce the predictability of your concert with a cover version or two. In recent weeks, the Flaming Lips have played "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", the Lightning Seeds have busked through "Be My Baby" and Macy Gray has done a seasonal "Winter Wonderland". You can take this idea a step further by persuading a famous mate to join in on one song.

9. Play Live. By which I mean leave as little as possible of the hard work to backing tapes. It may be difficult for four musicians to replicate, note for note, an album that was recorded in a 64-track digital studio. But who wants to hear an album replicated note for note? What we're paying for is the ingenuity with which you rearrange your songs for a concert setting. Try swapping instruments every now and then; that usually goes down well.

However, resist acoustic segments, which have become almost as tiresome a cliche as encores. (And just as fake. I've seen dozens of acoustic sets, and almost all of them have required microphones and amplifiers and speakers the size of refrigerators. In what sense are they acoustic, exactly?) If you absolutely have to play some of your songs "unplugged", do without stools. We all know that an acoustic guitar is no heavier than an electric one, so there's no excuse for playing one of them sitting down and the other one standing up.

10. Choose Good Venues. Well, this one's a whole article in itself, but let's just say for now that nobody's enjoyment of a concert is enhanced by queueing outside for half an hour, then being crammed in so tightly they can't move and can't see the stage over the heads of the people in front. Although I admit that in the case of Stereophonics gigs, there's so little to see that a restricted view is hardly going to matter. Which brings us back to point one ...

Singles and albums charts: page 7

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