A week ago, I saw the best concert of the year. And Taylor Swift was nowhere to be found.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Taylor hater. Far from it. I have a ton of respect for anyone who writes their own songs.

But I saw a terrific band from New Zealand called The Beths at a small club in Cincinnati, and they hit all the right notes, literally and figuratively.

During the show, I just savored the sights and sounds. But after the fact, I tried to analyze why I liked the gig so much. And I came up with a few items on my concert checklist:

  1. Great songs – it’s about the music, first and foremost. Lead singer/songwriter Elizabeth Stokes writes songs with hooks that are catchy and lyrics that are profound.
  2. Live, not Memorex – The Beths are a four-piece band, and they play their own instruments, live, without backing tracks. I know a lot of bands are using pre-recorded tracks these days… but I don’t go to a show to hear studio recordings. Elizabeth Stokes has a great voice, and plays guitar as well. Guitarist Jonathan Pearce, bassist Benjamin Sinclair, and drummer Tristan Deck also sang backing vocals, which added greatly to the overall sound of the songs.
  3. Setlist – The songs matter, but so does the sequencing, and the mix of “classics” to new songs. The Beths have released three great albums, without a bad song in the bunch, so they were working from strength, but their set featured really strong songs from each of the albums, with a nice mix of singalong anthems and quiet ballads. (You can listen to the songs from the set at setlist.fm.)
  4. Sound system – All three of the above can be ruined by a bad sound mix. The Beths played The Woodward Theater and the sound was stellar, and the sound engineer kept the volume at a reasonable level. (If I had a nickel for every band I’ve seen where the sound engineer had the mix WAAAY TOO LOUD, I’d be able to afford better earplugs.)
  5. Energetic band – The Beths were having fun on stage, and that can be contagious. A running gag was them shouting “O-H” and waiting for the crowd to reply “I-O!” (It’s an Ohio State thing – The Beths made no bones about the fact that they had no idea what the cheer was about, but someone had told them to do it at Ohio concerts.)
  6. Enthusiastic audience – the folks at the show weren’t casual fans. That’s the beauty of being an up-and-coming band – the people who like you are dedicated, and are there because they like your music, not because your lead singer is on a Disney show or TikTok.
  7. Intimate venue – all other things being equal, being able to get close to the stage at a club is so much better than an arena show with giant barriers between you and the performers.

There you have it, my Sonic Seven ingredients for a tasty gig. Not that you asked.

This KEXP live in-studio performance gives you a taste of what The Beths are like in a live setting.

This stripped-down set highlights the brilliant songwriting.

And here’s the title track from their brilliant new album: