If you only know one thing about Corbin Reiff it’s this — he loves live music. After working alongside him at Uproxx for the last six months or so, we’ve shared hundreds of conversations about classic shows, what makes a great concert, and the particular power of seeing a band live. Late last month, we even shared the experience of seeing Eric Clapton live at the LA Forum, a show neither of us will soon forget.
So, when I finally had the opportunity to read the book he’d submitted right after he began working with us, I knew a bit about what to expect. I knew the writing in Lighters In The Sky would be passionate, personal, and articulated from the lens of a masterful historian with a sharp interest in the topic. I knew that Corbin’s eye as a critic allows him to draw elegant parallels between greater pop culture moments and trends, and the minutia of a specific band or musician’s personal history.
And I also knew that there would be a good deal of humor, respect, and compassion for the artists — and humans — that he writes about through the lens of live music. There are a number of moments that made me laugh out loud in this book, something I wouldn’t totally expect from a book of historical rock criticism. Reiff’s writing is formal in that it contains esoteric knowledge and historical context, but it’s also very informal in style and tone, which draws in someone who doesn’t have any expertise on this kind of stuff — AKA, me.
Despite all the things I know about Corbin’s work, what I still wasn’t prepared for was the enormous scope and level of detail that went into Lighters In The Sky. Reiff has sifted through over half a century’s worth of concerts to select the beacon live music event for each year, along with an honorable mention that often fleshes out the story of what was happening in music culture during that moment. Every entry also includes the No. 1 single and album of that year, along with liner notes like setlists, and occasionally, lists of band members, embedded alongside the text.
The result is a book that feels immersive without being stuffy, authoritative without being dismissive, and historical without being boring. It takes a rare writer to cover acts as disparate as Van Halen, The Dixie Chicks, and NWA with equal gravitas and knowledge, but in Lighters In The Sky Reiff has done just that. This is a book composed by a writer who is first and foremost a music fan, a characteristic that is often derided by the old school who demand faux-objective remove must inform good criticism. But Corbin’s criticism is uplifted by his generous, spirited enthusiasm, which comes through strongly on every page.
Ahead of the release of Lighters In The Sky: The All-Time Greatest Concerts 1960-2016, I spoke with Corbin about what motivated him to craft this collection, the highs and lows of the writing process, and the concert that made him sob uncontrollably.
When did it first strike you that chronicling live shows was the thing you wanted to write your first book on?