Live Music in the time of Covid-19

Though nothing can quite replicate the communal rapture of live music experiences, maybe the two-dimensional 'new normal' we find ourselves in isn't all that bad?
Posted: 7 May 2020 Words: Anthony Harbin

By now I think it’s safe to say we’ve all arrived at the conclusion that, whilst critically important, social distancing ain’t a whole tonne of fun. Along with a myriad of other industries flailing under a seismic upheaval to society as we know it, the music industry has taken something of a battering and the live gig is now a distant memory. 

At the start of all this I don’t think anyone envisioned the situation could become so dire that the reality would be we might not be attending another gig for the rest of 2020, but as it develops it’s becoming clearer that it may even be a lot worse. We may not be able to rub sweaty shoulders in a dingy club or hug each other under festival sunshine until a vaccine is developed. This could be in 18 months, or even longer. Nobody knows. 

But this doesn’t mean we have to succumb to total despair. When you cut something down, things always grow in its place. Artists have had to get creative to keep afloat or just to keep sane doing what they love. Live music has now transformed to the two-dimensional, and the results have been rather heartening. 

Reluctantly downloading Instagram in the first week of isolation became a necessity, as it quickly became clear that this was where most of the action was going to be taking place for the foreseeable future. Initially skeptical it's surprising how nourishing these little ‘gigs’ have been, and their effectiveness at filling the gaping void that’s been left behind. The scale and format of the performances has varied, from hours long multi-artist global bonanzas like ‘One World: Together at Home’ to a quick song from a bathroom. Some of these have been pay for access, but most are free or pay what you can. 

Some choice highlights over the past few weeks: an adorable pyjama-clad Lucius/Courtney Barnett performing and hosting friends including Sharon Van Etten, Kurt Vile, The War On Drugs, and Sheryl Crow, in their living rooms. Many slick, sultry dance moves and belters from Héloïse Letissier (Christine without the Queens).  Daily violin plucked delights from Andrew Bird. A full live performance from Angel Olsen in her Asheville home. Adrianne Lenker’s tender John Prine covers (who sadly passed away due to COVID-19 related complications) from what appears to be a cabin in the woods. Weekly evening guitar tutorials from Laura Marling (which have become a comforting routine of sorts). An abrasive set from Shitkid (though the best thing about this was picturing Åsa Söderqvist’s roommate behind the phone camera frantically running around her for that extra 'live music video' feel). 

One of the most exciting aspects has been the spontaneity of the performances. To catch glimpses of artists like Perfume Genius playing a song from his sofa only to disappear again into the ether like a mirage has been a real thrill. When Billie Eilish decided to pop onto Instagram live for a 1am piano recital/Q&A, she had 150,000 viewers within seconds (peaking at 285,000, making it the most solo viewed Instagram live of all time – a dubious honour perhaps but impressive nonetheless).

It’s a strangely intimate experience to hold your favourite artists in your hand as they sing to you. Whilst obviously it can’t compare to the unbridled joy of seeing an artist you love on stage, there is something utterly glorious about being serenaded with 'Georgia On My Mind' by James Blake on the toilet (me, not him). 

Some other positives to consider: 

- You can actually see the musicians (a rarity for short-arses).

- You get to perv inside their homes.

- There are no drinks queues, and the prices are far more reasonable. 

- No uncomfortable shifting from foot-to-foot desperate for a piss, agonisingly waiting for a track in the set you’re not massively keen on (and thus spoiling the ones you are) so you can make a mad dash to the loos, which are of course on the other side of the crowd, to hopefully make it back in time for the start of the next song.

- No occupying (inevitably, no matter where you decide to stand) the crowd transportation channel whilst a constant supply of punters shove past spilling cold Red Stripe down your neck.

- No watching the entire set through the phone screen of the person in front of you (oh wait..).

- No hour long schlep on a night bus home!

Maybe us live music fans haven’t got it so bad after all? By that I mean, obviously it’s an absolute fucking dogshit nightmare for everyone involved, but that doesn’t mean we’re totally being deprived of those magical musical moments. They’re out there, so, seek them out. The best of them have had the power to transport you from your sofa for a moment whilst evoking a feeling of solidarity for the quietly heroic thing we are all doing by merely staying at home. We may be in this for the long haul but in the meantime, stay positive, there is much love and passion and creativity being transmitted through our devices to sustain us until we can hug and cry in each others arms once more. 

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