I Miss Live Shows (But You Knew That)

Craig Taborn New Trio, at Roulette. From left: Ches Smith, Mary Halvorson, Taborn.

There’s no ignoring the devastation COVID-19 has laid on musicians’ livelihoods. On a more selfish note, it’s also put a pause on live music. I’m trying to buy more recordings, but I do miss live shows. Not just seeing them, which I was doing less frequently anyway — I miss reading about shows, even just looking at tour schedules of all the shows I wouldn’t be able to see anyway. It all gave me a sense of activity, of Things Going On Out There, that I found inspiring.

Virtual concerts are not the same, but there are some good sincere efforts happening. Karl Evangelista and Rei Scampavia of Grex have organized a few Lockdown Festivals. I caught the third installment recently, which included a Grex set featuring their terrifically cool new album, Everything You Said Was Wrong, and an archival concert recording of Jordan Glenn’s sax/drums trio Wiener Kids. The three Lockdown Festivals are archived on YouTube. Each set was broadcast to the performers’ own channels, but you can find links here and here.

Noise is one musical form that works rather well in social isolation, given that so many acts are solos or duos anyway. You don’t get to feel the noise, but it still works. The Godwaffle Noise Pancakes series (“pancakes” is literal; they do live brunch shows, as I understand it) is continuing on Twitch. Bran(Pos), aka Jake Rodriguez, has been broadcasting shows at soundcrack.net and archives them in podcast form.

Virtual shows do have an upside. I couldn’t have traveled to Brooklyn to see Craig Taborn, Mary Halvorson, and Ches Smith playing at Roulette. It was part of JazzFest Berlin, which split between Germany and New York and included pre-recorded clips of some of the acts. Had this festival not gone virtual, I would never have found the Philipp Schiepek Quartett, whose set I enjoyed quite a bit.

Still, it’s not the same. This issue has come up in my day job, where real-life conferences have been replaced by virtual ones, or even pre-recorded talks. It’s stupefying. At least with a concert, experiencing it at a distance isn’t a far cry from catching the video a couple of years after the fact. I’d previously enjoyed a lot of Tim Berne’s work from the 2010s that way. It’s a diluted experience, but the music is there.

Humans thrive on shared experience, whether it’s in a movie theater or at a music show, whether it’s a World Series crowd or just a few of us at an improv show in an art gallery. We all miss it. That’s no reason to get impatient with lockdown — please don’t go out of your way to make things worse, like they’ve done in other parts of the United States! — but the sadness is understandable. Just look back at 1918 and realize we’ve been here before (it’s never been correct to call this “unprecedented”) and that we’ll all be back together at shows, eventually. For now, I’ll get ready to check out Kyle Bruckmann’s CNMAT solo online recital in a few hours.