March 4th 2020. That was the last time I saw/heard live music in a concert hall. To be precise, that was when I saw Jon Hopkins at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh (pic above) and it was bloody magnificent. Seems like a lifetime ago, though.
Live music has been a constant thread throughout my adult life and I still get a buzz remembering some of the brilliant gigs I’ve been lucky enough to experience. If I haven’t bored you with stories of seeing Public Enemy at Le Transbordeur in Lyon or the time I met Tony Bennett after Kenny Burrell finished his set at the Blue Note in New York, you probably don’t me know that well at all.
Not being able to go to gigs has, for me, genuinely been one of the hardest aspects of lockdown. I’ve already missed Goldfrapp and Agnes Obel and the Juniore gig that was due to take place next Monday will also go by the wayside with numerous others. Of course I recognise that, in the scheme of things, it’s a small sacrifice to make but I have nevertheless been keen to find ways to sate my appetite for live music during lockdown.
I’ve dipped into a couple of Instagram Live performances but the only one I stuck with the whole way through was by Alela Diane. Maybe this was because I’ve never managed to catch her live but there was also a sense in which the intimacy of her set, just her and guitar or piano, seemed to suit the limits of a mobile screen. Maybe it’s because I watched most of it with the kids while we were having dinner with my wife sadly quarantined in the bedroom with all the symptoms of you know what. The kids were really caught up in that moment, not least the fact that we could message Alela to say we were watching and listening together.
If you don’t know Alela Diane, you could start with Ether & Wood or Emigré from her most recent album Cusp (warning: Emigré is a heart wrencher)
I’m sure I would have made it through a second online gig had Guy Chadwick not switched it to Facebook from Insta. The House of Love are one of my all-time faves (have I told you about the time I saw them live at Le Transbordeur, only a couple of months after Public Enemy?) but I wouldn’t go over to the darkside, not even for Guy. When I commented on his Instagram post to say as much, I was surprised to get a response, not least because it was so digitally literate; Guy gently reminded me of Insta’s parent company. Guy got me, I guess, and I didn’t want to get into a whole thing about Facebook’s nefarious use for political purposes so I just took the mini thrill of receiving a reply from one of my idols and sloped off.
What I have been doing a lot is listening to live albums. I’ve always liked live records, either to get a sense of what it would’ve been like to see some of the greats who left us before I was old enough to afford a concert ticket, or to revisit the sensation I enjoyed when I managed to catch a gig by one of my favourite artists.
Although it’s not essential, I particularly like those live records where they keep in he artist talking before/after a song. Sometimes these bits are as entertaining, as emotional as the music itself. Listen to Bill Withers introduce I Can’t Write Left-handed on Live at Carnegie Hall and tell me you don’t get a tingle down your spine as he transports you to the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War.
In my John Prine post, I mentioned my love for Nanci Griffith and one of the reasons I adored seeing her in concert was listening to her song introductions. One Fair Summer Evening may just be my favourite live record of them all and it certainly contains my favourite song introduction. I don’t want to give it away if you don’t know it but, let’s just say (for UK readers at least) that you’ll be imagining yourself grabbing a bag of pick’n’mix before you know it:
I don’t know when I’ll next get to hear live music in a venue with a pint in my hand and a friend by my side. My guess is my first time seeing Green Day won’t happen in July in Glasgow as planned (particularly sad as they are one of the few artists my wife loves more than me so this was going to be her annual gig). And it’s kinda funny, now, that I was cursing how ridiculous it was when I bought tickets a year in advance to see Mogwai next February when maybe that was really an act of incredible foresight.
Anyway, for now, I’ll maybe dip into the odd Insta Live gig and keep spinning those live records. I’ll leave with you with just a random handful of my favourites:
- James Brown – Live at the Apollo
- Sam Cooke – At the Copa
- Aretha Franklin – Aretha in Paris
- Nanci Griffith – One Fair Summer Evening
- Idles – A Beautiful Thing: Idles Live at le Bataclan
- Motörhead – No Sleep ’til Hammersmith
- Dolly Parton – Live From Glastonbury 2014
- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Pack up the Plantation: Live!
- Bill Withers – Live at Carnegie Hall
This post’s soundtrack: