Culture

Livestreamed gigs have changed music – for the better

In the pandemic’s darkest days, when our horizons were largely limited to the four walls of our house and the very notion of attending a ‘gig’ seemed completely preposterous, something amazing happened. Across the music industry, artists and bands dug out their webcams (or high quality recording equipment), ushering in the age of the livestreamed gig. Some of these performances were strikingly professional – mammoth pyrotechnic happenings beamed from cavernous super-clubs – while others were endearingly homespun, putting the ‘bedroom’ into bedroom pop. But they all shared an admirable desire to put on a show in trying times.

Still, I think I’m finally ready to admit, nearly two years into the ‘age of the live stream gig’, that pretty much all of those performances left me somewhat cold. No shade cast on the performers, who were busting a gut as per. It was simply that, without the thrum of the crowd, the atmosphere frequently felt funereal. It reminded me of the days of Top of the Pops, when a band like U2 couldn’t (or wouldn’t) make it to the studio and would instead play a sterile, audience-less beamed in from LA. It would invariably fall flat, not least when followed by footage of people pogo-ing around to Aqua or someone similarly naff back in the studio.

At the same time, I recognise that this is perhaps a churlish position to take. There are plenty of people who can’t make it back to live performances, who are well-served by live streams. There are fans halfway across the world, unlikely to get the chance to see a band live, who are well-served by live streams. There was the music industry itself, which was given a valuable leg-up by live streams at a desperate time. Clearly live streams are a good thing – even if they’re not as good as the real thing.

The heartening news, then, is that the return of actual gigs with actual audiences hasn’t killed off the live stream era. Instead, it has enhanced it. Next weekend Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke’s new band The Smile play their first ever performances in front of fans (seated and in the round) at a small venue in London. Unsurprisingly it’s a sellout, but Radiohead superfans can at least have the consolation of catching the performances over live stream at home. Or they can go and watch them at a local venue in the UK or the US.

This of course is nothing new – globe-straddling, chart-topping artists have been livestreaming performances for a decade or so now. The difference is that, where once the tools of such performances were only available to those at the top of the tree, now they’re accessible to smaller artists too, thanks to canny companies like Hotel Radio, who broadcast gigs from punk, hardcore and metal bands to every corner of the globe. And, in contrast to the old days of getting fleeced by dubious promoters, artists are taking their fair share from these streams thanks to a host of ethical companies. The era of livestreaming has much to offer. I’m all for it – as long as it doesn’t involve me watching someone playing acoustic guitar from a box room.

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US singer Marvin Lee Aday, better known as “Meat Loaf”, performing on stage in Zwolle, the Netherlands in May 2013
US singer Marvin Lee Aday, better known as “Meat Loaf”, performing on stage in Zwolle, the Netherlands in May 2013 Photograph: Ferdy Damman/ANP/AFP/Getty Images

LISTEN Fontaines DC offered up one of the better livestreamed gigs of the pandemic with Live at Kilmainham Gaol, and the Dublin band are back this April with their third album, Skinty Fia (roughly translated as “the damnation of the deer”). The record looks set to offer up another evolution of their prickly post-punk sound, if brooding (and rather good) lead single Jackie Down the Line is anything to go by.

FURTHER LISTENING Meat Loaf – who has died aged 74 – left an indelible mark on popular culture. His 1977 debut album Bat Out of Hell is still one of the bestselling of all time and 1993’s I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That) was a smash hit around the globe, despite its near eight-minute run time. If his later work never quite reached those heights, affection for him remained largely undimmed (despite questionable dalliances with the Republican party). He’ll be remembered as a true one off – an actor who held his own against Ed Norton and a singerwho could match Pavarotti note for note.

WATCH Next Monday sees the series 17 final of Only Connect, the rock hard quizshow designed to make us all feel terrible about ourselves. I’ve particularly enjoyed this season, not least because I’ve finally managed to solve one of the fiendish Connecting Wall puzzles. The entire run is available to watch on iPlayer.

READ (between your splayed fingers) this impeccably put together – and utterly excruciating – interview Vulture did with Joss Whedon, whose attempts to rehabilitate his career after allegations of misconduct fall completely flat.

You be the Guide

A fantastic response from many of you to our request for podcasts with a purpose: series that have had a positive impact on your life. As ever we received too many to cram into the newsletter, but here are a few to get you started:

Without a doubt, Ear Hustle has made a difference in how I view the world. It offers a smart, compassionate, multidimensional exploration of life in San Quentin prison for individuals who are or have been incarcerated, and involves them in its production. I’ve learned so much, and I’ve probably recommended it to everyone I know. – Morgana Kellythorne

I find The Blindboy Podcast brilliant and funny. He often has mental health experts on and deals with issues in a very real and unpatronising way. – Chris Smith

The breadth of normalcy that we are graced with by Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode on their weekly Wittertainment podcast (also on BBC 5 live) has kept me and thousands of others sane over these years of non-normal existence. Their humour, humanity, professionalism, and deep respect for each other, the film industry and the listeners, is truly profound. And “hello to Jason Isaacs”. – Mark Gorman

Fin Dwyer’s Irish History Podcasts have enriched and informed me regarding oppressive governments, human rights, and enculturation. They are broad in subject and always researched and cited, allowing thoughtful follow-up. Hooray for an approach that is not “my opinion” raised to the status of fact, as has become common these days in too many quarters. – Judy Fraser

I’ve found loads of podcasts really affecting but the one that has changed the way I think and given me ideas that i have genuinely acted on at times is Reasons to Be Cheerful. Yes, I have chosen chaos with Ed Miliband. – Helen Wood

Get involved

This week we want to hear about your memorable gig experiences, good or bad. Did you witness an all-time performance, or sit through a disaster? As ever, send over your suggestions by emailing me here or replying to this email.

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