Whether it's the cancellation of shows, the debt of postponed festivals and tours or the lack of pay for venue employees, promoters and other insiders, the impact of Coronavirus on the music industry is insurmontable. As someone who spends a good amount of time around live music, it’s hard to keep a positive outlook, especially with recent reports saying that in-person concerts likely won’t resume until 2021.
Despite this uncertainty, musicians have been banding together these past few months, doing their best to bring some much needed joy into their fans’ lives. Big concert benefits, like the Living Room Concert For America, are bringing the practice into the mainstream and the public’s interest while raising millions for COVID-19 relief. Noisey, the music channel on VICE’s website, hosted Noisey Night In, a livestream festival to benefit Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, on April 11. Philadelphia band Courier Club created Block By Blockwest, a charity festival streamed over Minecraft on May 16, which featured artists like Cherry Glazerr and Pussy Riot. Other bands are taking to Instagram, YouTube, and other online platforms to share songs and intimate performances worldwide.
Though they may seem trivial in the face of the pandemic, livestream performances do make a difference, especially for fans. Here’s a list of some of my favorites that I’ve seen so far.
Spanish rockers Hinds have been quarantined in their homes around Madrid for a little longer than us here in the US, and are one of the groups hit hardest by the pandemic. Lead singer Carlota Cosials’ mother tested positive for the virus, and the band has since rescheduled their upcoming album release and tour to focus on spending time with loved ones. That hasn’t stopped them from making music, though. As part of Rolling Stone Magazine’s “In My Room” series, which features different artists performing from home via IGTV every week, Hinds live streamed two of their songs (now archived on the publication’s website).
“New For You,” a classic from the band’s 2018 album “I Don’t Run,” is even better completely stripped down. It stays true to Hinds’ raw sound, bringing forth a bit of extra grit. “Come Back and Love Me <3,” a calming tune in its own right, adds something extra acoustically. Even during lockdown, Hinds are still their optimistic selves, pushing through the sound malfunctions and roommate interruptions with fervor. This little snippet makes the extended wait for their new record (“The Prettiest Curse,” out June 5th) well worth it.
There are some bands you think you’re never going to find your way back to; the Frights are definitely one of mine. I remember going through a brief phase when I was thirteen, when listening to the San Diego punk alt trio’s “Fur Sure” EP made me feel like the coolest kid in middle school. Though we were supposed to be reunited in person at the Bowery Ballroom this past April, I’ve been reconnecting with the Frights via Instagram, where frontman Mikey Carnevale has been wooing over fans and followers with his guitar (and numerous glasses of wine.)
It’s rare for any artist to take the time to revisit their entire discography, and play it live, for that matter. Between the background noise from his family during the livestream of “Everything Seems Like Yesterday” or the iPad malfunctions in 2018’s “Hypochondriac” show, Carenvale proves that the band can handle anything. Though the Frights are definitely a group you’ve got to jump around to, these more mellow performances show their softer side; one hard not to fall in love with. It was heartwarming to get to see people “cheering” along in the comments, sending in clapping hand Emojis to share their support. Aside from the music, that sense of encouragement makes these performances ones to watch.
One of the best things about online concerts is being introduced to new artists on your time and on a budget (of nothing!) I knew very little about Alabama folk rock act Waxahatchee (yeah yeah, come for me indies) until I stumbled across her via the Rolling Stone “In My Room” series. For her performance, singer Katie Crutchfield performed songs “Fire” and “Lilacs” from her new album “Saint Cloud.” Played on a keyboard in her home in Kansas City, they ring out as love letters, proving that simplicity sometimes reigns supreme.
Though alt-folk isn’t normally my thing, I was immediately drawn to Crutchfield’s vocals and musical world. It inspired me to check out the rest of “Saint Cloud,” as well as her previous releases. I was thrown into that wonderful feeling of finding a new artist to listen to, diving headfirst into their discography and scouring YouTube for every video I could (it made me extremely happy to see that the band had an Amoeba “What's In My Bag?” episode). The perfect distraction, in my opinion.
It’s taken a pandemic for certain things to happen: for us to see an intense spark in humanitarianism, for certain politicians to start paying attention to their constituents and for Karen O to whip out some of her most precious musical rarities. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs lead singer performed an acoustic version of deep cut “Our Time” via IGTV on April 12th. It’s the first song she wrote for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the first time she’s played it in over a decade.
Maybe it’s her small son making an appearance, or the makeshift ambience given by a spinning disco ball, but this intimate performance sticks out more than most. Steering away from the usual grit of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ discography, this stripped down ballas feels like a blessing. O’s voice is soft, like she’s singing directly to you, the emotion in her falsettos permeating through. It’ll make you ache for New York (Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ place of origin), but also be thankful to be able to do so in the first place. It might just give you the will to “break on through” this tough period as well.
British rock band the Struts are hunkered down in their various homes around Los Angeles, but that’s not stopping them from putting on a spectacular show (or shows). Their new web series “Sunday Service” delves into everything from music to Q&A’s to SNL-esque comedy sketches, all while maintaining the energy that the band brings everywhere they go. Each episode is around twenty minutes long; the perfect length to binge when you’re in need of some good music and laughs (you're sure to get both, whether it’s through the iconic Spice Girls cover in episode one, or guitarist Adam Slack’s intense egg making process in episode three). Their newest episode segment “Stay Home and Unplugged” is dedicated to exclusive acoustic covers of the band’s biggest hits, soothing the souls of those who love their original music. If you haven’t gotten a chance to see the Struts live yet, don’t fret. This series will make you feel like you’ve gotten to know them far better than you could in a single night onstage.
Bad Bad Hats
Bad Bad Hats are just the right amount of awkward to have you hooked. Their alluring indie pop is perfect to play anywhere from road trips to your Early 2000’s Throwback Dance Party. In lieu of shows, the band (or two thirds of them, husband/wife duo Kerry Alexander and Chris Hoge) started a series called “Islands in the Livestream,” which airs every Saturday at 4pm CST on YouTube. It’s four hours that live up to the group’s self-proclaimed title of “America’s Most Wholesome Indie Rock Band.”
Bad Bad Hats keep things interesting with changing themes every week, so you’re bound to find something you’re interested in. Episode 1 is an ode to the 90’s, Kerry and Chris covering everything from the Cranberries to Fastball’s lost power ballad “Out of my Head.” Episode 2 is dedicated to the band’s favorite love ballads, while others shows tackle old alt rock favorites and songs with names in the title (the cover of Alvvays’ “Marry Me, Archie” had me swooning). Kerry and Chris are also gems to watch. It’s clear how much they love their band and each other, the connection shining through in every song.
This last one technically isn’t a concert, but I have to make an exception for New York’s finest. Partly for promo and partly out of boredom, the Strokes started a “pirate radio show” called “5 Guys Talking About Things They Know Nothing About,” its premise staying true to the title. The podcast-esque webshow includes everything from casual conversation to the band spinning some of their favorite quarantine tunes.
During April 9th’s episode, the Strokes hosted a listening party via YouTube for their new album “The New Abnormal,” their first LP in seven years. In between songs, they told behind-the-scenes stories about the recording process, the insight trouped only by the absolute chaos that occurs when all five Strokes are together (ie: a heated discourse about the validity of graham crackers). Indulging in the record with them, even if over a glitching Zoom chat, is an irreplaceable experience. As the Strokes share their anxieties about the pandemic, it’s a reminder that we all have the same worries, but also the same hope that things will get better. Like drummer Fab Moretti stated, “We’ve just got to love each other, man; we’ve got to be kind.”
Nothing will ever compare to live music. There’s something special about being surrounded by people as in love with an artist as you are that can’t be reproduced digitally. Still, these virtual concerts provide solace that’s more impactful today than before. With all their awkward glory, these performances are the most intimate we’ll see our favorite artists, creating a unique connection we might not have gotten otherwise. The mistakes and blunders—the lags and glitches—are a constant reminder that we’re truly all in this together, figuring things out and making the most of it. It shows that even in the strangest times, we’ve still got songs to help us through until we’re back out on our own.
That is music to my ears.
Image by Pete Gibson