Beer and Pavement

For the Love of Live Shows, Wear a Mask

Posted in Live, Massachusetts by SM on July 6, 2020
The last live show I saw: Half of Sonic Youth and some other people.

This spring was going to be epic in terms of live shows for me and I never use the word epic. I was set to see Archers of Loaf, Waxahatchee, Liz Phair, Parquet Courts, and Big Thief in August. There were even several other shows to consider. I was really excited to get out and see some bands.

Then, well, you know.

At first, I figured everyone would just postpone their shows and I would make do with Instagram Live performances. Kevin Morby and Katie Crutchfield, the indie rock couple du jour, was ridiculously cute in their LA (or maybe KC) bungalow, performing mixes from each other’s catalogs or fan requests. Of course, all anyone wanted to hear was their cover of Jason Molina’s “Farewell Transmission.”

When it was all going down, I was debating going to see Archers of Loaf in Boston. First, I rarely go to Boston for shows. I really don’t like navigating that city and prefer seeing shows here in Western Mass. But I hadn’t seen Loaf in like 20 years. I really wanted to see this show. However, as the date approached, the number of cases in Massachusetts increased, particularly around Boston. I finally decided I couldn’t risk my family’s health and chose not to go. Of course, the show was eventually canceled anyway. So, at least I wasn’t out the money for the tickets.

A week later, everything shut down. One by one, shows were postponed or canceled. Waxahatchee moved to the fall. Parquet Courts is supposedly still happening in a few days, but I doubt it. (I’m not going anyway.) Liz Phair canceled, which means I’ve held tickets for three Liz Phair shows that were all canceled. And Big Thief canceled, unfortunately.

The coronavirus pandemic shut down the live music industry and it will likely continue into the fall, unless folks – meaning Americans – start wearing masks, washing hands, and practicing social distancing. As other parts of the world go back to normal, we all sit at home or ignore the evidence and go out to bars. In the meantime, live music ceases.

And it’s not like musicians and bands are giving up. I mentioned the Instagram shows put on by Crutchfield and Morby, but Instagram Live is busy all the time now. Some are scheduling live shows fans can purchase access, but a lot of these shows are happening at reasonable hours, meaning parents who have to get kids to bed can’t typically attend.

Of course, would I even want to?

Kevin Morby on Instagram Live

I live for live music. I don’t go to nearly as many shows as I used to, but I’ve been attending rock shows religiously since my first. I was late to rock concerts, but my first one was during my senior year of high school. On St. Patrick’s Day of 1993, I saw Vic Chestnut, Goo Goo Dolls (in their punk rock phase), and Soul Asylum, supporting their breakout album “Grave Dancers Union.” All the way up to last December’s Thurston Moore gig in Holyoke and that’s 26.5 years of concert going. I wish I knew the actual count, but it’s a bunch.

For longtime readers (Are there really that many of you/them?), you may remember that this blog’s biggest post was the one I wrote inspired by a strange night at a show. The post itself wondered if I was too old for music. That was almost ten years ago. I still wonder if maybe I’m getting too old for live shows anyway. Maybe this pandemic is the good lord’s way of saying that it’s time to cut out the rock shows.

So, here I sit on my back deck, worrying about the assholes who tore down a bunch of trees next door to build a house. I’m sitting out here because we actually have people cleaning our house. There are no shows on the horizon.

I say all this now and am resigned to shutting down that part of me that still longs for live rock music. If the pandemic has killed anything – well, aside from 130k+ in this country, Mr. President – it has somewhat injured that longing. Although it was novel to watch bands play stripped down versions of their songs in their living rooms, I’m pretty over it now. And as I eye that Parquet Courts show, I wonder whether it will just be cancelled anyway. I mean, I’ve already seen Pavement. (JK – You’re great PC.)

Sorry for the whoa-is-me post. I don’t mean to be a downer, but if people don’t start staying home and wearing masks, live music is doomed.

If you have a second and some money, please consider donating to a shining light in live music venues here in the Valley. Gateway City Arts in Holyoke has injected some energy into the scene over the past couple of years. They, like many other small businesses, are struggling. A lot of those shows I missed this spring were set to be at GCA. Help them out. Even if I’m too bummed to go out, that shouldn’t mean a great little venue has to shut down.

4 Responses

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  1. Steve said, on July 6, 2020 at 11:30 am

    I think the broader issue here for the music business is that the business model had switched from Make Money Selling Records to Make Money Playing Live, and now the latter isn’t really an option. And as such, I can see the continuation of the trend where the only people making music are those already rich enough to sustain that, either through fame or other means. I also wonder if we’ll generally see fewer traditional bands coming through, and more “bedroom” acts, for want of a better word, as the latter becomes the main practical and economical option?

    • SM said, on July 6, 2020 at 12:14 pm

      I think there are two different industries from which musicians make money: live music and recorded music. Anyone can make money playing live – obviously some more than others. If a musician or band can make a living and extend that 20-30 years, they can do quite well. Two of my indie heroes, J Mascis and Stephen Malkmus, are worth $8 and $6 million respectively and neither sell 100’s of thousands of records. Selling enough music to live off of us different. You’re right that musicians have shifted from recorded to live music paying the bills. I don’t see online concerts taking the place of the real thing, however.

      • Steve said, on July 7, 2020 at 4:28 am

        Absolutely. I guess to hone my point further – it is going to be really hard for new acts (or at least new acts without a trust fund) to properly establish themselves, and it has been tough enough for the last 10-15 years. The likes of Spotify/YouTube etc make it really hard to make money from recorded music unless you’re already famous. An in-person experience seemed to be the last money-making commodity left. And online shows really aren’t going to cut it, unless someone comes up with something particularly clever or unique.

      • Steve Lagotte said, on January 1, 2021 at 9:00 pm

        I know I’m late to the party here but, ah, you forgot the third (and usually the most significant) avenue of income for touring musicians: merch. Seeing as functionally the internet is itself a giant merch table, hopefully those numbers haven’t changed too much since your post.

        I’d like to add that this is my first visit to your blog – a google search for a Jon Spencer quote about Bob Pollard brought me here somehow. The overarching topic of discussion combined with your apparent geographic location reminded me of the time I made the drive out to MassMoCA in North Adams to see Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks. The audience seemed to be entirely composed of much, much older couples (I’m talking well into retirement) who had season passes of some sort to all the shows that used to go on there. Lots of polite applause, but the only people rocking-out, let alone moving in any appreciable fashion, were my girlfriend and I. In spite of the crowd, Malkmus fully delivered an excellent show.

        At one point I shouted out “Cut Your Hair!” as a (upon later reflection, misguided) song request. The two old women next to us nodded to each other in agreement, one clucking to the other, “that man really does need a haircut.”

        And that’s my funny Pavement-adjacent story. Happy New Year ✌️

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