The Rickety Old Shack

Thoughts On The Absence Of Live Music

article title image

It's been almost a month-and-a-half since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the shutdown of all large social gatherings and the shuttering of venues for sports and live entertainment. Since then, I've had time to reflect on the lack of these diversions and their value role in my life.

It wasn't until 2013 that I started to venture out to live shows. I have always been the sort of person who goes to work and comes home, I don't tend to do a whole lot. That routine finally got boring and I went to Montreal for UFC 158. I had a great time and it was enough to motivate me to see live music — something I would always talk myself out of. After seeing Metallica and Godsmack in 2005, I didn't see another show until March of 2009, when I saw Fuck The Facts with a co-worker from the government mail room I was working in. It would be another 6 years before I would see another live concert.

I don't know exactly what kept me from going to shows more often. Aside from a span of about 18 months from late 2005 to 2007, I have always been a voracious music listener. For whatever reason, I didn't see any reason to see live music until I had been living on my own for a decade. Once I saw Run The Jewels in 2015 — as with so many other things I put off repeatedly — I immediately regret my procrastination and was hooked.

While I joke about being a hermit, the impetus for venturing out to live shows was my desire to avoid turning into a complete shut-in. This ended up being one of the best decisions of my life, as the experiences I have had at shows over the past 5 years have been incredibly meaningful. While I haven't seen any bad shows, the combination of a packed crowd and small venue made for an indescribably welcoming atmosphere at shows like Wintersun (review) in 2018, and my final show of 2019, Ensiferum (review).

The enjoyment I derrive from a live show is twofold: the actual performance of music is something I enjoy watching in general, even if it's a genre I would not ordinarily listen to in a recorded format; as an amateur musician, I like seeing — and am inspired by — talented people showing off their skills. I love studio projects too, but the art of a live performance is something I can appreciate as well.

When Slayer announced their final tour, I took steps to ensure I saw them. I ended up seeing the band twice, once in Montreal (review) and almost a year later in my home city of Ottawa (review). The line-ups at these shows helped me scratch a lot of names off of my Must See list, and were worth every penny of the ticket price. Reflecting on that Must See list also made me lament the fact that I waited so long, however.

Every year I had been going to more and more shows, and this year was shaping up to be a great one. Two weeks after all the bars were closed, I was due to see Pestilence and Possessed. I loved the latter's new record, Revelations Of Oblivion (review) and was really looking forward to seeing Pestilence, a band I only recently had become aware of.

As the scale of the pandemic become apparent, I realised I wasn't going to see any of shows I had booked. My planned 2-day jaunt to Montreal, in early April, to see a pair of shows on back-to-back dates was likewise kyboshed. Not did I miss Abbath and Mayhem, two massive names on the black metal section of my Must See list, but the other show was Killswitch Engage with support from their ex-frontman's band Light The Torch. Losing the opportunity to see both Killswitch Engage frontmen on stage together is something I'm going to be sour about for a while. That the venue for one of those shows was a bar called the Corona Theatre was a bit much.

I had also planned on seeing Aborted again, with Napalm Death, but that is not happening either. I had pre-purchased tickets to see Nile in mid-October, and I've already told myself that's not happening either. I've always gone stretches of several months between sprees of live shows, but it's been almost 6 months now and their absence has become profoundly noticeable.

Very little compares to the feeling of experiencing a live concert in a small venue. When I went to see Saor last year (review), it was one of the highlights of a very difficult year. I spent 10 times the ticket price to travel to another province and see one of my favourite independent bands who happen to be based out of Scotland. My write-up for that show couldn't do justice to how satisfying the whole experience was, but I tried my best.

As a fan of music in general, the more shows I attended the more shows I wanted to go to. While my monthly budget is very modest, I have always prided myself on doing what I can to support the music scene. Likewise, with show attendance. I've grown to appreciate the venues I found myself at regularly, both in Ottawa and Montreal. It took me a couple of years, but it got to the point that bartenders at a couple of regular haunts could pick me out of a crowd and I never had to wait for a drink (note: tip generously). As someone who doesn't like to go out anywhere, it was nice to feel like a regular — like I was welcome — since no one I know likes the music I am into.

I don't know when live music is going to come back. That really bothers me, but that's just the reality of our current situation. Until there is a vaccine for COVID-19, or the virus miraculously goes away of its own accord, we're not going to be packing enclosed places full of hundreds of hot, sweaty people, and having mosh pits. Live music, regrettably, is going to be among the last things to return, and it kills me.

I am genuinely concerned about what this pandemic means for live music in general. A lot of bars are never going to re-open; event booking companies are going to go out of business if we're looking at 18-24 months before things return to normal; being a musician is going to be even less financially viable. I'm optimistic enough to think that there will be a resolution to this, whether it's a vaccine or something else, but I don't know what social and economic setting the live music scene will return to.

That all being said, I am hopeful that live music becomes a viable option in the near future. Regardless of how long it takes, though, I intend to go on a concert binge of epic proportions as soon as I get the chance. You might get some reviews of some really unexpected shows, depending on how long I have to endure a paucity of live music. At this point I'd almost be willing to watch a middle school Battle Of The Bands as long as I could bring my own beer.

It kills me that Slayer stopped touring and within 3 months live music ceased to exist. You can't write that kind of stuff, folks. We'll get through this, though. We have to.

—by Derek

Published: May 3rd, 2020.