Is There “Live” After COVID?
Is There “Live” After COVID?
Due to the pandemic, the live music industry is facing the biggest disruption ever. Booking agencies, musicians, bands and organizers have tried to come up with new ideas to fill the void that cancelled gigs, postponed tours and annulled open airs have left. Six Feet Under–six feet apart: Are social distancing concerts really an option?
On August 13th I attended my first metal show after the virus put a halt on all live music events, including the big summer festivals. Nobody knows what is going to happen next, but predictions are pretty dull. Surely most of you miss spending your weekends at concerts, as much as I do. But that’s vanities in comparison to the hardship that countless people are facing, whose livelihood depends on live music shows.
Yet Swabian death black metal quartet Nekrovault and Munich’s finest (to conclude way in advance), a newcomer band named Tav, were not going to sit around with idle hands re-watching Tiger King. My friend Fabian, organizer of local music festival “Fall Of Man”, booked a so-called “social distancing show” for both bands to Backstage Werk, the biggest of the three concert locations at this Munich venue. The concert hall usually holds up to 1.500 people, distancing regulations, however, required to limit the amount of people drastically. And although the event could have certainly drawn a bigger audience (up until show time people outside the gate were trying to get their hands on one of the sold-out tickets), only 200 people were allowed to attend. Naturally, after being socially distant for such a long time, these 200 felt like a lot more. And despite most of their faces being covered by more or less “metal” masks, most of them seemed to be just as overwhelmed and overstimulated by their first post-quarantine concert as I was.
Before showtime, people gathered at the entrance area of the venue, where drinks were being sold. Some sat at benches drinking beer or eyeing the football match that aired on the big screen outside. As no drinks were being sold inside, guests had to bring their drinks inside to their table. Yes, table. Everybody, without exceptions, was required to sit down to watch the show.
Shortly after Fabian, his friends and I took a seat at our table, the music started. The scenery was drenched in foggy blue light, as if to accentuate the heavy heartedness that lingered underneath the excitement and the anticipation.
When Tav entered the stage, I was immediately enchanted by their fragile, minimalistic, other-worldly sounds. Initially, they reminded me a bit of The Cure. (Ironically, The Cure memes had helped me cope with lockdown.) Haunting male vocals that range from Robert Smith to Diamanda Galas by way of Ryanne van Dorst of Dutch rockers Dool–was that even possible? It didn’t matter. The slow atmospheric music felt like an angel peeing on my heart. And although that type of music, in parts at least, can well be enjoyed sitting down, I sensed a strange sensation.
Shivers crawled down my spine and when my eye caught the back print of a photographer’s Celtic Frost shirt, I felt overwhelmed by the experience. “Only death is real”: As I fought back tears of nostalgia, I couldn’t help but wonder: Was this moment manifesting the end of a lifestyle? A lifestyle of headbanging at metal concerts, spilling beer and sweat and spit and even blood on one another, dancing ecstatically and hugging and cheering with strangers and screaming our hearts out.
Then, unexpectedly (and luckily!) the mood shifted and became more aggressive as tremolo picks and double bass drums euphorically moved the emotional roller coaster upwards. My personal highlight was an interlude (or prelude?) that sounded like one of the most beautiful lullabies I’ve ever heard. The song that followed seemed to mourn that what was, while celebrating that what will be. It all ended with the guitarist slamming his instrument on the ground and stomping off stage. The new world isn’t for everybody. It’s not even for most of us. It’s definitely not for misanthropes.
At 9:30 pm the main band of the evening entered the stage with a vengeance: Nekrovault. Out of the blue smoke that lingered all evening, a mangy noise emerged, creating a freezing cold atmosphere amidst this summer‘s sticky heat wave. As this was the first time that I had ever seen Nekrovault live, I was not only impressed by their music (located somewhere between Morbid Angel and The Ruins of Beverast), but by their case-hardened 45 minute performance. Quick and dirty, just as I like it–and very unlike a band that’s only been around since 2017. Nekrovault played as if they’d been doing nothing else since 1997, merging doomy old-school Death Metal and mean-spirited Black Metal sounds into a wicked novelty.
Still, something was missing. Everyone who frequently goes to metal shows knows that it is crucial to this genre, if not to all music, that the audience resonates in some way with the band and the music. Live artists feed on feedback, be it headbanging, singing along, shouting, gesturing, swaying. If such, apart from restrained head nodding and well-behaved hand clapping, is denied or rather prohibited by COVID regulations, it is so much harder to prevail as a band and keep an audience interested. Having said that, Nekrovault did an outstanding job. But did it feel like a “real” (I didn’t say true!) heavy metal concert? Not today, Satan, not today. At least not yet.
Having said that, 14 € is a small ticket price–that most likely doesn’t recoup the overheads of the event–for an evening of something similar to a good heavy metal concert.