Live Music in the Age of the Pandemic

Dropkicks1March 17 was my last day in the office for months, and St. Patrick’s Day also featured my first concert of the pandemic era. The Dropkick Murphys played a full show without an audience. Playing air banjo along to “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” in my kitchen, I felt like everything was going to be OK—even for just a moment—and that was a powerful feeling. But in the months that followed, getting a full band together in one location was infeasible.

In April and May, I enjoyed livestream performances—often after the fact—from quite a few Jewish punk artists. With the exception of one performance featuring two musicians, each show was a solo act. Full bands were not plugging in and playing punk rock, and some artists had moved in different musical directions. Whether with their voice and an acoustic guitar or an oud, fiddle, accordion, or trombone, the artists spoke to the moment.

  • KahnDuring his “Pests, Parasites, and Poetry” livestream, Daniel Kahn introduced the song “Parasites” by saying, “Our lives have been made precarious and unpredictable by very small organisms. So I thought we would sing a song about that: about our deep vulnerability to the microscopic maliciousness of tiny organisms.” Toward the end of his set, he quipped, “You want to hear one more, internet? Boy, it just ain’t the same!”
  • Yotam Ben Horin of Useless ID and Chabad Religion played the former’s “Isolate Me,” which felt all too timely.
  • ShemspeedLag B’Omer provided a wealth of Jewish programming. Yishai Romanoff of Moshiach Oi! and Yoshie Frucher of Sandcatchers and Pitom participated in a Shemspeed festival. Lorin Sklamberg of the Klezmatics performed as part of an international holiday celebration. Dan Blacksberg of Electric Simcha hosted a fun, energetic klezmer dance party, which featured an Electric Simcha medley that ended with a Lag B’Omer nigun. During “Nigunim,” Blacksberg sometimes sang and played trombone along with the recording.
  • On Shavuot, Alicia Jo Rabins of Girls in Trouble (and formerly Golem) gave a livestream performance. She tried to get the virtual audience to sing along with the chorus of “Rubies,” encouraging viewers to google the lyrics if needed!

On May 29, the Dropkick Murphys—who are outspoken about their love for Boston sports—played at Fenway Park. The musicians socially distanced on the infield dirt, and Bruce Springsteen joined them on the Jumbotron for two songs. This ushered in a new era when entire bands could play together again, usually in the same location and with better production.

In June, Tex-Mex punk band Piñata Protest gave a rockin’ livestream performance. I’d never seen them live, so while this wasn’t the same as an in-person concert, at least I had an opportunity I’d never had before.

This month, three established acts focused on material from yesteryear and had terrific sound quality. I believe that the first two streams were prerecorded.

  • On September 17, Flogging Molly did a mostly acoustic “Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day” stream. The seven band members played from six different locations, with the husband-and-wife duo of front man Dave King and violinist Bridget Regan as the only pair together. Flogging Molly played songs from their 2000 debut studio album, Swagger, commemorating its 20th anniversary.
  • Last weekend, NOFX played their 1992 album, White Trash, Two Heebs, and a Bean, in singer Fat Mike’s back yard. Band members wasted time with their signature banter between songs, including a discussion between Fat Mike and guitarist El Hefe about challah, bagels, and schmear.
  • NFGTonight I saw New Found Glory—the last band I attended a concert for, back in November. They played their self-titled debut in its entirety, 20 years to the day since its release, followed by other songs. Drummer Cyrus Bolooki was the only musician mentioned in this blog post to wear a mask while performing—and so did the plush muppet Animal on his drum set. It was the first time I’ve paid for a virtual concert, but between the set length, the audio quality, the lighting, and the background video, you get what you pay for!

This blog post isn’t a comprehensive overview of all the music events taking place online or the ones I’ve attended. It offers a snapshot of my experiences based on Jewish punk artists, punk rock bands with Jewish members, and other ethnic punk acts.

Virtual music events are inferior to pre-pandemic concerts. It feels like there’s a lot missing during the coronavirus pandemic of the last half-year, and concerts are on the list. But until it’s safe to gather again, I appreciate that there are options. The full-band shows are the closest approximation of a real concert, but even in the worst of times, artists have gotten creative in continuing to reach audiences in varied ways. Virtual concerts have evolved to the point where paying for them is sometimes warranted.

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