Mark, My Words: lockdown live-streams might be the future of music, after all

Online gigs are in their infancy. Columnist Mark Beaumont foresees a bright future

Kate Nash played Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ on a tin whistle. Common freestyled into a bundle of sage. Yungblud necked bacon smoothies between songs and John Legend’s wife improvised an emotive piano piece called ‘The Butt Song’ with her arse. Just one week on from Chris Martin kicking off a tsunami of artists livestreaming shows from their luxury isolation pods across the globe, people are already starting to get inventive with the art of solitary streaming.

Just as you’ll soon be alleviating the tedious routine of ‘working from home’ by numbing your arm so it feels like someone else is doing it, the breakthrough entertainment medium of the lockdown era will undoubtedly evolve as our months in isolation stretch out endlessly while Boris Johnson piffle-paffles about waiting for the situation to become uncontrollable before trying to control it (it’s hardly doing his polling any harm – research shows that 70 per cent of over-65s currently approve of his ‘let the over-65s die’ policy).

Right now we’re in the acoustic Q&A request stage of the livestream revolution. From Niall Horan to Gary Lightbody to Rufus Wainwright, Shawn Mendes and Ben Gibbard, the natural response has been to break the emergency glass on their guitar that’s most reluctant to stay in tune and take to the Insta-airwaves to give the public what they most need at this time of global catastrophe – random deep-cuts from 2004 and covers of ‘Hallelujah’.

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I for one salute such heroes for taking the time to arrange their Grammys into a pleasing background display and launching an initiative to unite the world in a plume of thumbs and hearts. But let’s remember these are just the first responders, using whatever rudimentary tools are immediately to hand.

Eventually the voyeuristic value of getting a glimpse inside Wyclef Jean’s aquarium room will wear thin, and right now a second wave will be planning more imaginative broadcasts. If electronic duo Real Lies can perform a sparse, neon rave set from their deserted studio and Keith Urban can hole up with a one-man “Insta-band” in his guitar warehouse, what’s to stop far bigger acts from self-isolating in the storehouse where they keep their expensive stage sets and putting on full livestreamed arena gigs? Surely it’s time for Lady Gaga to get down SafeStore and defrost the meat dress.

How will the livestream evolve as an eye-stopping format to keep us going through the long, dark summer? The answer will lie in exploding one of live music’s great open secrets. It’s all on tape. Right now everyone’s coyly making out that they couldn’t possibly play anything other than the most basic acoustic fumble without all those other people who definitely play instruments live onstage with them. But as soon as they realise that major, full-blown livestream events are the only way to promote their new album now, they’ll quietly let on that – y’know what? – their entire set can actually be Dropboxed to them by their sound engineer inside 10 minutes and that – musically at least – they can put on their full show from their hot tub just as easily as at the O2.

Once that thorny nettle is grasped, the summer really will be saved. Last week Willie Nelson put on his annual backyard Til Further Notice festival online by video linking together a raft of acts including himself, Nathaniel Rateliff, Lucinda Williams and Paul Simon singing with Woody Harrelson, proving that entire virtual festivals can work online, bizarre guest appearances and all. So once it;s established that a patio big enough to hold a laptop podium is all that most modern acts need to deliver their unexpurgated festival set to iPhone, a livestreamed Glastonbury is entirely possible.

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It might even make a pleasant change. You’d be able to click your way into a virtual NYC Downlow in seconds and you’ll never miss a secret set because you were frolicking bare-arsed around the stone circle thinking you’re a wood sprite. Banner ads aren’t nearly as view-obscuring as flags on poles and it’s possible to sleep through people typing Friday Night Dinner catchphrases into comment boxes in caps lock.

If the lockdown lasts a full year? Then livestreaming will really come into its own. The more members of bands that become coronavivors, the more of them can congregate – expect entire bands to be putting on shows again by mid-summer. And regular readers who took my sage advice from a few weeks ago to leave the Andrex warriors to it and stockpile VR headsets instead will begin to feel the benefit as major acts blow their cancelled tour budget on 360-degree cameras and stage virtual gigs that’ll be almost impossible to distinguish from the real thing – only with much, much better wine.

In fact, if Covid-19 hangs around long-term, they might well become the norm. You may well have bought your last 10-quid hot dog – from here on in, live music might come to you…

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