When live music was taken off the table this March, artists had to find another way. After a few months of being locked inside and making do with the tools immediately available – dodgy, endlessly buffering Instagram Live sessions and Q&As – bands and artists across the world then spent their summers finding brilliant, creative solutions to extremely new problems.
While galleries, venues and public attractions were largely closed for the summer, musicians took advantage, recording videos and sessions in some of the world’s most beautiful rooms and spaces, and finding creative, pioneering alternatives to the festival circuit that has become the bread and butter of a summer of live music.
For all the things the coronavirus has handed us, it has also seen artists across the world stepping out of their box and finding new ways of bringing some much-needed magic into our terrifying world. Here’s NME’s round-up of the most awe-inspiring lockdown performances we’ve seen…
Michael Kiwanuka – V&A Museum, London
The same week he won the 2020 Hyundai Mercury Prize, Michael Kiwanuka shared a breathtaking session recorded at London’s V&A Museum. Performing ‘Solid Ground’ with a string quartet, the camera swirls through multiple rooms of the gorgeous building, with band members scattered throughout a number of galleries. One day, the regal artwork accompanying his self-titled third album ought to be hanging on those walls.
Nick Cave – Alexandra Palace, London
London’s Alexandra Palace usually spends its summers hosting 10,000 sweaty, half-cut revellers night in, night out. This year, though, the now-eerily quiet hilltop in North London welcomed Nick Cave, who filmed his livestreamed gig (and soon to be live album and concert film) Idiot Prayer, providing rarely-seen intimacy in such a cavernous room. With production flourishes stripped back, it’s a performance that focuses purely on Cave, his piano, and his unrivalled dissections of love, death and religion.
Arlo Parks – Pyramid Stage, Glastonbury
Over the weekend when Glastonbury Festival 2020 would’ve been held in June, the BBC hosted a special Glastonbury Experience programme, playing classic sets from the festival’s archives alongside new original performances. Arlo Parks would have no doubt attracted a bumper crowd had it gone ahead, but a prime time slot on BBC One will suffice. Her sunset performance of ‘Black Dog’ – the most devastating song of the year – in front of the Pyramid stage was mesmerising stuff
Glass Animals – Kew Gardens, London
As well as venues and galleries, public gardens were also closed for large amounts of this summer. It’s something Glass Animals frontman Dave Bayley took advantage of, playing a gorgeous, subtle version of party-starter single ‘Heat Waves’ inside a greenhouse at London’s Kew Gardens for a performance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
Remi Wolf – NME Home Sessions, Los Angeles
Through lockdown, we’ve launched our very own Home Sessions series, with bands creating immersive worlds in their front rooms. Remi Wolf went above and beyond, turning her Los Angeles residence into a psychedelic lockdown cave. Performing ‘Shawty’ and ‘Woo!’, Wolf and her guitarist brought us a creative, mind-boggling performance.
Sports Team – The Oval Cricket Ground, London
The mantra of Sports Team‘s surely has to be go big or go home. Dedicated to the extremes, unashamed about ruffling feathers – and having way more fun than the naysayers – they shunned an Instagram-ready vertical clip and booked London’s Oval Cricket Ground for one of their first ‘live’ performance since the release of debut album ‘Deep Down Happy‘ in June. It matches their blatant ambition to fill stadiums and, most pleasingly, frontman Alex Rice has the look of a disgraced umpire who’s been out on the lash, and stumbled into fronting one of the nation’s hottest indie bands.
Angel Olsen and Hand Habits – Masonic Temple, Asheville
In July Angel Olsen hosted ‘Cosmic Stream 2’, a stunningly shot livestreamed gig from the Masonic Temple in her home of Asheville, North Carolina. The highlight of the show, which saw Olsen collaborating with her support act and bandmate Hand Habits, came in the form of a devastating cover of Tom Petty‘s ‘Walls’. Beautiful harmonies and exquisite songwriting performed in front of a backdrop of an idyllic landscape – it’s a delight.
Porridge Radio – St Giles’ Church, London
Porridge Radio released their debut album ‘Every Bad’ a week or so before the UK plunged into lockdown and, as a result, the newest converts have yet to see the band’s ferocious live show. But this beautifully intense session shot at St Giles’ Church in Camberwell serves as a taster of what to expect – Dana Margolin thrashing about amongst the pews, screaming “there’s nothing inside!” over and over on ‘Homecoming Song’, is your daily dose of catharsis and then some.
Holly Humberstone – Jimmy Kimmel Live
Late night TV shows have also had to adapt during the coronavirus pandemic. With no in-studio performances allowed, artists have had to create their own worlds with the limited tools available – but there have been some special moments. One of the best came from Holly Humberstone, whose performance of ‘Overkill’ and ‘Falling Asleep at the Wheel’ for Jimmy Kimmel Live back in August saw her create a music video-like spectacle, performing on the bonnet of a Jeep before hopping off and sitting down at a piano in the middle of a field. Truly inventive, brilliant stuff.
Arlo Parks and Phoebe Bridgers – St Pancras Old Church, London
The performance of Radiohead’s ‘Fake Plastic Trees’, shot for Radio 1’s Chillest Show at St Pancras Old Church, (the site of Bridgers’ first London show where she also played the cover) is stunning. Two of the most distinctive voices on the planet intertwine with each other to the tune of one of the greatest songs ever written.