It was like I’d been holding my breath since 2020. When the pandemic began, live music was one of the first things to stop dead – and has had one of the hardest paths back since. And it’s entirely understandable, since people singing in small, humid spaces is about as perfect an incubator for a highly-communicable airborne virus as could be designed. For those of us whose moments of joy have been largely defined by the gig guide, it was an especially cruel time.
But after two long years without live music, I finally saw a band play live – and it was like my heart started beating again.
It wasn’t quite the normal sweaty rock show I would have typically attended back in the day. For starters, it was seated in a two-thirds full Spiegeltent at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, in the mid-afternoon, amid an audience of responsibly masked punters. But it was a gig, dammit, and it turned out that was enough. Just hearing an overdriven PA in a small space again was a pleasure I’d forgotten. I knew I’d enjoy the show, but I wasn’t expecting it to be such a strongly emotional experience.
Even were also the perfect band to break a two-year gig drought with, since Ash Naylor is a man who wears his joy in performance all over his face from the second he steps on a stage. And it helps that Even are one of those bands that can start a set with what’s arguably their best known hit (‘Stop And Go Man’) secure in the knowledge that they’re not coming close to peaking early.
“Just hearing an overdriven PA in a small space again was a pleasure I’d forgotten”
As it happened, the last gig I saw was also in Adelaide and also during the festival season: the New Pornographers were one of the last acts to arrive in February 2020 before international travel started to be curtailed. There was a lot of idle chatter at the bar about this new thing spreading from China, and whether it would have any effect on Australia. Spoiler for those just emerging from cryogenic stasis and/or a very fortunate coma: it did.
And that New Pornographers gig, too, was a joyful celebration of everything great about live music, made dramatically more poignant in my memory by virtue of how so many of the things we took for granted were abruptly taken from us.
And despite the un-rock ’n’ roll hour and the socially-distant crowd, the vibe in the room at Even’s overdue return to touring was one of relief and joy. Audiences will never again take for granted the mere fact that people can sometimes stand on stage with guitars and drums and sing to us. In economic terms, scarcity has dramatically increased its value.
By the time Even ended their show with an epic, drawn-out version of ‘Rock And Roll Save My Life’, I felt rejuvenated. Re-energised. Reborn.
I realised just how much of a loss the last two years had been. Intellectually I knew I missed going to shows, and would get a pang every time an anniversary passed without a Golden Plains or Laneway to show for it. But I hadn’t realised I needed that visceral, physical reminder of the power of live music and its glorious life-affirming effect.
And it’s important to remember that feeling and that we can get it back, because not many of us are exactly gig-fit right now. It would be easy to stay in, as we’ve been forced to do for so long, and not even think to address that gnawing feeling that something vital is missing in our souls. For me, it turned out that that void was filled by a room-filling E major chord played on a Les Paul goldtop, but your mileage may vary.
Now is a great time to start remembering those reflexes we’ve been suppressing since March 2020. Tours, national and international, are starting to be announced again. Festivals are daring to block our dates. Bands are chugging back into action in rehearsal rooms and studios around the country.
And yes, there are going to be inevitable cancellations and rescheduling and last-minute swapping of tickets among heartbroken folks forced into isolation. But it’s all going to be worth it because there is nothing to match that aforementioned sound of an overdriven PA in a small room, and the moment when an artist reminds you of the moment you fell in love with their music.
There’s hope out there that live music can come back to something like the level we had in the Before Times. Hell, this is what we got vaccinated for, wasn’t it?
We have to relearn those old habits of getting out and seeing bands because – to quote Dr. Seuss – these things are fun, and fun is good.
And friends, it’s time to have fun again. See you out there.