Remembering Our Last Concerts, One Year Later

By Misc Penny Contributors; Intro by Erin Christie


As has been coined across social media, it was recently the one-year "panniversary" since much of the world entered lockdown in response to the rapidly spreading coronavirus. Alongside guaranteeing isolation from loved ones, entering quarantine presented many blockades regarding the continued efforts of the music industry, namely due to the fact that gathering, and especially gathering at concerts, was rendered an impossibility at that time. One year since that reality settled in, the virus is still looming, gathering in groups is still just as dangerous as it was then, and shows still have a very slim chance of returning any time soon.


That said, the Penny team has come together to recount our memories of the last shows we attended before every tour was placed on pause indefinitely. While not being able to support our favorite musicians at their live shows has been a challenging thing to adapt to over the past year, we look forward to a time when it is safe to do so once more. In the meantime, we emphasize the importance of supporting not only musicians, but also local independent venues and their staff as they struggle to stay afloat during these challenging times.

Erin Christie - The Murder Capital @ ONCE Ballroom (Boston, MA), March 11, 2020


I remember arriving at ONCE to see Irish post-punk group The Murder Capital on that Wednesday evening and feeling a little antsy, noting the state of the world at the time. Despite the circumstances, the night still went much like any other that I was accustomed to (even though there were noticeably fewer people in attendance that evening, possibly due to the horrendously cold weather or the looming virus) — I became mesmerized by vocalist James McGovern’s hauntingly deep drawl, and my friends and I shimmied around as the band played through a setlist of their debut material. It was a great way to cap off an otherwise pretty dull day, smack dab in the middle of the week. At the same time, though, everything was slightly uncertain in general, noting the rising threat of the virus, but I still had no idea that ONCE would be the last concert venue I would step into and The Murder Capital would be the last band I would see live for quite some time. That was, until later that week when I was notified by my college that everything was shutting down and I would have to move out of my dorm and begin taking online classes from my hometown. After the fact, I was grateful that I had taken a few film pictures that evening, as that show would’ve been my last opportunity to catch some live shenanigans behind my lens for who knows how long.


ERIN'S PHOTOS FROM THE SHOW


After this gig — the first date on their debut North American tour — The Murder Capital played their next show in Brooklyn on the 12th, just before everything essentially went to hell. On the 13th, I was meant to return to ONCE Ballroom to see one of my favorite bands, Post Animal, but the group canceled the evening in good conscience. At the time it happened, I was devastated, but they had clearly made the best decision they could.


Now, I’ve gone a year without a show and, for a while, it truly felt like part of my personality, my social life, and my sanity had gone missing along with the lack of nights spent getting my ribs crushed up against a barricade rail. To make matters worse, a handful of my favorite venues — including ONCE — have been forced to close over the past year, and it’s been heartbreaking to witness. With having spent the last year fearing getting too close to people, the thought of attending concerts is almost daunting despite how much I miss them, but once things eventually look up a bit and shows can return as intended (and in the safest manner possible), I’ll be jumping at the opportunity to get back into a sweaty mosh and to support my favorite acts in a live capacity. For now, I'll tune into livestreams from time-to-time and continue spending an unnecessary amount of money every Bandcamp Friday.

Erin Dickson - Elliot Moss @ Subterranean (Chicago, IL), February 27, 2020


The last show I went to before the COVID-19 pandemic halted the music industry was Elliot Moss at Subterranean in Chicago. Elliot Moss is not an artist I particularly love but I was familiar with a couple of his songs and, at the time, I was interning at a brand new arts and culture blog and was using this as an excuse to try and get press passes for anything and everything. When I walked through the front doors and up the cramped staircase, I had no idea what the future held. I had to spend a full ten minutes trying to convince the bouncer that yes, I was in fact on the list and was tired from a long day of class so I really just wanted to get my pictures and go home. This show doesn’t stand out in my mind as the greatest show of all time, but I will never forget that it was the last show I went to.


Up until last March, concerts were my entire life. Trying to explain them to people who don’t go to them is tricky. Yes, you’re crammed into a room of strangers, standing for hours on end, paying for overpriced drinks and listening to very loud (and sometimes very bad) music, but it’s fun, I promise! I was five years old when I went to my first concert — it was outdoors and I fell asleep in my dad’s lap halfway through (sorry about that, dad). I grew up driving the two-and-a-half hours to Atlanta and the three hours to Nashville with my parents to see the bigger acts that they loved and, once I hit high school, it turned into nights in downtown Birmingham, seeing all the smaller bands I had grown to idolize. When I moved to Chicago and started doing photography more seriously, I always said I didn’t want to shoot concerts. For some reason, I thought combining my first love with my hobby would make it not as fun or make it seem too much like work. After an entire summer of photo job hunting with zero luck, I was pretty desperate and decided to start cold messaging bands to ask for photo passes. The first show I photographed was the furthest thing from work I’ve ever experienced; it changed my entire life. When the pandemic hit, I not only lost my favorite pastime, but I also lost a career path.


I’ve felt a lot of emotions regarding the state of the music industry over the course of this incredibly silent year but, overall, I just feel sad. Compared to the rest of the world, my frustrations don’t seem all that important — when people are dying every day and there is so much worldwide pain and unrest, me not going to a concert for a little bit shouldn’t really matter. Except, it does matter…it matters a lot. It matters that almost an entire industry has come to a halt and it matters that, when venues shut down and tours got cancelled, countless people were suddenly and unexpectedly out of a job. It matters that I have to sit back and watch people from my hometown pack into stadiums with thousands of their closest friends to watch college football when I can’t even walk down the street and see my favorite local band play a dive bar. And it matters that there really isn’t a clear end in sight. It’s hard and scary not knowing when the next show is going to be but I know once it IS safe again, it’ll be better than ever before. And I can’t wait to be right up front when it happens.

Hayley Dean - Cage the Elephant @ O2 Victoria Warehouse (Manchester, UK), February 19, 2020


My last gig pre-pandemic was Cage the Elephant in February 2020. I remember the lights, the way the band danced across the room in a kaleidoscope of colour. I remember the atmosphere, too — there always seems to be a collective atmosphere of joy, of connection at gigs, that feeling of togetherness. I remember drinking overpriced wine and feeling tipsy after two (or was it three), spending time with friends, and not knowing what was to come just over a month later. I hope that when things are back to normal, we can safely stand (or sit) in a room with friends and hundreds of strangers again, enjoying the music, the togetherness. The music industry is an important one and has been hit hard by the pandemic, so please support your local venues and artists when it’s safe to do so!

Meg McCarney – Wallows @ Fete Music Hall (Providence, RI), March 2, 2020


Had I known this was to be my last gig of 2020, I would have spent a little more time preparing for it. I’m normally a big proponent of “camping out” several hours before a show, but it was March; it was freezing and the cold makes me miserable and whiny, despite having lived my entire life in New England. Petulantly, I sat wrapped in a blanket on my partner’s couch until the absolute last second we had to leave. Jumping into an Uber, we headed downtown to queue up before doors opened. Once inside, I felt those familiar, pre-concert butterflies lurch back into my stomach. Something about the buzz and hum of a crowd on its collective tippy-toes, yearning for any side-stage glimpse of the artist they’ve come to see, gives me goosebumps. Being surrounded by others who share the same affinity for live music is such a fulfilling, heartwarming experience.


Needless to say, the boys put on a stellar show that evening. Having fallen in love with their eclectic, ‘80s/‘90s-tinged alt-rock beats after their first single “Pleaser” came out in 2017, seeing Wallows live was a long time coming. It felt unbelievably good. They played almost the entirety of their debut album, Nothing Happens (including my favorite song of theirs, “Uncomfortable”), and closed out the night with a one-two punch of Arctic Monkeys and One Direction covers.


MEG'S PHOTO FROM THE SHOW


Turning to my partner after the venue lights went up, I yelped, “I miss it already.” Those words ring even truer today. I miss the sweaty, chaotic energy of a mosh pit where you enter as strangers and leave as friends. I miss screaming, dancing, and experiencing the kind of lightness you only feel post-show, makeup and hair all astray, on a euphoric comedown. I miss the sense of community that live music fosters and the proximity it affords us to our favorite artists. Please, mask up and get vaccinated so live music can return as soon as possible! As always, support your local independent venues when they reopen, too -- they have been hit incredibly hard by this pandemic.


Skylar O’Kane - Cavetown @ Oh Yeah Music Centre (Belfast, NI), February 23, 2020


My last concert before a respiratory disease killed the radio stars was in February of 2020. I went to see Cavetown at the Oh Yeah Centre in Belfast. This show was special for two reasons. For a start, it was the smallest gig I had ever been to — a lot of my favourite small-time indie bands are in the USA, so I’m somewhat out of luck when it comes to getting to see my favourite artists before they explode into the mainstream or give up and get boring normal jobs. The Oh Yeah Centre has a capacity of 290 people, and, for a sense of scale, my last show before this one was in the SSE Arena which has a capacity of 11,000, so it was a very different experience.


The second reason, and the most memorable, was that I went with my ex-girlfriend. This situation came about because she was not my ex at the time of purchase and had I known she would be my ex by the time we attended the concert, I would have gotten her a birthday present with a little less commitment to the long term. So we took the train into the city and wandered about trying to find the venue before we finally found it and joined the line at the door. We made stunted conversation before I escaped the awkwardness for a second to go for a much needed smoke, but this proved difficult as it was winter and my hands were too shaky to roll a cigarette with any skill. This meant I spent way longer than I meant to out of the line and I ended up losing my ex for a minute before I found her when we were inside the venue. She was not happy.


At this early point, I felt like the night was a bust. I was looking at an awkward, somewhat depressing night with a bedroom pop soundtrack. Things seemed pretty bleak; bleaker than one might even expect a concert with their ex-girlfriend to be. I stood awkwardly among a sea of strangers for most of the night, feeling very out of place. Songs went by and I could barely care enough to recognise them. And then, at the very end of the show, the night was saved — Robin (Cavetown) began playing “Hug All Ur Friends” as a closer. It’s one of his older songs; it’s simple, earnest and beautiful. Me and my ex-girlfriend, who I’d been avoiding for months and arguing with when the former option wasn’t available, hugged and cried as the song played in this intimate venue with 288 other strangers who I felt just a little bit closer to than at the beginning of the night. After that, we waited in line at the merch stand and talked more than we’d talked the entire night and without a hint of the awkwardness and tension that had been there before.


If this story has a point, I’d say it’s that live music is healing. That sounds cliche, and it is, but for a reason. Live music can bring us closer to absolute strangers as we all huddle into a pit and unite in our shared love of music, so who’s to say it can’t bring you closer to people you already know or in my case, drifted apart from? I’m not exactly best friends with my ex-girlfriend these days, but a real emotional moment at a live gig showed me that I didn’t have to push her away. I doubt my first concert after the pandemic will be quite so profound, but I can’t wait to be back in a room with hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of other people, enjoying a show and feeling a little closer to each and every one of them.

David A. Gutierrez - Angel Olsen @ Brooklyn Steel (Brooklyn, NY), November 21, 2019


The last concert I had the pleasure of seeing was Angel Olsen in November of 2019, a mere few months before COVID-19 took a firm hold of the world. The venue in question was Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Steel, where Ms. Olsen was performing the first of three sold-out nights, and where I had previously seen stellar performances by Japanese Breakfast, Jawbreaker, Chromatics, and Stereolab the same year. Living in the middle of Westchester County, I rely on the Metro North and NYC subway to make my way to Brooklyn-based events, spending a total of three hours heading back and forth, but it’s always worth it to me. Before I knew it, I found myself on the 21st walking down Metropolitan Ave alongside many others looking for action on a Thursday night, with a man simultaneously walking and urinating on the street curb among them. No one seemed visibly bothered, and in retrospect, it makes me think of the more carefree nature of people prior to the pandemic. Now, people are rightfully cautious, and it’s strange to think of a time when someone could witness such an occurrence and simply go, “Oh well.”


Regardless, everyone carried on their merry way, and I eventually found myself inside the industrial ex-warehouse that is Brooklyn Steel, surrounded by an array of fellow showgoers. The stage’s backdrop was a grandiose black and white image of a ballroom, giving an air of formality to the evening. Waiting for the opener, Zsela, to begin, I found myself standing right next to who I was certain was Aaron Maine of Porches. To validate my suspicions, I wondered if I should say something to him, but before I could make any decision on the matter, a fire alarm went off as Zsela was only a minute into her first song. Perhaps, due to a past of school fire drills and false alarms, no one budged an inch, seemingly waiting until proof that a real fire had broken out. Only when venue staff ordered everyone to leave did the room clear, and we all found ourselves waiting outside for ten minutes or so. Upon being let back inside, I overheard a claim that someone set off the alarm to sneak into the show, but since we were all checked for wristbands upon reentry, it can be assumed that the plan failed. After another five minutes of waiting inside, Zsela restarted and successfully completed her set to great reception.


After a brief wait, Angel Olsen and her band took the stage, all immaculately dressed, and delivered one of the most fantastic sets I have ever seen. Her ability to communicate the pure joy and melancholy that permeates love is absolutely intoxicating, and it is why she is one of my absolute favorite artists. Angel was talkative in-between songs, to both the audience and her fellow musicians, making the performance feel all the more intimate. Unfortunately, a clearly intoxicated individual a few heads in front of me lobbed a small wine bottle at her in the middle of “Shut Up Kiss Me,” but she swiftly dodged and continued the song undaunted. After the song, she held up the offending bottle and played off the incident, but it was clear she wasn’t too happy about it. The bottle-thrower eventually passed out, and was carried out before the encore. Angel’s encore consisted of the beautiful “Chance” and her collaboration with Mark Ronson, “True Blue,” creating a joyous, yet wistful end to the evening. We all exited, and I sprinted through the streets of Brooklyn to catch the next train home.


DAVID'S PHOTOS FROM THE SHOW


As the last concert I happened to see before the pandemic, it turned out to be the most eventful, with all bizarre occurrences framed around a powerful and polished performance in sound and visuals. In retrospect, it almost had an air of finality. Tired of spending months constantly running back and forth in my commute, I decided to take a hiatus from concerts, which was to end in April of 2020 with Amyl and the Sniffers. As we all know, it wasn’t meant to be, and now I haven’t been to a concert in sixteen months. Despite it being well over a year, the memory remains vivid in my mind, perhaps due to quarantine’s frightening ability to truncate your perception of time. I would tend to go to concerts alone, but there’s always an indescribable sense of unity present, being in a room full of people out to see music by an artist that they are all absolutely in love with. Such a love binds us all together, and at a show, no one is truly alone. It’s sad to be away from such an environment for so long, but I’m filled with a sense of excitement for its inevitable return. To all musicians, venues, and their workers, thank you for everything. Until we meet again.