The pandemic brought an incredible blow to the live music world, but more importantly to the well-being of artists and the behind-the-scenes crews who make it all happen. In honor of a year devoid of live music, Ears to Feed asked artists and industry professionals to discuss the last show they attended before the world went quiet.
Jason Balla, vocalist and guitarist: It was the third day of a tour to SXSW when the world grounded to a halt and I found myself at Opolis in Norma — the last show of 2020. We really pushed to make it to this last one before packing up and heading back home to wait things out. Little did we know just how long we’d be waiting.
Opolis is an incredible space run by two people named Marian and Andy, who have their hands in every aspect of the venue. They’re the kind of people who really care about music and just roll up their sleeves and make it happen. Each night of the tour crowds grew smaller as the uncertainty grew and by the night of March 13, it was just the bands, a few brave souls and the Oklahoma tumbleweeds left.
There was a real sense of camaraderie that night, like we were on the edge of something. Like it was New Years Eve. A year has now passed. I miss that feeling of togetherness and that excited energy that fills a room whenever people gather.
Brian Case, vocalist and guitarist: The last show I saw was March 12 with Fennez, Britton Powell and Matt Jencik at The Empty Bottle in Chicago. I don’t know Fennez very well, but I was really into that Britton Powell album that came out and Matt is one of my favorites. I remember it being eerie in some ways, everyone was talking about COVID-19, but no one really knew what it was at that point.
The previous month we were being told by our government that it was like the flu, but the feeling in the air was very different from that. FACS was about to leave on an EU/UK tour in a few weeks and it was getting really stressful watching countries close down and everything start canceling. It’s crazy to think about being on the edge of a mass event like that, literally hours before the whole country shut down and everyone got fired, and the last show I’m at is this perfect soundtrack to a new future. I’ve been thinking about what the first show I go to will be like, and I think it’s going to feel similar, so much uncertainty, trying to reconnect with people you only know socially or just have drifted away from, not knowing how to talk about what’s happening. I’m also looking forward to killer local shows and hopefully a recalibration on the value of live arts and all the people involved in bringing those types of events together.
Drew Riedman, vocalist and guitarist: The last show I saw before lockdown was at a small space in Abbotsford, Canada . Some friends and I were meeting up to chat, and there happened to be an open mic taking place. We’re rarely gifted new bands in the Fraser Valley, but a group of some new, and some older musicians had come together under the name Summer Crush. One of the members had only started playing their instrument a few months prior. Their first show was also the first show in the Valley to be canceled due to COVID-19.
The space we were at that night also happened to be where their first show was going to take place, and they walked in after practicing next door and decided to play a couple songs. So I got an early glimpse of what would become one of my favourite new Valley bands, who also never let the pandemic take the wind out of their sails and managed to get a record, tapes, shirts and a live session out in spite of it all.
Patio’s last show was Dry Cleaning at Union Pool. There was a packed crowd and no soap. SXSW had just been canceled, but we had no idea it’d be the last time we’d play together for a long, long time. Commodore nachos was a fitting last supper.
Andrew Doig, vocalist and bassist: The last show I went to was the same as Chris’ I think, so I will mention the second to last one, which was a couple of weeks before. I play in a band called Order of the Toad with my partner Gemma and our friends Chris and Fionnan. That night we supported En Attendant Ana at The Flying Duck Venue in Glasgow and we all stuck around to catch EAA, who were totally great and really soaring.
There was a real standout for me, which I later learned was called “Somewhere and Somehow” from their latest album, it’s so euphoric! Anyway EAA are on Trouble in Mind and now so are Nightshift, who could have foreseen that? Or any of the crazy stuff that happened to the world shortly after.
Chris White, drummer: Just before all live music shut down I was touring with Spinning Coin and was enjoying hearing the bands we were playing with. Doig’s Robert Sotelo trio played a mesmerising show with saxophone, synthesis and drums in Edinburgh. That same gig featured a cool set from Edinburgh’s Buffet Lunch. I think that one was the last night before it got really weird and kinda uncomfortable, all anyone could talk about was the virus and how they probably shouldn’t be out the house, which was understandable but still that vibe is etched in my memory of the last gigs I attended. In spite of this we went onward and saw The Birthmarks that weekend. They played a great set at Manchester’s Soup Kitchen. I hadn’t heard them live for a couple of years and they had a different line up that gave them a varied guitar sound which was ace. The club PA challenged their lofi character but they proved their greatness in light of this.
David Campbell, guitarist: The last show I saw was Flipper with David Yow & Mike Watt. It was the most wonderfully life-affirming racket imaginable, with Yow getting hands-on with the audience in his usual gleefully interactive manner, still able to work the crowd masterfully with so much energy, commitment and excitement. Everybody was ecstatically happy and grinning all over by the end. I got to speak to Mike Watt afterwards, after having had the chance to spend an hour jamming with him a few years ago followed by a long chatty and very boozy night out. It was a brilliant, thrilling gig. I went out on a high and I hope to come back into gigs on a high someday too.
Georgia Harris, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist: The last gig I tried to attend was in February 2020, but I didn’t realise the set times were so early and I arrived when the bands just finished. It has always irked me that gigs in Glasgow start early (7 or 8 p.m. sometimes) when I feel like my evening can’t begin until at least 9 or 10 p.m. This reminds me how lazy I was about attending gigs pre-pandemic as the opportunities seemed endless.
It was my friend’s bands Smack Wizards and Galoshins playing at the Rum Shack. It was still a great night though. I arrived just in time to catch an epic after party. I’m sure the gig would have been awesome too.
Now that I’m really reaching back into old memories I think it’s possible the last gig I saw was Romeo Taylor at Stereo in January 2020, maybe. I love Taylor’s bombastic style and sense of humour. He also used to play drums in a band called Herbert Powell who’re now defunct, but were one of my favourite Glasgow bands. I think I missed out on the “impending doom” era of gigs others experienced as I was already staying at home.
Jack Whitescarver, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist: Even before lockdown I wasn’t going out much so I think the last show I went to was to see 100 Gecs dj at The Dance around the end of November 2019. The set lasted maybe 30 minutes at most and it was the cacophonous stoned out splendor you’d expect.
What I remember more than the set is wandering around downtown afterwards and ending up at KGB bar in Manhattan. I feel like I must have stayed there for hours talking to my friend Julian until somebody passed out on the seat next to us which, in my experience, usually means it’s time to book it.
That’s the kind of stuff I miss about going out, all the marginalia of the night around the event itself which can get you to some beautiful tripped out places. It’s a cliche but that was one of those nights where New York really felt like a scene from Martin Scorsese’s After Hours. For whatever reason, I see more romance in the air. I see that atmospheric je ne sais quoi.
Kevin Nickles, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist: The show was put on by Sometimes Publishing and the bill included Heavenly Bodies, who are a killer psych-drone rock band that feature peeps that have been active in the scene for a long time. Also playing was another awesome band Blues Ambush, which featured members of Fully Glazed and Elkhorn.
It was a cold Monday night in February at Century Bar in the depths of south Philly. One of those nights where you’re on the fence about a venture. Do you stay in and shake off the hangover of the weekend or indulge it for another night? My fiancé, Melissa, and I were deciding what to do when the phone rings and if by destiny it’s Dan [bandmate Daniel Provenzano]. “Are you guys going to the Heavenly Bodies show tonight? I was thinking about hitting it up,” Dan said.
So we all ended up going to the show and it was a blast. I think that was a lot of people’s last show in the scene. It seemed like fate brought everyone there for one last hurrah. I bought a poster that the Sometimes Publishing peeps made for the show and it’s framed hanging in my basement now (laughs).
Daniel Provenzano, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist: Yeah that was definitely it. I remember feeling so optimistic that night. It was like the first show since the 2019 holidays where the whole usual crowd was all in one place. So at the time, it felt like this triumphant reunion. The bands were great, it was loud as shit, and the Sometimes Publishing guys ended up making it a free show. Full house and lots of beers. I talked to a lot of people about what they’re cooking up for 2020. It was sure to be the start of a great year in music. But really it was the fucking conclusion. Occasionally I feel guilty about missing live music when so many people have it so much worse, but still, like, damn. It’s just something I never anticipated having to go without. Here’s to seeing and hearing everyone again.
Morgan Schaffner, marketing director: One of the last shows I saw before the lockdown happened on the night of March 6, 2020. It was a Friday night in New York City, and I was excited to finish up at work to attend one of the two sold-out shows that we (AdHoc Presents) had going on that weekend. One show was at Saint Vitus on Friday, and one show was at Union Pool on Saturday. Both sold-out gigs had a new band from South London called Dry Cleaning as the headline act, which was well deserved as their live set ended up well exceeding the expectations and buzz that had built around them.
As I took the B62 north from Williamsburg to Greenpoint to catch the show, I texted with a group of friends who were all coming out that night. It was pure ebullience as I arrived. I checked in with our staff who were working the door for the night and hugged friends new and old as I waited to order a High Life at the bar.
I didn’t know it then, but that night would be one I’d look back on over the next year with a certain sense of longing and gratitude. The energy was incredible, the people were second to none, and I got to witness a perfect night of live music in a packed, sweaty room in an amazing bar in north Brooklyn.
The Empty Bottle
Molly Mobley, talent buyer: One of the nights that I have constantly thought about during lockdown that happened in “the great before” was the night of Valentine’s Day 2020. A friend and I decided that we’d pull a two-show night because we each wanted to see different shows. His choice was Lamb of God at House of Vans, mine was Plack Blague at The Empty Bottle.
In the true unromantic fashion of two friends without lovers, we dined at McDonald’s Hamburger University in West Loop (Chicago) before heading to House of Vans where Lamb of God absolutely fucking murdered it. Then we jetted to The Empty Bottle to be taken over by the positive leather daddy vibes of Plack Blague.
Plack Blague was actually my first Valentine’s Day show booking. I remember wanting that specific holiday show to be different from the normal, sweet vibes you typically get marketed on that day. It felt like the right choice to do something different at The Empty Bottle and support a band that we absolutely love.