The last couple of months, as the majority of Americans did the right thing and got vaccinated, have been very interesting. When people were dying in masses, live entertainment simply wasn’t a major concern but it was a big deal for those who count on it for their livelihood. So it’s not being crass to say that the recent return of live music has been most welcome on a variety of levels.
Personally, I dipped my toes in slowly. My second Moderna shot happened on March 30 of this year, so I was fully vaccinated two weeks after that on April 13. Only then was I comfortable taking in live music of any kind. I didn’t want to endanger myself, my family, or indeed anyone.
So days after the experts gave me the OK, I attended my first gig in a year. But again, I went in slowly. April 17, at the City National Grove of Anaheim, I saw French DJ and producer CloZee (plus LSDream and Rome in Silver) perform a “Drive-in OC” show. The first artists I’d seen since Lydia Lunch at the Echo in Los Angeles in March 2020, this was the perfect entry-level post-lockdown show.
California wasn’t anything close to fully open yet back then, but things were feeling hopeful. Still, nothing was left to chance. Cars were searched on the way in to ensure that there weren’t too many people in each vehicle. Masks had to be worn when stepping away from your vehicle. The cars were also spaced safely, to give attendees dancing space without getting too close to those outside of their group. It was smart, safe, and necessary. Merch, concessions, and even the line for the bathroom were organized through a phone app. CloZee was spectacular, and any inconveniences were forgotten because, shit, I was at a concert again. And key to the whole thing is the fact that the other attendees did the right thing — followed the rules and stayed safe. It didn’t feel risky at all.
A month later, I climbed in a little further. Alex’s Bar in Long Beach is one of my favorite venues to catch a dirty punk show. In May though, they had a small stage and canopy set up on the parking lot so they could stage outdoor, safely spaced shows. Put a mask on to buy a drink or use the bathroom, and everything was perfect.
All three acts were great and all seemed delighted to be able to perform live in front of an audience in any capacity. The crowd was equally psyched, and it was great to know that the venue and musicians were finding ways to make a buck or two. God knows, the past year has been tough on everyone.
Three weeks later and I was at it again, as normality continued to creep back. The Hollywood Bowl opened fully to the public on July 4 weekend with two Kool & the Gang holiday shows, fireworks and all. But in mid June, they hosted a few free “invite only” shows for frontline workers (plus select media), as a means to say thank-you while also shaking off the cobwebs.
June 12, I saw jazzy R&B bass guru Thundercat on a bill with DJ and producer Flying Lotus. The Bowl is of course an enormous venue so the deliberately sparse crowd took a bit of getting used to. Flying Lotus acknowledged as much when he walked on, quipping “This is weird.”
Later he said, “Repeat after me — 3,2,1 FUCK COVID,” receiving the appropriate response from the crowd. Nobody argued. Before he came out, a video made the priorities clear though. We wouldn’t be able to do nice things like this if not for the hard work of our frontline workers during the crisis. It all felt very poignant.
Thundercat too addressed the magnitude of the event, “If you’re wondering what I’ve been doing this whole time, I’ve been watching anime. This. Whole. Time. And I did some kickboxing.”
Both artists were wonderful but it was the simple fact that the Bowl was hosting shows again, that such a thing was possible, that felt so immense. Not so long ago, this felt like an impossible dream.
A few days after that, I attended a Spotify event at a hotel on the Sunset Strip to celebrate R&B music and their Are & Be podcast. This one being indoors in a relatively tight space, we all had to go get tested for COVID immediately prior. On receiving a negative test, we were given our wristbands to get in. I loved it — no chances taken at all. Once inside, everyone could relax with the knowledge that everyone else in the room had received the same test.
Lucky Daye and dvsn performed, incidentally, and it felt like another massive step forward because now I was watching live music indoors, sat close to other people. Step four was complete.
The final step for me came this past week. Early on, I went to a Death Row Records event at a pop-up store on Fairfax. Both in and outdoors, hip-hop heads were rubbing shoulders and eating Fatburgers, and it felt normal.
This felt like the final piece for me: A regular,indoor punk show in L.A. and attendees being smart. The crowd was small enough to not freak anyone out, but regular-sized for a show like this. Alternative music fans are apparently, in general, not stupid. They’ll do the right thing, because god knows we’ve been waiting for this.