Their reunion concert tour called off, this past Saturday night Chris and Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes headlined the first instalment of promoter Live Nation Canada’s televised “concert” series, Budweiser Stage at Home. The professionally shot, pretaped show involved five soul-rock songs performed remotely by the brothers, who, until recently, were bitterly estranged.
From his home in Marin County, Calif., barefoot singer Chris Robinson sang She Talks to Angels but he did not talk to his unsmiling brother Rich Robinson, shown strumming and riffing on a porch in Tennessee. Physically distanced by some 3,700 kilometres and often shown on a split screen, these blank-faced guys seemed to want to be anywhere other than self-isolated in their homes.
“Can I have some remedy?” they pleaded at one point. Here, here. For fans missing proper concerts, a vaccine can’t come soon enough.
This weekend I heard from a prominent Canadian singer-songwriter. The flood of streamed online music events and concerts leave him, he said, “depressed.” And while his malaise isn’t universal, it’s not hard to believe that the novelty of glitchy social-media audio and unflattering laptop-shot close-ups is wearing off.
And, yet, with the summer concert season decimated because of the novel coronavirus, it appears we’re stuck with online content, some of it live, some of it not. The high-end Budweiser Stage at Home, which airs on Toronto’s Citytv and simultaneously streams at Live Nation Canada’s new virtual music hub, continues on June 6 with performances by Blue Rodeo and Alan Doyle, with at least two more one-hour shows to come.
Earlier this month, the Los Angeles-based Live Nation said it would “dabble" in fan-less concerts that have sponsorship possibilities and “great broadcast opportunities." Budweiser Stage at Home is hosted by singer and television personality Tara Slone, who hangs out at the empty Toronto amphitheatre where both Blue Rodeo and the Black Crowes were scheduled to perform this summer. During the Crowes show, she shoehorned in shout-outs to venue sponsor American Express and RBC, which has its name on the nearby Echo Beach stage. The broadcast presence of the Budweiser brand, of course, was unavoidable.
We remember back in 1991 when the Black Crowes were dropped as the opening act on a ZZ Top tour for criticizing the tour’s affiliation with corporate sponsor Miller Beer. Nearly 30 years later, with the music business radically changed, the brothers Robinson on Saturday might as well have been nuzzling Clydesdales and guzzling Anheuser-Busch products.
The band’s reunion tour this summer was to celebrate the anniversary of its debut album Shake Your Money Maker. During this live-music lockdown, artists are shaking it any and all ways they can.
On Friday, the Boston-based Celtic punk rockers the Dropkick Murphys performed a set at a fan-less Fenway Park. In high spirits and Red Sox jerseys, the socially distanced band members were joined by a video-linked Bruce Springsteen, who appeared on the ballpark’s jumbo screen for a pair of songs that included his anthemic American Land.
Because Budweiser Stage at Home is pretaped and edited, the interactive nature of a more humble live production is lost. On Friday, I caught a streamed show by Ottawa-area producer-songwriter Jim Bryson. In a Zoom-room setting facilitated by the live-music platform Side Door, he played, enjoyed various refreshments and communicated in real time with fans who paid $10 for the live, somewhat communal experience.
Also on Friday, the American indie-music darling Sharon Van Etten gave a ticketed show on Seated.com that was marred by uneven sound and complicated by an interface that some fans found difficult to navigate.
So, growing pains for live musicians struggling to do what they do in compromised settings.
Celebrating his 75th birthday late last week, the Creedence Clearwater Revival rocker John Fogerty realized his dream of playing his 1985 solo hit Centerfield at Dodger Stadium. Joined by his family on the illustrious ballpark’s actual centre field, Fogerty sang “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play.” Not to put sentiment in anyone’s mouth, but Fogerty sings for the artists seeking to get back on stages, and the fans who want to be in the same building with them.
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