Covid-19 Last Shows: 'Rolling Stone' Staffers Look Back at Concerts - Rolling Stone
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Our Last Shows: A Look Back at Final Concerts Before the World Went Quiet

From a Nashville relief fest to Celine Dion to Iggy Pop at Carnegie Hall, these shows are burned into our memories as we wait for live music to come back

Covid-19 Last Shows: 'Rolling Stone' Staffers Look Back at ConcertsCovid-19 Last Shows: 'Rolling Stone' Staffers Look Back at Concerts

Scene at Madison Square Garden Feb 28th 2020.

Sacha Lecca for Rolling Stone

A year ago, our lives ground to a halt as Covid-19 spread across the U.S. Everything but essential businesses shut down, schools closed, and the music world stopped in its tracks. Tour announcements became tour cancellations, festivals were called off, and those of us who attended several live shows per week found ourselves on our couches, grieving not only the fallout of the pandemic but the loss of one of our greatest comforts: music.

As more and more people across the world are gaining access to vaccines and a glimmer of hope has appeared on the horizon when it comes to the rebirth of live music, Rolling Stone staffers recall the last show they saw before the world stood still.

SiR: Brooklyn Steel, Brooklyn, New York, December 3rd, 2019

“YOO,” my friend Eunice texted me. “SZA IS HERE. SHE JUST FILMED FROM THE SIDE OF THE STAGE. LOOK ON IG. I’M COMING TF BACK.” Fifteen minutes prior, Eunice had left me in a dense crowd on the floor of Brooklyn Steel, a 1,800-capacity venue that was filled to the max. The 15 minutes crept by as I felt alone, watching couples sway and friends shout lyrics to each other as R&B singer SiR mosied through tracks from his third album, Chasing Summer, with a nimble band. What had seemed like a miracle wasn’t playing out like one.

That morning, $40 tickets for R&B singer SiR’s sold-out show had fallen into our laps. The week prior, Eunice and I were kicking ourselves for not grabbing tickets at face value. By the day of the show, they were going for $100 on StubHub, and I was strongly considering buying at the hiked rate until Eunice let me know someone she knew was looking to get rid of two passes for cheaper. Eunice and I had a graduate class in Times Square together that night, so we agreed to go to school ready for the concert, and dash from Times Square to Williamsburg as quickly as we could. Still, by the time we made it to the venue, it was packed. We got as close to the stage as we could politely, but Eunice, being a head shorter than me, needed fewer people in front of her to see. I thought about what that would take — the boldness to finesse your way to the front, butting ahead of people who may have been waiting for hours. If I was one of them, I’d curse me out. I told her I wasn’t comfortable trying to push forward.

Eventually, SiR took the stage. Eunice and I knew what he had done with Chasing Summer was special. Dreamy and succinct, it soundtracked leaves changing and calm introspection. On stage, SiR was cool personified, taking a few hits of some smoke handed to him by a fan, and singing effortlessly. Struggling to see past backs and shoulders, Eunice wasn’t that into it, and because I could sense her discomfort, neither was I. Dizzy and disappointed, she let me know she was going to head out mid-set. I promised to stay in the same spot so she could find me if she chose to come back. Fifteen minutes later, finding out SiR’s Top Dawg Entertainment labelmate SZA was backstage energized the both of us. Small and determined, Eunice barreled her way back to me in enough time to watch SiR perform “Hair Down,” the album’s single, with SZA prancing around him. She doesn’t perform anything herself, but her pride in SiR was palpable as she jumped and gushed over him.

When I think about my last show, I mostly remember the regret of not being a more forceful friend and the loneliness of watching some of it alone. It makes me think about the inconveniences of concert-going: the gouged tickets, the packed crowds, the expensive drinks, the risk of having a splash of them spilled on you, the pushing, the butting, the phone screens held up around you that you’re forced to watch the show through.

I also think about what New York City once was. I think about the surety that your favorite musicians would come through on tour and the spontaneity of heading to a concert with eight hours’ notice. I think about the opportunity to make a memory, albeit a tainted one, with a friend, and to own a fresh piece of a favorite song on video. When I watch the clear clip of SiR performing “John Redcorn” that I recorded at the show and think about what the world has been for the past year, I see that evening was still very much a miraculous one. — Mankaprr Conteh, Staff Writer

Drive-By Truckers: Union Transfer, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, February 27th, 2020

It was the type of show worth traveling for: My favorite band with a brand new album (The Unraveling) to perform in a city where several of my closest friends who loved the band as much as I lived. The club was packed, and the Truckers were, as they tend to be, ear-damage loud. The veteran Athens band never uses a setlist, and like so many of their shows, this one started off intentionally slow, with a mix of more contemplative, recent tunes.

But as is often the case, the first 90 minutes of the Truckers’ set was merely a warm-up, as if they were their own opening act. The real show began 17 songs in when Patterson Hood started strumming the opening riff to 1998’s “The Living Bubba,” the real-life story of Gregory Dean Smalley, a local Nineties Atlanta rocker who refused to stop playing gigs up until the very end of his battle with AIDS. “I can’t die now,” Hood sang that night in Philadelphia, “’cause I got another show to do.”

With that, the Truckers, as if energized by the gospel of Gregory Dean Smalley, kicked into some higher gear. Twenty-nine songs and three hours later, the band had wrapped up another eternal Rock Show, just another night for the group of 50-something musicians who’d spent the better part of the past quarter-century on the road. The last song of the evening was “Angels & Fuselage,” a quiet, anxious, nine-minute prayer that’s haunted me ever since.

“I’m scared shitless,” Hood sang, over and over and over again, “of what’s coming next.” — Jonathan Bernstein, Research Editor

Muckers, Breanna Barbara: TV Eye, Ridgewood, Queens, March 6th, 2020

SXSW had just been canceled earlier that day, but for many at the show that night, their travel plans remained mostly unchanged. The Muckers had just released a single and were going to be kicking off a tour that would take them to New Jersey the next week and then down to Austin. The show was raucous, and we were all packed in close to the stage, not a mask in sight. At the end, I took a celebratory shot with the band before taking their portraits. As Jonathan Toubin started his late-night DJ set, there was no thought in anyone’s mind that this might be the last time we all hung out in that way before the world changed. — Griffin Lotz, Associate Photo Editor

The Brothers: Madison Square Garden, New York, New York, March 10th, 2020

Until the minute I walked out the door of my home, I debated whether to head to Madison Square Garden last March 10th. The warnings about the coronavirus were on the rise, with nearby New Rochelle declared a potentially lethal hot zone, and we in New York City were being told to avoid tightly packed mass transportation. Did I really want to risk my life for an Allman Brothers Band 50th-anniversary tribute show? After all, only one of the founding members would even be on that stage.

But most of us who had tickets knew this event was likely to be a one-timer. And the lineup — called the Brothers, and featuring musicians like Warren Hynes, Oteil Burbridge, and Derek Trucks, who’d all played in subsequent editions of the band — promised that the show wouldn’t be cheesy or sloppy. So I grabbed a small bottle of hand sanitizer and decided, perhaps foolishly, to take a chance.

Arriving at the Garden, I didn’t know what to expect, but all systems seemed standard at first. Ticket-holders milled outside on the street and in the inside lobby. No one wore a mask, since those weren’t yet mandated. As I made my way to my seat, the arena was starting to fill up, there was weed in the air, and it was easy to forget what was starting to happen around the world.

The fact that all systems were not normal was apparent as soon as I went to the men’s room and saw the way people were standing apart from each other and diligently washing their hands in 20-second intervals. (Granted, I was glad they were washing up, but the ritualistic nature of it was new.) Before the lights went down, I noticed pockets of empty seats around the arena. Although the show was sold out, some people clearly decided not to risk their health to hear “Whipping Post” again. I grabbed the hand sanitizer in my pocket and used it, which I did several times as the night wore on, and I tried not to touch the banister in front of me. You weren’t sure who had touched it before.

For most of the night, I tried not to think about Covid-19, as I’m sure many in the crowd did, too. Gregg Allman, along with his brother Duane, Berry Oakley, and now Butch Trucks, were gone, Dickey Betts couldn’t make it, and only drummer Jaimoe of the original lineup survived. But the men onstage, which also included keyboardist Chuck Leavell from the immediate post-Duane version of the Allmans, were the keepers of this particular flame, and the music was clearly deep in the marrow of their bones. “Dreams,” “Blue Sky,” “Statesboro Blues,” “One Way Out,” “Stand Back” — all were played faithfully as if they were classical music pieces, but with extended jams that allowed these players to add their particular styles to the night.

There was something glorious and uplifting about hearing those songs played with such care and such fire; it felt as if the music was not just being saluted but preserved for a future generation. At various times, like when Trucks and Haynes played the simultaneous leads in “Jessica,” the show was surprisingly emotional. In retrospect, it’s hard to say how much was due to the performance and how much to the circumstances. I joked to the friend next to me that this would be “the last concert ever.”

As soon as I arrived back home — by taxi, to avoid mass transit — I felt foolish. Had I made a mistake? In the weeks that followed, we learned that a few band members and crew people came down with the virus, possibly during that stay in New York. Luckily, my health was fine. Was it worth the risk? I still don’t know. But as Derek Trucks told me in the days that followed, the show “felt like one of the last moments for a long time when people would be able to suspend reality and let go.” One of these days, we’ll let go again. — David Browne, Senior Writer

Control Top: St. Vitus, Brooklyn, New York, March 6th, 2020

In 2020, I was lucky enough to catch five shows before everything was shut down. The final one, Control Top at St. Vitus, was a last-second decision, and I headed to Greenpoint after work without stopping home. I was wearing a winter coat, so I looked like a square in the venue known for noisy hardcore and metal concerts. Whatever. The Philadelphia punk trio was excellent and repeatedly thanked everyone for coming, even noting a potential lockdown was looking more likely. Covert Contracts, which was released in 2019, is a record that has a lot going on, but watching the songs performed live quickly doubled my respect for the musicians. Al Creedon (guitar) and Alex Lichtenauer (drums) fucking ripped at their instruments, and singer/bassist Ali Carter was walking out in the audience while screaming lyrics and clearly having a lot of fun (as was everyone in the crowd). Their tour was derailed within about a week, but don’t miss them if the opportunity ever comes up. Thank you, Control Top! — Rick Carp, Research Editor

The Tibet House Benefit: Carnegie Hall, New York, New York, February 26th, 2020

Before moving to Hackensack, New Jersey, in 2019, I used to go to DIY venues multiple times per week, even if I didn’t know who was playing. The better to discover my new favorite band. Once hitting the suburbs — and my mid-thirties — I became a bit less inclined to stay out ’til 2 a.m. on a Tuesday and thus a bit pickier about which shows to attend. You try braving Port Authority during the early morning hours.

The Tibet House Benefit seemed the perfect compromise back in February of 2020, though. It started early and packed in a month’s worth of must-see performers; that year the lineup boasted Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Matt Berninger, Phoebe Bridgers, Tenzin Choegyal, Rubin Kodheli, Bettye LaVette, Sandra Oh, Iggy Pop, Margo Price, Patti Smith, Jesse Paris Smith, the Patti Smith Band, and the Scorchio Quartet.

Plus, I’ve always loved this annual showcase — you get to sit on a velvet seat under a golden ceiling watching performers you’d never imagine gracing that stage going absolutely nuts. For instance, seeing Iggy shed his shirt and undulate to “I Wanna Be Your Dog” — backed by string instruments! — is an image I’ll never eradicate from my brain (in a good way).

The performers commented on the state of the world during the show, of course, but at that point, we were all more worried about fires in the Amazon than a global pandemic. All that would change in a few weeks, though. I remember agonizing over whether I should see Billie Eilish at Madison Square Garden just when the pandemic was hitting a fever pitch, a show that would be canceled, anyway — along with all the other carefully chosen shows I’d added to my calendar.

The other day I tweeted that, at this point, I would be content to go to a DIY show with four openers and drink bottom-shelf whiskey from a dentist’s rinse cup — and I wasn’t joking. Whenever this is all over, I vow to be a lot less picky about where I spend my late nights. — Brenna Ehrlich, Senior News Editor

John Zorn’s Simulacrum: The Sultan Room, Brooklyn, New York, February 21st, 2020

One Friday night last February, I stood with around 200 people in a tightly packed Brooklyn venue and watched spellbound for an hour as a band called Simulacrum transformed from proggy death-metal power trio into hard-grooving jazz organ trio and back. It was the kind of show that, as a 20-plus-year NYC resident who had yet to learn of Covid-19, I had come to take somewhat for granted: a group of world-class musicians — in this case, organist John Medeski, guitarist Matt Hollenberg, and drummer Kenny Grohowski, playing material written expressly for them by avant-garde icon John Zorn — performing challenging yet riveting music in front of a rapt crowd in an intimate, slightly offbeat setting, in this case, a venue in the back of a retro-kitschy Turkish restaurant. Now, after more than a year without hearing live music indoors, it seems almost miraculous that at the time, this seemed like just another night out in the city. Once shows return, I know I’ll be all the more attuned to what gigs like this really are: precious opportunities for a transcendent communal experience. — Hank Shteamer, Senior Editor

Celine Dion: Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey, March 2020

My mom’s all-time favorite song is “My Heart Will Go On” from the Titanic soundtrack. So, I knew we had to see Celine Dion when she made a two-night stop at Newark’s Prudential Center for her Courage World Tour (the last shows before the tour was put on hold). Even though my mom is not the biggest fan of live events, I can tell she was just as excited as I was to see Celine live for the first time.

A master of her craft, Celine put on an incredible show, constantly engaging the crowd and working the stage like there was no tomorrow. Her sense of humor and witty banter added to the electric atmosphere in the stadium, allowing the crowd to connect with her on a personal level. Celine possesses one of those rare charismatic qualities that instantly makes you feel at ease, almost momentarily forgetting just how famous she is while watching her perform.

Highlights of the show included a pitch-perfect rendition of fan-favorite “The Power of Love,” a crowd sing-along of John Farnham’s “You’re the Voice,” an extraordinary duet of “The Prayer” with one of her background singers, and a moving performance of the title track from her newest album, Courage.

“Courage,” a ballad about dealing with the loss of a loved one, was a special moment in the show — really hitting the crowd on an emotional level. Her crew knows how to put on a polished show, and the acoustics provided a blended mix between her vocals and the massive backing band. Celine’s voice was crystal clear, which was a welcome change to the bass-heavy shows I’m more accustomed to.

When Celine came out for the finale (“My Heart Will Go On,” of course), the energy in the room was a special feeling that only live events can bring. Hearing thousands upon thousands of people singing in unison, almost as loudly as Celine herself, is a memory I’ll never forget. During the final chorus of the song, dozens of drones came out on stage, lit up and flying around like lightning bugs on a summer evening.

When live events reopen, Celine is a performer who can’t be missed. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel like Kate Hudson in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (who can forget the Celine Dion concert scene!).

Thank you, Celine, for an incredible performance, and a concert my mom and I will always remember!  Andrew Firriolo, Data Quality Analyst

To Nashville, With Love: Marathon Music Works, Nashville, Tennessee, March 9th, 2020

I clearly remember my last concert of 2020 because it was almost certainly the place where my partner and I were infected with Covid-19.

It was March 9th, a Monday, and six days after a devastating tornado ripped through Nashville, killing two, causing millions in damage, and displacing many. Relief efforts in the immediate aftermath were swift and largely homegrown — neighbors chainsawing trees from roofs and hauling debris to the curbs; people delivering groceries to community hubs while shell-shocked residents tried to salvage what they could from the wreckage. I’d gone out to help clean up a couple of times, including in a part of town near my home that was particularly hit hard.

To show solidarity and raise funds for those in need, the British singer Yola helped organize an all-star benefit concert at the Nashville club Marathon Music Works. To Nashville, With Love, as it was dubbed, included mini-sets from artists like Yola, Jason Isbell, Brothers Osborne, Brandi Carlile, and Soccer Mommy, and was capped by a group rendition of “Rockin’ in the Free World.” All of the proceeds went straight to the relief efforts, and I purchased a pair of tickets without hesitation.

I say I “remember” that show — but I spent most of the evening backstage doing interviews for Rolling Stone‘s review and, other than seeing Yola bring down the house with her version of “You’re All I Need to Get By,” I can’t recall who sang what.

What I do remember is that Covid-19 still seemed like an abstraction for people in Tennessee, or at least it did to me. None of our elected officials were sounding any kind of alarm. There had been just four confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the state at that point. The World Health Organization didn’t declare it a pandemic until two days later. It hadn’t affected any of our acquaintances, as far as we knew.

Even so, I recall some of the early signs of the anxiety present at the venue. There were hand sanitizer stations in the ticket office and backstage, and some attendees voiced whether it was safe to hug or if we should be bumping elbows. Gallows humor was abundant. In reality, the virus was already spreading — among the concert attendees, honky-tonk tourists downtown, prisoners, diners, assisted-living residents, and seemingly everyone else.

I wish I could say I’d been ahead of the curve on distancing and masking, but I wasn’t. At the benefit concert, I shook hands with colleagues, I hugged Yola, I sat at a table with Margo Price. I have spent an inordinate amount of time wondering in hindsight whether I was putting any of them (not to mention myself) at risk. The answer, of course, is yes, but I suppose we were all in the same boat without a paddle to be found, and no idea which direction we should be paddling in to begin with.

By the week’s end, my partner was displaying symptoms, and mine showed up a couple of days after. We survived it after a terrifying, uncertain two weeks. Some days I can’t believe it’s been a year; other days, it might have been another lifetime. For better or worse, that was the lens through which the remainder of 2020 would be refracted — every decision, every move made, wondering just how close to the edge we both had come. Anyway, the concert was great. — Jon Freeman, Editor, Rolling Stone Country

Graham Nash: Tarrytown Music Hall, Tarrytown, New York, March 5th, 2020

During the intermission of Graham Nash’s March 5th, 2020, show at the Tarrytown Music Hall, I coughed. It was a soft cough and I wasn’t sick, but the woman next to me looked alarmed. “Don’t worry,” I said to her. “I don’t have it.” She smiled. “That’s the thing,” she said. “There’s no way of knowing.”

It was an alarming point that hadn’t really occurred to me. And when I was ushered backstage to say hello to Nash and his band before the second half of the show, I bumped elbows with people instead of shaking hands. But not a single person was wearing a mask, and I was inches away from Nash and guitarist Shane Fontayne. We chatted about the upcoming Deja Vu box set and Fontayne’s time on the 1992/93 Bruce Springsteen tour like everything was normal.

The show was excellent. Nash played CSN/CSNY classics (“Wasted on the Way,” “Cathedral”), solo tunes (“I Used to Be a King,” “Sleep Song”), a Hollies hit (“Bus Stop”), and a few covers (The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” and Buddy Holly’s “Everyday”). The harmonies of David Crosby and Stephen Stills were missed, but Fontayne and keyboardist Todd Caldwell filled in quite nicely. The show ended with “Teach Your Children,” and the entire place sang along.

I had tickets to see Steve Hackett perform Selling England by the Pound at the Bergen Performing Arts Center later that week, but I woke up the morning of the show feeling extremely ill. I bumped my tickets to the next night in Westbury, Long Island, but I had to cancel since my condition had only gotten worse. (I’ll never know whether or not it was Covid-19.) I recovered in time to see him in Collingswood, New Jersey, the following weekend, but the show was put on indefinite hold along with the entire concert industry. — Andy Greene, Senior Writer

Roomful of Teeth: Lincoln Center, New York, New York,  February 13th, 2020

My last concert before lockdown was by the choral ensemble Roomful of Teeth, which performed a little over an hour’s worth of contemporary works by living composers. The whole thing seems all the more surreal and significant now since it was a performance by eight singers — and later even more choristers who were members of the Dessoff Choirs — freely (and beautifully) exhaling all over a sold-out room of maskless concertgoers. Within a few weeks, the very notion of a choir would become tantamount to a dirty bomb.

The concert took place the day before Valentine’s Day (I’d bought the tickets as a present for my wife, an erstwhile Dessoff alto) at Lincoln Center’s Appel Room, which features big, floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook Columbus Circle and Central Park from three stories up — a stunning sight. The program that night featured works by Wally Gunn, Eve Beglarian, William Brittelle, and one of Roomful of Teeth’s altos, Caroline Shaw, whose piece, The Isle, contains muddles of words that pull dialogue from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Throughout the night, the singers each used different vocal techniques in ways that challenge classical-music conventions (they’re vocalists in the truest sense of the term) that covered the spectrum of sound. I’m glad I got to see something that feels all the more avant-garde these days. — Kory Grow, Senior Writer

Hall and Oates: Madison Square Garden, New York, New York, February 28th, 2020

It’s crazy to think back and remember that the first known Covid-19 case in the U.S. was January 21st (in Washington state), and we kept moving forward as if nothing would happen. Since that initial news, I flew to Miami for the Rolling Stone LIVE Super Bowl party and stood on a small stage with DJ Khaled, Diddy, Fat Joe, and, um, DJ Paris Hilton. Once back home, I drove to New Hampshire to support and photograph Sunflower Bean opening for the Strokes at a Bernie Sanders event. Then spent some time upstate New York in the studio with the Nude Party as they recorded their latest album, Midnight Manor ... all while not thinking I was at risk.

I had many pre-SXSW shows booked in early March and many got canceled; the ones that happened pre-shutdown I skipped out of caution and part of me wishes I had a couple more.

Post lockdown, in September, I did get to shoot a couple of Marcus King Trio socially distanced shows, and while the band was amazing, the experience lacked what makes these moments more special: the intimacy of a live audience.

My official last pre-shutdown show ended up being February 28th. It was the night before the first case in New York City was announced, and I was at a sold-out Madison Square Garden. I had been invited by Hall and Oates to spend the full evening in the pit shooting without restrictions (rather than the traditional first three songs, or in this case from the front of house), so a rare and special thing. Squeeze, a personal favorite from my youth, was touring with them, and KT Tunstall opened the evening. On the scene was former Reagan and Obama White House photographer Pete Souza photographing KT from the stage. It was just the second show of this highly anticipated tour, and there wouldn’t be a third. — Sacha Lecca, Deputy Photo Editor

Hall and Oates: Madison Square Garden, February 28th, 2020

My mom and I don’t have much in common when it comes to musical tastes, but Hall and Oates — as they are with so many families — are a safe cross-generational bridge. Notwithstanding the occasional reggae-fied version of an Eighties classic, a Hall and Oates concert circa 2020 is a musical security blanket — a night whose results are preordained before the first note of “Maneater” causes a sea of 20,000 awkward Bar Mitzvah-level dances.

Throughout the night, my mom had been complaining, which ordinarily would not be a catalyst for anything interesting or unusual. But her shortness of breath — attributed that night to both a recent bout with anemia and Daryl Hall and his long, sandy locks looking in her direction — may have portended what would become a 10-day hospitalization for Covid-19 the next month. (She made a full recovery.) At the time, Covid was something we just discussed alongside myriad other topics, blissfully unaware of the future implications both in the family and around the world. — Jason Newman, News Director

Control Top: Union Pool, Brooklyn, New York, March 5th, 2020

My last show was a knockout: the Philly punk trio Control Top, ripping it up at Brooklyn’s Union Pool, on Thursday, March 5th. A perfect dream-team punk triple bill, with Privacy Issues and Weeping Icon. Control Top were just kicking off their first headlining tour, on top of their incendiary 2019 debut, Covert Contracts. It was a warm-up show since they were heading down to Austin for South by Southwest. The whole room was buzzing with excitement. The bar was full of friends, strangers, musicians — all of us breathing in each other’s presence, savoring the joy of being packed into the same loud sweaty room together.

Control Top were on fire, with Ali Carter snarling her rage bombs like “Chain Reaction,” “Ego Deaf,” and my favorite, “Straight Jackets.” When the moshpit got too lazy for her taste, she’d jump into the crowd and get in our faces. She seized one fan — the singer from Yohuna, who I was about to see in April — and wrestled her to the floor, both of them still screaming the song together.

Not a single coronavirus conversation all night, just a few playful elbow bumps. None of us felt scared about the future of live music — or anything else, really. Elizabeth Warren had just dropped out of the race that day, so Privacy Issues made an eloquent plea onstage for Bernie and universal health care. They were just about to drop their excellent debut tape, full of abrasively witty drums-and-guitar tunes about surveillance and patriarchy.

Weeping Icon were new to me, but since they were sandwiched between two bands I love, I stuck around, and they totally blew me away with their proggy guitar sludge. I meant to snap up their album, but every time I got near the merch table, I’d see a friend and get swept up in another conversation. I figured I’d just get the album at their next show.

Between bands, I hit the taco truck in the courtyard. A bit chilly, but I sat under the stars and wrote in my notebook for a while, munching my tacos. I hung out late after midnight, catching up with my friends, arguing with Control Top about what Husker Du albums we loved best. I walked home around 2 or 3 a.m. listening to my Walkman, an old Maxell C90 with Richard Thompson’s Henry the Human Fly on one side and Syd Barrett’s Opel on the other, singing “The Poor Ditching Boy” a bit too loud. This was just a few nights after my previous live show, Harry Styles at Bowery Ballroom. It was also just a few nights after my last karaoke bash, where I sang “People That Died” and “Damaged Goods.”

The next day, the news broke: South by Southwest was canceled. I had tickets for another show at Union Pool a few nights later, for Hallelujah the Hills. That show never happened. Just a week after the Control Top show, a Thursday night like that one would have been unthinkable.

The 2020 shows I was excited for, with my tickets already grabbed — they came back to me all year, in the form of polite corporate emails. “Canceled: Bob Dylan.” “Order REFUNDED for Waxahatchee.” “Stephen Malkmus Has Been Canceled.” Nick Cave, Palehound, Kraftwerk 3-D, the Dead, Jarvis Cocker, Taylor Swift, so many more: canceled, postponed, rescheduled, then canceled. I keep going back to every detail of that Control Top show, and sometimes it’s bittersweet. But more often, it’s a memory that lifts me up and focuses my eyes on the future. It’s a memory that tells me exactly why live music is a mess, and why it’s the mess that’s always worth showing up for. — Rob Sheffield, Contributing Editor



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