These are the times we now live in. If you had told me a month ago that I would be attending a live performance in my living room, while eating pasta and meatballs and drinking a cup of Rooibos Earl Grey Tea (!), I’d have thought you were having some sort of episode. I like a beer with my gigs. And I like, more than anything, to be in amongst the crowd soaking up the mutual love for the artist on the stage. Watching the joy on my fellow revellers faces. Jostling for position, trying to avoid the taller people, shaking my head at the twats that talk through the songs. We may have moaned about some of those things on previous Picky Bastards posts but, fuck me, am I going to miss them in the coming months. These are not things that we can do in the current climate.
Music will have to find ways to adapt. And in the early days of social distancing, that has already begun. Several artists have started to livestream from their living rooms. I’ve had mixed feelings about this so far, thinking that it is obviously a brilliant way to keep the engagement between artists and fans alive and a lovely gesture to help those in isolation to cope, but also worrying that for me, personally, it might just make me miss my favourite hobby all the more. Who knows? So I’d been resisting watching them. But then again, none of the artists that had been putting them on were exactly at the top of my wishlist.
Then came a post on The Tallest Man on Earth’s Twitter. He was the first artist I introduced in the ‘Why I Love’ section of the Picky Bastards Podcast and has long been one of my very favourite artists. Whatever my reservations, I wasn’t going to miss this. And I was extremely glad that I didn’t. As surreal as it sometimes felt to be sat watching a gig with my girlfriend and my cat, there was something extremely intimate and involving about watching this set of musicians try to make the best of a crazy situation. It felt ad-hoc, occasionally bumbling, but generally just really, really lovely. It felt like watching friends helping each other find a way through, and helping the couple of thousand people watching on their sofas find a way through too.
Opening with a version of Neil Young’s ‘One of These Days’, it was immediately clear that Kristian (Tallest Man’s real name), Courtney, Sam, and Hannah (sorry, didn’t catch your full name) have a strong musical connection. They looked a little squeezed into the space, and Kristian was sitting in a particularly uncomfortable looking position, but their voices melded perfectly together. Sam and Hannah did one of their own songs after, showing that despite sitting alongside some more established names, they had just as much of an input to make. Kristian then got out his banjo for a beautiful rendition of an old folk song called Stepstone, before they all got together for ‘If Only I Could Fly.’
But it was during a Courtney Marie Andrews led song called ‘Are You Alright?’ that this set really came to life. As the song asked questions about whether you had ‘someone to hug’, ‘someone to kiss’, and whether you were ‘alright’, it felt particularly pertinent to our current predicament. It made me glad that, even if I might miss the hustle and bustle of the crowd, I was watching this with my girlfriend and my cat. That I wasn’t alone. It also made me sit up and really take notice of Courtney, an artist I have heard of but haven’t spent much time listening to. I will be doing so now.
This was followed by a rendition of one of my absolute favourite Tallest Man songs, the stunning, beautiful ‘The Dreamer.’ As always, this was a masterpiece. And it was after this song that the set began to take on a particular type of charm that maybe only a live stream such of this could offer. The musicians on my screen, drinking whisky as they talked to me through the camera, began moving around all over the place, lying on the floor while others sang, going out of shot to grab a clarinet while covering another Neil Young song, playfully arguing over which Bob Dylan song they should cover before launching into a flawless version of ‘I Shall Be Released’ while all kneeling down on the ground. It was a kind of chaos that made it all the more amazing that they were managing to make music that sounds so beautiful.
If there was a drawback to this loose structure, it was that they didn’t seem to know how or when to end the show. We decided that we would use Tallest Man’s banjo version of ‘King of Spain’ as our encore, and close down YouTube after that. It felt like the kind of thing he would end a normal live show with, and that felt like enough.
So some of my original reservations were pushed aside by this show, although I know not every live stream will be littered with such a collection of talented artists. This one was, though. And it certainly helped me through my first Saturday of social distancing. I’ll be keeping my eye out for more.
Words by Fran Slater