Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be looking back at 2020 and looking forward to 2021 with a set of top ten lists compiled by our team of editors. 2020 has been the year of many things we’d like to forget, but one thing that might hold a fonder place in the memory bank is the emergence of livestreams and digital gigs as a key way of keeping some sort of link to live music going. We look back at the ten best attempts we saw during this exceptionally long year:
Fran: I couldn’t really leave Phoebe Bridgers off this list, could I? She has been the queen of the livestream and the digital gig this year, acting as if she was always prepared to give some of her best performances from her bedroom or bathroom while still wearing her starry pajamas.
The hard choice for me would be picking which one to highlight. There was something particularly special about the Zoom performance she did exclusively for those who bought her album from Banquet Records, though, even if I did have to buy a second copy of the album just so I could get access. But as she sang songs and answered questions from her fans it showed me why 2020 has been the year of the Bridgers; not only does she write stunning music, but she makes herself accessible in a way that few musicians do these days. This isn’t the fake profile created on Instagram. This is a genuine person making genuine music and inviting you along for the ride.
Sam: I needed to dance. Kylie got me dancing better than anyone else with this ‘event’. Unlike most of the other live-streams the others have mentioned, Infinite Disco comes off more like an extended music performance video as it wasn’t shown completely live. It’s a format that plenty of other pop artists in 2020 would aim for too (Dua Lipa, Ellie Goulding) where the pre-record allowed for a much more dynamic way of filming a performance. Kylie delivers a hell of a show though and as someone who has seen her plenty of times live now, this live streamed event felt as close as you could get at home to the euphoria of a proper Minogue gig.
James: When we were planning this article, someone joked that this would just be Laura Marling ten times. I don’t have ten Laura Marling live performances for you (just three) and I’ll combine them all here to spare you the read. KEXP. Union Chapel. Royal Albert Hall. All different. All brilliant. All had their sublime moments. In a weird way it was better like this. I already knew I wasn’t going to see her live in the flesh this year, even before lockdown when the few dates available sold out. Seeing her live three times in a year (albeit on a screen) is way more than we could possibly have hoped for in normal times. Highlights? ‘Held Down’ on KEXP, ‘For You’ at Albert Hall, and Union Chapel? Well, all of it.
Nick: I’ve long had a soft spot for the insanity that is the sound of US hip-hop band Clipping. To my mind they are the perfect mix of incredibly nuanced and fluid flow over genuinely innovative sound effects and hard hitting beats. This is demonstrated very well by their recent KEXP at home session, from their second horror-core album, Visions of bodies being burned – one of my top ten of the year in itself. It’s actually better than an album version in some ways, because it’s so fascinating to see how some of these squeals and scrawls are created (see the use of a blown up balloon at one point – what?!). So thoughtful. So energetic. So scary.
Fran: Believe it or not, I actually saw The Murder Capital live at a venue this year. Twice. While that seems like it happened forty years ago, a scroll back through my calendar confirms that it was, in fact, back in February. Those two shows were outstanding – rarely have I been so excited by live music.
It’s fitting, then, that they were the first band I saw in a room together after the first lockdown ended. I wasn’t in that room (The Guinness Storehouse), but they were. And there was something incredibly cathartic and uplifting about seeing several musicians standing so close to each other again, rather than the endless acoustic solo sets I’d be catching so far. It says a lot about The Murder Capital’s abilities as a live band that they were able to inspire nearly as much energy through my TV screen as they did in those Manchester and Liverpool gigs back before the world went dark. Love, Love, Love.
Sam: I wanted to quickly shout out the TV/Award Show performances that artists have been putting together during 2020. There seemed to be a turning point a few months into the pandemic when at home ‘Zoom’ style performances just weren’t cutting it anymore and artists were able to come up with more creative ways of putting on an epic performance. The Weeknd, Chloe & Halle, and Megan Thee Stallion all delivered knock out TV performances like this.
Lady Gaga’s debut (and only) performance of music from her 2020 album Chromatica at the MTV VMAs felt like the peak of these performances. As a music fan seeing artists like Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande deliver a full out dance performance, masks mandatory of course, of one of the year’s best songs ‘Rain On Me’ ended up making me quite emotional as I sat there at 2am watching it live. This was an all out leave everything on the stage vocally and physically kind of performance and bloody hell I need to see it done in a full stadium next year.
Fran: This was the first livestream I sat down to watch, just a week after lockdown began, and it was obvious that The Tallest Man On Earth (Kristian Matson) was just as new to the form as I was. He fumbled around the room, made the setlist up as he went along, and with no curfew time from the venue he went on far, far longer than was necessary. But there was just something so intimate about it. Watching him alongside his friends Courtney Marie Andrews and Sam Evian, it felt like a front row seat to one of my favourite musicians finding his way through a global crisis in the same way as I was. By throwing shit at the wall and hoping some of it would stick. And it definitely did.
Sam: Pro tip if you want to get me to buy a ticket to one of your livestreams. Include a Vinyl bundle in your ticket offerings. That’s the only reason I took the plunge with this performance from Lianne La Havas and I didn’t regret it. Performed entirely by herself on guitar with a few songs featuring a single backing singer this felt like such an intimate performance from the centre of a room rather than a stage. Her vocals on ‘Bittersweet’ and ‘Seven Times’ from her 2020 album are effortless, while her return to older material like ‘Au Cinema’ was gorgeously simple and effective. Lianne had actually planned a few socially distanced shows at the end of the year, which were sadly cancelled after all, but I’m really hoping she gets to share such a wonderful album with us all soon.
Nick: After a few albums a bit off the boil, Tricky’s back with a really clever album this year, Fall to pieces. Yet again KEXP delivered with a dose of “music to help me keep my lockdown sanity”, with this at home performance and interview. It was able to remind me just how vital Tricky has been to British music (and to me personally) over the last 20 years, and also the lesson he can teach like few others: that less music is more.
Fran: You can always trust our friends in The Twilight Sad to deliver. Having interviewed James Graham back in May, I know first hand how he has found it difficult to think of ways forward for him and his band in 2020. The digital gig must have seemed an usual prospect for a band whose live shows are the most energetic I have seen and who spent a lot of their last tour blowing PAs in venues and dealing with the effects such performances were having on James’s vocal chords.
But at some point this year they returned to Oran Mor for another live performance, treating their fans to a one night viewing of it back in November. Acoustic versions of old songs, a cover of The Cure, and a surprising second half in which they brought out the disco lights and released some of the energy we are so used to seeing on the stage. An outstanding show with one complaint from me; I wanted another hour of the thing. (Ed: the video above is from a previous Oran Mor performance)