Sunday, February 07, 2021

Six artists who absolutely nailed quarantined concerts

In isolation, where many of us now find ourselves, music is more important than ever as it makes the mundane loneliness of this new way of living more bearable - this is something that both music fans and artists know well. This naturally led to the phenomenon of “at home shows”, which delighted music-lovers with the prospect of inviting their favourite artists into their homes (albeit, virtually) to perform stripped-down versions of their most beloved tunes. 

With that in mind, I figured I’d look back to a time where we all thought the pandemic would be over in a couple of weeks and look at some of my favourite quarantined concerts from last year-  and don’t worry that cover of ‘Imagine’ didn't make the list...

Chris Martin - The one who started it all:

First off is the man I describe as being the human equivalent of Marmite. You may not like Coldplay or its frontman Chris Martin (personally, I think they’ve got some cracking tunes but that’s by-the-by), but it would be completely unfair not to include him on this list as he essentially popularised this recent boom of at home shows in March last year.

“I had an idea that we could call this “Together At Home”” he told his 12 million Instagram followers “and who knows, maybe tomorrow someone else will take over.”

Martin took requests from excited fans and played short snippets for multiple Coldplay classics including Sky Full of Stars, Green Eyes and Yellow along with a rendition of David Bowie’s Life On Mars.

He also told tales of his life in the industry, behind the scenes stories about Coldplay and other musicians and nominated his “good friend” John Legend, who was watching from home, to pick up the mantle tomorrow. The set itself is not only worth watching for its music and insightful stories, but the delight of watching Chris Martin struggling to understand the workings of Instagram live as well as being perplexed by emojis fans left in its comments.              

(You can find the full set here: )

Lizzo - A powerful rendition of a soul classic:

Everybody’s favourite tequila downing, flute-welding femenist icon, Lizzo, chose a very apt and pointent tune for her appearance as part of Global Citizens’ #TogetherAtHome , by belting out her own powerful rendition of Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come.  

Without the aid of any spectacle or backing-singers, the 32 year-old Juice singer stunned audiences watching around the world, showing off her impressive vocal range by successfully nailing some seriously challenging high notes - and she stole the show doing so! 

Guitar legend Kieth Urban tweeted: “Lizzo… good lord. we felt every bit of it #TogetherAtHome”  

As her powerful performance concluded she thanked healthcare workers for their ongoing resilience and hard work and encouraged fans that better days will be on the horizon.

(You can find her performance here: )

Niall Horan - #WeLoveCrew:

With gigs on hold for the foreseeable future, artists are not the only ones who are out of work thanks to Coronavirus, as a large number of live show crews have been left without a job. Considerably angry at the lack of Government response and support given to the music industry, Niall Horan (of One Direction fame) decided to put on his own show in order to help raise funds for his touring crew.

"My stage manager is working on a building site currently," Horan told the BBC "A couple of lads are working in Tesco and Sainsbury's.”

Taking place at an entirely empty Royal Albert Hall, the hour-long livestream was watched in over 150 countries and raised a staggering £2 million. The former 1D star was joined by American singer Ashe for a duet of Moral of the Story, a song from Horan’s newest album, Heartbreak Weather, which came out last March. 

Now, I don’t know much about Niall Horan - or the other One Direction members aside from Harry Styles - but I’ve heard a few of his songs since he went solo, as well as the ones I could find from this gig and, I’ll admit, he’s an excellent songwriter. 

His fans seem to think so too, with many commenting that Horan’s career has come on leaps and bounds since the disbandment of One Direction and he is proving himself to be just as much of a solo performer as his former bandmates.

Tame Impala - A Tiny Desk Concert:

It appears that the webseries “Tiny Desks Concerts” has essentially become this generation's “MTV: Unplugged”. For the uninitiated, TDC involves artists being asked to perform intimate mini-gigs from around a small desk at the NPR offices.

During the pandemic, the series has temporarily rebranded itself “Tiny Desk Home Concerts” with artists performing their shows from home or their own studios. One of my personal favourites from over the past year comes from the Australian psychedelic music project headed by Kevin Parker, otherwise known as Tame Impala.

Backed by his touring band, Parker made the risky move of performing entirely new songs from Impala’s upcoming album, instead of the more well known tunes (don’t expect to find The Less I Know the Better or Backwards here, posers).  In terms of tracks, the stand out is undoubtedly the opener, an extended mix of Breathe Deeper, which somehow manages to completely eclipse the original album version.

One excited streamer commented: “I simply cannot listen to the original Breathe Deeper now that my ears have been spoiled with this.” 

This set is testament to the fact that Parker is one certainly one of the most unique and exciting young musicians around today and it is truly spellbinding what music can be made from within a small home studio in Yallingup.

(Full set: )

Blossoms - An unconventional album recorded in multiple places:

The lads from Stockport have seemingly had plenty of time on their hands over the lockdown, as they have been busy re-recording both original songs and exquisite covers as part of their In Isolation sessions.  The group re-worked some of their most well known tunes like Charlemagne and There’s a Reason Why from their own homes, often using unconventional methods to acquiring the sounds they needed. 

This task usually fell to Joe Donovan, the bands drummer, who can be seen on the music video versions of these songs using Stella cases as makeshift drums, spray bottles in place of maracas and - in a move that would make Noel Gallagher jealous - using a pair of scissors to keep a beat. But perhaps, the most exciting part of Blossom’s isolation sessions, comes in the form of their unique covers - and the special guests they have managed to get to join them. 

Fellow Mancunian Liam Fray joined the group for a cover of Courteeners’ Please Don’t, while Miles Kane dueted with frontman Tom Ogden in a very Blossom-y rendition of Tame Impala’s The Less I Know the Better, but my personal favourite is the cover of The Coral’s Dreaming of You featuring James Skelly from The Coral itself (the harmonies on that one, wow). Other covers the band have valiantly taken on include:

Paperback writer - The Beatles

Lost - Frank Ocean

Everyday I Write the Book - Elvis Costello

Given the response the series got from fans and how much material the band had actually recorded, it was only natural that they would properly release the sessions as part of a wider album.

In Isolation, the album that includes all their at home sessions, can be found on all streaming platforms - while the accompanying music videos can be found on their social media and YouTube.

(Here you can find the bands’ cover of Lost by Frank Ocean: )

Lady Gaga - Put a smile on your face

Being that she was co-architect behind the 'One World' #TogetherAtHome benefit concert, and picking up from where Chris Martin had started, Lady Gaga undoubtedly had to make a musical contribution as part of the home concert movement of last year. 

Sitting at her piano live from “Fort Gaga”, a very cheery Gaga encouraged her fans to remain positive and keep smiling, then launched into a performance of Smile, originally by Nat King Cole, in a delightful show-tune style. Emphasising the powerful lyrics, her upbeat performance was a pleasant reminder of how we should still try to find the good in the world amongst the pain and misery.

Gaga would also appear alongside Celine Dione, John Legend, Andrea Bocelli and pianist Lang Lang for a virtual group performance of The Prayer during the Global Citizen live benefit which helped nearly over $130 Million for the WHO and other chairties to help those affected by Coronavirus.

Following the live benefit, which was broadcast worldwide, Gaga: “Thank you with all of my heart for watching #TogetherAtHome, sharing in a global moment of kindness with each other, and spreading positive and loving intentions. We love you.” 

(You can find  Gaga's cover of Smile, here: ) 

Of course, there were a plethora of at home concerts last from all musical genres last year, some honourable mentions I felt needed to be included were: Billie Eilish’s Tiny Desk Home Concert, Stevie Wonder’s touching rendition of Bill Withers’ Lean On MeThe Flaming Lips’ inside inflatable bubbles and Tom Grennan Live at Holy Trinity Morgan Street along with many more!  

So it seems that the future of gigs, for now at least, is set to be online. But with covid vaccines being rolled out across the country and places such as New Zealand already trialing the reopening of smaller gigs, it looks like we won’t be waiting massively long for the return of the traditional gig as we know it. 

However, in the meantime, we can enjoy these more personal and intimate live shows from the comfort of our own homes without having to worry about being crushed up against the front barrier, ruining our best shows or having piss thrown over us at any given moment.

Archie Richards

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