Last December—the 10th to be exact—my friend Gabby and I took the B line to Paradise Rock Club in Boston to see singer Omar Apollo. The show was everything you’d expect from a good concert—a crammed floor with dozens of sweaty people screaming the lyrics to every song, fervently inching closer to the stage to try to get a better view. After the show, we grabbed a late dinner at Raising Cane’s before heading back to campus. I walked to my dorm in the cold December rain, ears ringing. I was so happy.
Fast forward to Oct. 22, 2020. Gabby comes over, crochet gear in hand (she’s working on a scarf). I grab my knitting needles, plug in my laptop to the small living room TV, and pull up the link that we paid $18 to access.
Our favorite band, Hippo Campus, was doing a series of virtual livestream concerts—no substitute for the real thing of course, but the idea of seeing a concert again after 10 long months seemed worth it.
The stream starts, broadcasted from First Avenue in Minneapolis, while Gabby and I watch on the couch. We chit-chat about how the band members have changed (“Zach looks like an e-boy!”) and what we hope they might play in the set. We sing along to each song softly while my roommates study for a midterm in the other room. And, just like that, it’s over.
The virtual concert was only about 35 minutes long, and I was left wanting more. What I thought would satisfy my concert itch only made it grow more intense.
Though Hippo Campus’ attempt at a virtual concert was a fun Thursday night distraction (I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was looking forward to it all week), there was something eerie about seeing a band play its set in an empty venue to no one but a camera. Even more so than a rebroadcast of an old concert you might stumble across while channel surfing or a video of a live performance you might find somewhere on YouTube, the virtual concert felt strangely hollow.
The band didn’t address the virtual crowd (no “Hello to everyone listening at home!”), and the videography, often showing close-up shots of each of the band members, was unlike any point of view you’d ever have during a real concert. And yet, you had to buy a ticket for these “Dream Streams,” and you could even buy merch. I was left with this strange feeling that I simultaneously was and wasn’t watching a live performance.
And yet, even though the inadequacy of the virtual concert made me miss live concerts all the more, I’m so grateful for it. As someone who’s probably a bit too obsessed with music, concerts have been one of my main sources of entertainment during my time at Boston College. Not having the opportunity to see my favorite bands (sometimes, over and over again) has been something that’s felt like a monumental loss during this pandemic.
Even though I was curled up on my couch instead of jumping around, hands in the air, I still got to see Hippo Campus perform. Even though it felt strange, I was still able to hang out with Gabby and reminisce about some of our favorite concert experiences (“Do you remember seeing Still Woozy and Omar Apollo at Fine Line?”). Even though it isn’t what it used to be, maybe it’s the best we can do for now.
So until the world opens back up again and we get to see our favorite musicians in action, the virtual show is one of what will be many creative attempts to heal the concert-shaped holes in our hearts. It’s incredibly disappointing but strangely hopeful. It’s an ode both to the pain and disconnect that so aptly defines 2020, but also the shining moments of the past and the hope that one day, we can experience it all again.
After talking for another 20 minutes, Gabby goes home. I put my knitting needles up on my closet shelf, and I spot my concert earplugs. I’m not really sure why I brought them to school this year. I had to know deep down that there’d be no in-person concerts for the foreseeable future, but I brought them anyway. And I can’t wait to use them again.