Is the world ready for the return of live rock music? On the evidence of the first gig in London since lockdown, no. The people who were arseholes at gigs in early March are still arseholes at gigs, but there’s rather more than an obstructed sightline at stake now. Miles Kane was the guinea pig for the experiment, playing to 150 people who’d applied for tickets and who stood in a summer downpour watching him play acoustically. More on Kane later, but his presence was the least important thing here.
The gig was the first in a series of small shows in Camden Market, and the organisers had taken care: masks were compulsory and the ground was marked with green dots to ensure everyone stood where they were supposed to. It’s not the promoters’ fault that a noticeable number of people decided that masks were just as effective worn under their chins, or that there were those who saw the gaps between people and thought they looked like ideal places to stand, then decided they could get their mates into the same space, too.
The result was that I felt just as close to my neighbours as I would have done four months ago, and when I pointed this out to one of them, he reacted as if I’d told him I’d just spent the afternoon with his wife.
I’m no lockdown zealot. I kept taking my daily walk; I went to the shops; in the week before the Kane show, I went to a pub, a restaurant and a cinema. But in all of those places, all the people seemed to be taking care around each other. Here, most people did, but there were just enough who didn’t that I felt unsafe.
In the circumstances, it would have required the second coming of the Beatles to take my mind off the risk, and Merseysider though he may be, Miles Kane is definitely not the second coming of the Beatles. He’s 34 now, and he’s spent almost half his life trying to become a rock star without ever quite succeeding (the nearest he’s got has been as half of the Last Shadow Puppets, with his friend Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys). You don’t need to be a genius to work out why: his songs are serviceable and melodic and pleasant, but there is nothing to distinguish them from a thousand other writers of serviceable and melodic and pleasant songs.
The blokes at the back would disagree: the greatest pleasure of the show was seeing these four fellas, hoods up, trying to pretend they were not in a small crowd listening to acoustic music in the pouring rain, but in a festival crowd punching the air and singing along with thousands of others. It wasn’t an imaginative leap I could make.
Two days earlier came the latest twist in the saga of the streamed gig. If you wanted to see Nick Cave alone at a piano in a big room, you had one chance: be at his website at 8pm on Thursday, credit card in hand, for there would be no repeats, no opportunity to pause the stream, no 48-hour grace period to catch up. Just like a real gig.
It’s received wisdom that everything Nick Cave does — from live performance, to recording, to ordering from Ocado — is touched by a genius unparalleled in human history. I’m not sure about that: while I’ve seen Cave shows that have been breathtakingly intense and compelling, I’ve also seen Cave shows that have had me gazing into the middle distance, willing the end to come. This — no Bad Seeds to back him, just him alone at a piano — justified all the claims for his greatness. I’d have been happy to listen to him singing his Ocado order, to be frank. His death-row lament ‘The Mercy Seat’, terrifying enough on record, somehow became even more tense and dramatic without the band: even in normal times, it would count as one of the most electrifying performances of the year.
The whole thing was so great (and so well received) that I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if, eventually, Cave decided to forget the one-time-only thing. This deserves to be a live album, and it would be one of the very best of that genre if it ever came to pass.
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