They are coming in dribs, drabs, and soon a firehose: live shows and show announcements at venues big and small. With the lifting of mask requirements, the dropping case numbers, and the vaccine roll-out, it seems the shows can finally go on.
The State Theatre marquee even got a little viral acclaim with its witty way of putting it this past week: “Vaccines are a gateway drug to concerts.” It will be interesting to see how people reengage.
Lake Street Dive’s Aug. 21 show at Thompson’s Point not surprisingly sold out within about 48 hours of going on sale. Portland has always adored them, providing LSD with their first-ever theater sellout at the State, after being bumped up from the Port City Music Hall (RIP) back when they were first supporting “Bad Self Portraits.”
But they are also the bouncy, light, singalong kind of show that live music fans seem to miss the most. While live streams might satisfy some yen for demonstrations of musical prowess, dancing in one’s living room is simply not the same as cavorting with your fellow fans. An LSD show hits you both ways, with music school technique and infectious energy.
It’s those in search of that live-show energy who have been most creative in finding ways to get back in front of bands. At Stonehedge in Gray you buy a picnic area, with Dead cover bands like Rose Alley blasting at full volume from an elevated stage and each piece of territory marked by lines of lights and complete with fire pit; just run over to the woodpile and get another log when the fire gets low.
You drive in, find your square, boogie down to “Uncle John’s Band,” and drive out.
As more traditional venues open back up, will people continue to seek out similar places that got creative? Or will things shake out back to the way they were, as Aura and Portland House of Music & Events and other clubs get back to indoor shows?
It’s hard not to think people will prefer the outdoors, as long as it’s an option, and may even gravitate to smaller, controlled environments, like what Unearthed Productions is putting together at 1292 Harpswell Neck Road in Harpswell: a slew of bands playing from 2-11 p.m. The crowd is manageable, there’s attention to sanitation stations and the like, and you can ease back into the live music experience, mingling, but with fewer variables.
For their June 12 Strawberry Moon Music For Meals “Feeding Spirit Through Song” Garden Party (yes, it’s a mouthful), that slew of bands includes Zeme Libre, the sort of band that may very well surge to popularity as live music fans rush back to find something – anything – that gets them moving.
Smartly, Zeme Libre has prepped folks with a four-song (plus acoustic alternate of the single) EP in “Forever, Waiting” that’s artfully designed for post-pandemic times, bouncy and danceable, but with just the right amount of restraint in not rushing back to devil-may-care. While previous releases have been more playful, sometimes even goofy affairs, this is a clear-eyed collection that delivers reggae upbeat and Latin ass-shaking alongside a good, solid bit of introspection.
“The Initiative” is the single and standout, and it speaks immediately to the hesitancy many may feel in getting back into party-hearty society: “Well, I’m frightened by the beginning,” sings frontman Andrew Yankowsky in his crisp diction, “frightened by all they have done.”
Fear is a natural emotion on the back end of a pandemic, but a melodic flute line like David Butts delivers can be a strong invitation to return to the way things used to be. Andy Porta’s cymbals crash and splash, creating with his brushes on the snare a motion like water flowing in a rush to escape a dammed condition.
By the finish, on the back of Tim Washburn’s electric guitar solo, Yankowsky is “shifting into overdrive.”
How many of us will quickly hit cruising speed? How many won’t go zero to 60 quite as fast?
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
5 shows to put on the calendar
• May 28: Ragged Jack at Porthole, Portland. It’s a local rockabilly band. Whatever. It’s Memorial Day Weekend, the summer is begging to get started, and there are few places it’s better to be than on the Porthole’s back deck. It’s time to get back out there.
• June 18: Love by Numb3rs at Aura, Portland. Aura returns to action with a band that didn’t exist before the pandemic and which just played their first full-fledged live gig last weekend up in Farmington at the Narrow Gauge outdoor venue. Joined by Sara Hallie Richardson and the Amarantos Quartet, there’s plenty of musicianship to listen for here and emotions will be on 10.
• July 23: Spirit of the South Tour at Rock Row Pavilion, Westbrook. With Blackberry Smoke, the Allman Betts Band, and a host of other southern rock all-stars, it’s hard not to see this as a heck of a good time with the sun beating down and guitars wailing from every corner of the stage. Make sure to check out the Allman Brothers Band Big House Museum Experience; it’s a trailer full of memorabilia that hardcore fans will dig.
• Aug. 7: The New Motif at Portland House of Music & Events. This a great band to dive back into PHOME with, a full-on jam outfit with more than a little Phish to their arrangements and something easy to enjoy even if you’ve never heard a note from them before.
• Aug. 25: Wilco & Sleater-Kinney at Thompson’s Point, Portland. From the Asylum to the State Theatre to the Maine State Pier, Wilco has rocked Portland via any number of stages. But to bring Sleater-Kinney along with them? This is a Gen X dream come true. S-K has a new single out, “Worry With You,” that’s cleaner and poppier than their old stuff, and more accessible, but they’re still not exactly dad rock.
— Sam Pfeifle