Let’s be real: Virtual music performances, for the most part, bite.
Sure, it’s great to see musicians still doing their thing. It’s nice for all of us to have the distraction of a scheduled livestreamed performance. Best of all, it’s good to keep supporting the live music industry so it’s there when we’re finally out of this mess.
Two months into the coronavirus quarantine, though, I’ve had my fill of livestreamed gigs with poor audio quality, shaky or (even worse) immobile camera work, and the occasional interruption from a wild dog or an equally erratic internet service. Enough already.
Around Minnesota, though, there have been a few bright spots — quarantined music-making where the production quality was good, or where the technical limitations actually became part of the creative feat.
Here’s a list of some of my favorite archived at-home performances to tide you over until we finally get out and enjoy the real thing again.
Bad Bad Hats, “Islands in the Livestream.”
Being married allows Kerry Alexander and Chris Hoge to perform as two-thirds of their cult-loved indie-pop trio during quarantine. And being stuck at home seems to bring out their oddball sense of humor in this weekly series (Saturdays, 4 p.m.). They started with an “I Love the ’90s” episode — “classic rock” to these millennials — and just delivered an even more fun one based on fellow musical couples. If only Stevie and Lindsey and Sonny and Cher had gotten on this well together. Archived at YouTube
Black Market Brass, “In Honor of Manu Dibango.”
Just a few weeks after their sophomore album “Undying Thirst” dropped, Minneapolis’ authentic Afrobeat octet reunited in the studio — eight different home studios, that is — to piece together an ultra-funky tribute to one of Cameroon’s greatest music heroes right after his death on March 24. It was an excellent example early in the quarantine about music still being able to bond us. YouTube and Facebook
Davina & the Vagabonds, “Pink Moon” and more.
While she’s been able to put on several rowdy virtual performances with her full-swinging big band via their Patreon subscription during the quarantine, the Twin Cities’ great Southern roadhouse groover Davina Lozier made one of her most dazzling turns all by herself from behind the piano on April 7. That was the night of 2020’s pink supermoon, so she offered a shimmering take on Nick Drake’s classic skygazing ballad. Patreon/davinavagabonds and YouTube
Doomtree, “Five Alive” live debut.
The Twin Cities hip-hop collective couldn’t make its long-awaited return to First Avenue on May 1 to help mark the club’s 50th anniversary. But the whole crew did manage to pull off a live performance of its first new tune in five years, delivered from the members’ respective homes for the first installment of the weekly Doomtree.tv series. It wasn’t exactly Blowout-level electricity, but it had its own unique power. Patreon/doomtree and YouTube
Heiruspecs, “Land of 10,000 Streams” front-yard set.
Break out a lawn chair to watch this coolly laid-back reunion set by three members of St. Paul Central High School’s alumni rap band. They took advantage of decent April weather to actually perform together in the yard — albeit while properly distanced — for last month’s Land of 10K virtual festival, giving new meaning to “boys in the hood.” YouTube
Lizzo, “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
The palm trees in the background were a reminder that she’s not living in Minnesota anymore. However, the ex-Minneapolitan’s performance of Sam Cooke’s revolutionary anthem for April’s “One World: Together at Home” telethon reminded many of us of soulful, gospel-infused performances we saw from her before she became a hip-hop megastar. It also reiterated the show’s messages on how this pandemic has more greatly affected people of color in America. GlobalCitizen.org and YouTube
Rich Mattson, “Live From Sparta Sound.”
Already used to being isolated after he moved into a church-turned-studio in tiny Sparta, Minn., the affable and versatile rocker has stayed busy (and sane) churning out daily videos. He can’t literally livestream them due to poor internet bandwidth, but his uploaded clips actually have better audio and more playful footage than a lot of his peers’ clips. His jukebox array of tunes has been fun, too, from Bob Seger and R.E.M. standards to Neil Young and Bob Dylan deep cuts to songs by Mattson’s own bands Ol’ Yeller and the Glenrustles, some with his wife, Germaine Gemberling, nicely pitching in. YouTube
Charlie Parr, “Live From Duluth Cider.”
Lord knows Duluth’s acoustic folk/blues hero has no trouble captivating audiences all by himself in a traditional live music setting. He got some nice help reaching virtual audiences in this case, with a well-lit three-camera setup and excellent sound quality that set a high standard during the first week of quarantine. YouTube
Nur-D, “Paisley Park Pop-Up Concert.”
After steamrolling his way up to an ecstatic First Avenue performance with an eight-piece band in January, Minnesota’s most promising and positive young hip-hop star suddenly had to scale back to a solo act when the quarantine hit. No band, no problem, especially when he was invited to perform under purple lighting at the old home of Minnesota’s greatest one-man band, with higher-quality audio and video production to match his obviously high emotions. YouTube
Reina del Cid, “Sunday Morning” series.
Having more than three years’ experience hosting a popular weekly YouTube series certainly helped St. Paul’s indie-folk vet Rachelle Cordova (aka Reina del Cid) adapt to keeping fans entertained during the quarantine. So did having longtime bandmate Toni Lindgren (also now Lissie’s guitarist) at home with her. They’ve added some lengthier livestreamed shows to the weekly mix, covering everyone from the Stanley Brothers and Tom Petty while playing their own tunes by request. YouTube
Soul Asylum, “Hurry Up and Watch” series.
Since they were already crammed into a tour bus together in the days leading up to the lockdown, frontman Dave Pirner and guitarist Ryan Smith went ahead and kept playing together via livestream. That led to a “tour”-like marathon of virtual acoustic performances on April 17, release day for the band’s latest album, “Hurry Up and Wait,” with new songs alongside ones Pirner played in a similar fashion on “MTV Unplugged” way back in the day. SoulAsylum.com
Trampled by Turtles, “We All Get Lonely.”
They humorously have trouble clapping in unison at the start of this synced-up live performance. Once the picking starts, though, the six members of Minnesota’s ever-touring acoustic ensemble — appearing from as far away as Colorado and Grand Rapids, Minn. — fall into place beautifully in a song, perfectly picked for the moment, from their last album. YouTube