An irony of the COVID-19 pandemic, from a music perspective, is the extent to which spontaneous performance has become a focal point — despite social distancing restrictions that prohibit mass gatherings. Whether beat battles on Instagram, intimate living room concerts by global superstars, concert recordings to view in your own living room or backyard banjo meditations, artists have been forced to abandon stages in favor of platforms, while reveling in the spontaneity of single-take expression in myriad ways.
Father John Misty, ‘Off-Key in Hamburg’ (Bandcamp)
For 24 hours the digital music hub Bandcamp recently gave 100% of its sales to the indie artists who distribute music through its platform. The effort paid off with a collective $4.3 million deposited into artists’ bank accounts. For many, that check has been the difference between making rent or not.
The singer-songwriter-showman Josh Tillman, who performs as Father John Misty, likely didn’t have trouble paying bills this month. So he’s donating all income generated from the sales of his new live album, “Off-Key in Hamburg,” to the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund. The Recording Academy’s charitable organization, which was established “to safeguard the health and well-being of all music people,” has played a crucial role as a safety net for artists well-versed in walking the wire. Want to help musicians? The COVID-19 fund provides a direct avenue.
“Off-Key in Hamburg” was recorded in the summer of 2018 at the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie. Featuring grand orchestral arrangements played by the Neue Philharmonie Frankfurt, it presents Father John Misty on steroids. Better, it’s expertly recorded, so you can hear the Father’s muscles stretch his sport coat’s seams as he pushes through gems including “God’s Favorite Customer,” “I Love You, Honeybear” and “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings.” On “Please Don’t Die,” Tillman taps the spirit of Gram Parsons for a country-rock weeper: “All these pointless benders with reptilian strangers / Oh my god, you’re so naive,” he sings. “You’ll leave this world in a drunken heave.”
Oh Sees, ‘Rehearsal for Next Album’ (Castleface)
Those who have never witnessed Northeast L.A.'s best psych-punk in a packed club might be out of luck in the short-term, but the searing energy that Oh Sees generate hardly needs a pit full of moshers to burn at full throttle. Released through Zebulon’s YouTube channel, the hour-long session is exactly what it purports to be: the band’s forthcoming album played live, from start to finish, in the empty Frogtown club.
It’s one of a few live performances that Zebulon has uploaded of late; also available are recent concerts by Japanese experimental guitarist Keiji Haino (improvising on a hurdy gurdy), British guitar legend Fred Frith and Los Angeles psych-rock unit the Entrance Band.
The Oh Sees video premiered on March 20, and it’s hard not to peer back and see a quintet who are not socially distancing themselves (we hope all of them are well). But concern diminishes within a few fiery beats as one of the city’s best live bands rips through distorted-guitar-energized, double-drummer-propelled rock.
Best Coast, ‘I’m On Fire’
Bethany Cosentino expressed her current state of mind on Instagram as she shared a song: “my anxiety is going the ... off today and the only thing that’s helped so far was doing this so I did the most terrifying thing i could think of and recorded myself playing it and am now sharing it with the whole ass internet because whatever — it seems a helpful thing for me to do these days (and most days tbh) is to be vulnerable with y’all,” she wrote, adding that “playing guitar is one of my biggest insecurities + it’s literally my job lol. hope this soothes you or does whatever you might need for it to do.”
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my anxiety is going the fuck off today and the only thing that’s helped so far was doing this so I did the most terrifying thing i could think of and recorded myself playing it and am now sharing it with the whole ass internet because whatever - it seems a helpful thing for me to do these days (and most days tbh) is to be vulnerable with y’all. playing guitar is one of my biggest insecurities + it’s literally my job lol. hope this soothes you or does whatever you might need for it to do. also shout out to Snacks screaming at me in the beginning, Josie’s chill ass energy + my Ugg slippers. also to @fender for this beautiful ass guitar 💙
Sitting on her couch with a blue Fender acoustic guitar, cross-legged and in Ugg slippers, she then offers a quiet take on Bruce Springsteen’s seductive “I’m On Fire.” It is, indeed, a soothing salve.