Friday I attended the live Adam Lambert concert.
I missed out on his last concert appearance in New York because it sold out before I made it to the ticket website. But this time I got my ticket early. And this time it wasn’t going to “sell out”, since an unlimited audience could watch virtually from home while Adam Lambert and his band performed live before cameras.
Welcome to the rock concert in the era of Covid 19. The band members, all women by the way, were masked, as assumably were the few crew members required to record and transmit the performance.
There were some technical difficulties, at least for me in my location in Brooklyn, where unusually brisk arctic winds were being whipped up that day, messing with our internet connection. The concert for me started jarringly, in that my screen switched rather suddenly from the orange stand-by image to the middle of the first song, “Superpower”. Repeatedly during the concert my image froze and the sound died. Sometimes it would return, often I would have to refresh to get it back. I blame the unusual winds and my internet provider and a likely unstable cable they have not been able (or willing) to replace in all these years. It may be a problem only once a year or so, but it certainly was unfortunate that it was a problem at this very time.
The concert was performed and filmed to simulate a live performance but it lacked the audience. We the audience were hidden away in front of our screens in our homes all around the world. We could only be imagined by Lambert, and it showed. I’ve seen Adam Lambert performing live, in person and on a TV screen, and there is a spark that animates his eyes and expression in front of a crowd. That was lacking. His singing and musicianship was beautiful and impeccable, the songs sounded great, but a certain insouciance and thrill, a genuine give and take between performer and listener, was missing.
It was like a very good dress rehearsal. At times Adam would talk to the audience he knew was “out there somewhere”, like he was practicing for the real thing when an audience would be actually there before him to engage with in person. But it appeared to me that we the audience were not present for him, just an idea he was aware of but didn’t feel. Which made our absence, or our distance from him before our screens at home, felt only the more.
Maybe there is a way Adam Lambert could have conceived of his performance not as a simulation of a live show in a mid-sized venue, but as one that acknowledges the isolation, and engages with the cameras as the tool to reach the audience where it actually is. Maybe even that attempt would have only gone so far. A major part of what makes a rock concert exciting and invigorating, for the audience and performer, is the crowd, an energy transfer between musician and spectators that comes across even in a live broadcast over television. This was lacking here and its loss was not mitigated through some other means.
Or maybe I am being unfair to Adam Lambert and the concert. Maybe it was mostly me, worn down after nearly a year of pandemic isolation, longing for an experience I should know I would not get in my living room. At first I was happily excited, and took selfies with the TV screen, even imagined I might dancersize for most of the concert. But I soon found myself comfortably on the couch, and required to refresh my connection while those once-in-a-year internet issues interfered with the reception. I became more and more aware that I was watching and listening to a fine performance transmitted from within a bubble, that there were distancing factors that were not being bridged. The isolation that Covid requires of us was being underlined, not overcome.
The music and performance was all sensual swagger and glam. The unintended subtext was of sad solitude.
I made myself ever more comfortable and languid on my couch. Near the end of the concert I closed my eyes and the (final?) song entered my dreams.
Suddenly I awoke to find the orange stand-by screen staring back at me in silence. The end felt so abrupt and stark. There most have been a bow and a thank you and good bye, maybe even an encore? I don’t know. I’d missed it. It was over, and like a real live performance there would be no rewind or rewatch. But also no lights coming up and walking out of the hall with hundreds or thousands of other attendees, basking in the afterglow of the experience. Just a silent orange stand-by screen.