The Reality of Gigs in 2022

Image Credit: Pip

Isabella Ambrosio reflects on what was the uncertain future of gigs and how gigs are happening again.

Looking back at October 2021, the future of gigs seemed hopeless. It seemed as if we would never have live events again, and if we were to, we would have to be in pods of six and wear masks. But, as of April 2022, the future of gigs is alive and well.

My first concert since the pandemic was Pale Waves. I had the absolute pleasure of meeting and talking to Heather via Zoom back in January, and so much has changed in the very short months since then. At the beginning of the year, we spoke of the gig in Dublin, but it felt very hypothetical. She didn’t seem too sure herself what Covid would look like in two months. And that was the reality of Covid for two years. Artists would book tours, hoping it would be better in a few months, and then keep postponing them, if not flat out cancelling. And then there are the artists who had pre-booked tours for 2020. Within all the chaos and the unknowing nature of Covid, there was no real answer. But, as the weeks came closer to March 4th, the date of the Pale Waves show, it started feeling real, and I started feeling hopeful.

I stood outside in the dark with my partner, as we shivered and looked anxiously for the doors to open. The anticipation of standing in a queue for a gig hasn’t been one I’ve experienced in a long time. Knowing that in just an hour, or more, you would be standing in front of a band you enjoy with a bunch of like-minded people. It’s a pure kind of excitement, and to feel it that night, felt so good. There were lots of teenage girls with colourful fringes, dark makeup, lots of platform shoes, all comfortable being themselves in a crowd because they know they won’t be judged. There were lots of gay pride flags, being worn over shoulders, ready to give them to Heather Baron-Gracie if they could. Few masks were in sight, which at the time gave me a bit of anxiety, but looking back, I understand why. The hot crowd in the middle of the gig, people pressed tightly to each other. It seemed as if you really wanted to be in the moment, and really wanted to be in the crowd, you almost had to accept that you may get Covid. And you had to figure out if that was a chance you were willing to take.

At the beginning of the year, we spoke of the gig in Dublin, but it felt very hypothetical.

Being filed in, I had to give my name to be let in. I was very fortunate to be on the guest list. I was given a stamp and told to file into the main floor of the Academy. The standing capacity was 650 people, while the balcony added 200 to the capacity. I would say it was a smaller venue for a band that opened for the 1975, Halsey, and now, 5 Seconds of Summer. I liked the intimacy of the Academy. I had never been to a show there, maybe a few student nights, but those are two drastically different events. The stage had a backdrop with a beautiful stencil of a butterfly. 

The opener, Just Wondering, was an incredible act from Dublin. They’ve recently announced they’ll be playing at Electric Picnic this summer. It was a four-piece consisting of a drummer, a bassist/guitarist, and two vocalists, where one dabbled in soundboards. Their energy was electric, perfect to get a crowd started for the main act. The vocalist’s energy was infectious, dancing around the stage without a care in the world. Their music was a perfect blend of modern slow pop, pop punk, and a bit of pop rock. The inclusion of live instruments such as the drums, the bass and the guitar was an excellent touch to the live energy of the band. They had catchy hooks and funky choruses, a blend of new ideas and ‘old faithfuls'. I would love to see their set at Electric Picnic because they sure do know how to put on a good set.

There were lots of teenage girls with colourful fringes, dark makeup, lots of platform shoes, all comfortable being themselves in a crowd, because they know they won’t be judged.

Pale Waves was on shortly after. The lights dimmed, spotlights started to flicker, and smoke started forming at the base of the stage. Before I knew it, Heather Baron-Gracie held her iconic Vox Phantoms. She was dressed in a blazer-like jacket with feathers at her cuff, fishnet stockings and knee-high platforms. Her fringe was pulled back with bobby pins, and she had her signature dark eyeshadow. Her face was so comfortable, but stern. She knew that she owned that stage, and every single person in that room knew who she was. There was a certain kind of demandingness to her demeanour, and it was addictive.

Ciara Doran was sitting behind the drum kit, twirling their drumsticks, looking quite chuffed with themself. It was a nice kind of confidence. The guitarist, Hugo Silvani, and bassist, Charlie Wood, were calm and collected, and the show started. They opened with the first song of their latest album, ‘Change’, a personal favourite of mine. Doran, Silvani, and Wood, stood back and let Baron-Gracie do what she does best – command a stage. They rattled through their upbeat songs like ‘Television Romance’, ‘Eighteen’, before moving on to fan favourites such as ‘Tomorrow’, ‘Fall to Pieces’ and ‘One More Time’. The setlist was incredibly well curated, making sure to balance the slow songs with one or two fast ones, between fan and band favourites. Baron-Gracie sang as if it was nothing, her voice never wavering. 

Baron-Gracie received flowers and gay pride flags from fans, interacting with them now and again, she made sure to point out a woman with jealous eyes before performing their unreleased song, ‘Jealousy’ and set up a pair of fans in the crowd. They said they would go on a date – I wonder if they ever did. It was a well-rounded show with a powerful frontwoman.

When leaving, I wasn’t really thinking about Covid, as ignorant as that sounds. It felt so normal, the band leaving the stage, the crowd dispersing, trying to find the merch stand and filing out the venue door. It was so normal that I had almost forgotten Covid existed. Almost.

A month later, I started queuing five hours before a show. It was a ticket I had gotten as a gift for Christmas back in 2019, and the band had to keep postponing their tour. I was nearly shaking out of excitement, like a pug when they’re told they’re going on a walk. To be honest, this was less of a press show, and a show for myself, but it was so good I must talk about it.

5 Seconds of Summer (also known as ‘5SOS’) kicked off their ‘Take My Hand Tour’ on April 3rd in 3Arena. I was ecstatic when they rearranged the dates, so Dublin was first. This meant there was no confirmed setlist, there were no pictures or videos of the songs, and there was nothing. It was brand new. I started queuing so early to be as far up in general admission as I could get. My partner and my best mate were with me, the best mate being a later addition when someone sold me their ticket. We were 30th in the queue, meaning that a close spot in the crowd was palpable. I was ready.

But there’s only so much prevention other people can do. At the end of the day, gigs are just like they were before the pandemic, but with a few masks here and there.

The hours dragged on, I drank minimal amounts of water, and sat on the cold concrete, until the gates started to open. Two hours before, the VIPs were let in for their Soundcheck Experience. We were filed incredibly neatly and orderly into three separate queues at the three doors of entrance one. This is where I resembled a pug. I was jittery, bouncing from foot to foot, anxiously looking at the doors that were about to open.

It was like a great wave, crashing into the doors of 3Arena. There was a security guard every six feet, telling us to walk, not to run, to be careful. It wasn’t until I grabbed my best mate and legged it to Calum Hood’s side of the stage that I realised why the security guards were there. Travis Scott. I felt guilty then, realising that if more people started running, things could have gotten dangerous quickly. That made me extra aware of people’s safety during the show. Security was handing out cups of water every twenty minutes, people making sure to pass it back as far as they could. The band even checked in on us multiple times. It wasn’t until the end of the show that I recognised how safe that show was compared to so many others.

The opening back, COIN, a band from Nashville, Tennessee. Their lead, Chase Lawrence, was entertaining to watch. He gave off the vibe of being the weird kid in school, and it was nice to see him thriving, and flourishing for being himself. COIN had the incredible skill of crowd control on their side, with people singing their songs and the band getting the crowd involved. Their set was a good length, mostly curated towards fan favourites, which is optimal for an opening act.

Before I knew it, I could hear a faint hum of a bass guitar floating through the stage, and I was ready. The graphics and technicality of their show were fantastic. There were lasers, shooting from the ceiling straight into the stage, a two-part screen for visuals with one behind the drumkit and the other above the other band members. The entire stage felt like a room in a doll house like we were getting a special peek into what their lives are like. The visuals consisted of flowers during ‘Wildflower’, old television screens in ‘2011’, and more. It was innovative and captivating.

But the band itself was where the excellence was at. After ten years of being a band, constantly bettering themselves and evolving as artists and entertainers, never losing the importance of the music itself rather than their looks and personalities. They opened with ‘No Shame’, a song that was sabotaged by their previous record label for commenting on the horrible sides of popular culture. It felt like a new era had just begun, opening with that song. It was saying goodbye to the shadiness of their previous record labels and the people they had to pretend to be for them. The energy was shocking. 

As soon as the lights showed on them in the middle of the stage, it was like they gave a breath of life to their crowd. It was insane, screaming that made my ears crackle, the adrenaline making my legs shake. They parted to their microphones before jumping into their controversial song, me only three rows away. They then went on to play banger after banger, bridging between songs with a transition. ‘No Shame’ to ‘Easier’ with a guitar battle in between ‘More’ to ‘Want You Back’. They weren’t giving the crowd a breath. It was relentless, keeping the crowd alive for 26 songs.

Luke Hemmings was in the middle, with a pinstripe suit with a cropped jacket. His bright red guitar was slung over his shoulder and his lips were pressed into the mic most of the night. When he moved around the stage without the guitar, he walked down the small catwalk to my left. He smiled, laughed, and belted, releasing two years’ worth of no-live-show tension. He was glowing on stage, his hair flopping with his jumps. Calum Hood stood to his left, right in front of me. Wearing a green GAA jersey and knee-length shorts, he was casual. His mullet was cropped back, leaning his head back from time to time to just enjoy the feeling of playing bass. Michael Clifford was on the far right of the stage in a green plaid shirt and baggy trousers, his guitar solos shining through the speakers quite frequently. And Ashton Irwin, the drummer behind Hemmings, wore a green velvet two-piece outfit, with the trousers flared and the vest as his top. He gave it his all. You could see him sweating onto his drum kit, his cheeks rosy and the way his voice boomed into a microphone was electrifying. Each of them had their own stage presence and persona, but it suited and worked well. 

The setlist was a mix of their most recent three albums, ‘Sounds Good Feels Good’, ‘Youngblood’ and ‘CALM’, with their newest singles. Old favourites like, ‘Disconnected’, ‘Beside You’ and ‘Castaway’ were played for their older fans. It was a mix of new and old, upbeat, and slow. The visuals matched each song, interchanging easily. I’ve always said out of the dozens of bands I’ve seen live; 5 Seconds of Summer is the most talented. They are meant to be on stage.

And unfortunately, at this gig, my friend had to make the decision between the possibility of Covid and going to a gig in the 3Arena or not going. She tested positive on Wednesday night after the show. I had been with her on Sunday and Tuesday, and I did not test positive. I still haven’t. And while people’s physical safety was taken care of at the show, there weren’t any kind of Covid protocols, as I had mentioned with the Pale Waves show. There’s a choice between possibly exposing yourself to the virus. And I think that’s something that people are still going to have to continue considering in the future. The virus is still here. But there’s only so much prevention other people can do. At the end of the day, gigs are just like they were before the pandemic, but with a few masks here and there. And Covid. The beautiful performances from both Pale Waves and 5 Seconds of Summer were well worth it to me, but I know there are other people out there who aren’t willing to possibly expose themselves to Covid. And I understand both sides. But, that is the reality of gigs in 2022.