As someone who loves live gigs, 2019 was shaping up to be my year. Every single month, without fail I had been to see a different band or artist perform live.
From The 1975’s momentous headline performance at Leeds Fest to Rex Orange County’s unforgettable show at the Manchester Apollo, I had been in awe and amazement of the different ways in which these artists continued to reinvent their live performances as they took to the stage.
Then, of course, Covid-19 hit in March 2020, postponing any upcoming gigs until at least 2021. One such gig was from neo indie pop band, Glass Animals. Instead of the traditional in-person concert, they decided to offer an online gig unlike any other that has been seen during this period – all for the price of £13.
In 2016, Glass Animals’ second album, How to be a Human Being, presented a fresh take on indie-pop, leading the quartet with newfound fame. Lead singer, songwriter and producer, Dave Bayley, gave indie fans a sonically cohesive album with a definitive twist.
Each song on the album was based around a real person they had met whilst touring the first album, which Bayley had since moulded into different characters. This created a grounded album that dealt with a relevant but diverse range of themes that resonated with listeners. It would’ve been simple for Bayley to lead the band along a rehash of their hit album, which surely would’ve been a commercial success, but Glass Animals’ third record took on a definitively different direction.
On the song, “Dreamland”, Bayley looks far more inwardly than on the previous two albums. Nostalgia presents itself as a recurring theme on the third record, with Bayley even including snippets from home movies, which his mum had recorded on tape from his childhood.
The overall sound created by this far more personal approach to the songwriting, combined with the nostalgia-inducing soundscape of 90s and 00s Hip-Hop and R&B inspired tracks, creates an experience unique from anything the band has attempted before.
Whilst more personal to Bayley than any previous album, he seemingly manages to resonate with Gen-Z listeners, who long for the analogue age which was ripped from them at such a young age. This is where we find the beginnings of the Glass Animals’ performance ‘Live in the Internet’.
The show, being livestreamed at one of four times depending on your time zone, opens with Bayley sat at a 90s desktop computer playing the intro to the title track, ‘Dreamland’.
It is clear from the get-go that this performance is something special.
Even online, you can already hear the difference between the studio version of the track and this breath-taking “live” version emerging through your screen. The raw vocals from Bayley, combined with the crisp, nostalgia-inducing, hypnotic tones of the track, along with the added visual elements, all combine to fully realise what is seemingly the original vision for the album, a trip through both our’s and Bayley’s childhood.
Bayley also manages the seemingly impossible. He manages to make an online concert feel intimate in a way that even perhaps real in-person concerts at times fail to. As he sings this opening track, he stares through the camera to the viewer at home and truly makes you feel, not only as if you’re there, but as if Bayley is singing directly to you; a feat that even some of the greatest performing artists have failed to achieve at in-person gigs. Despite Bayley clearly not singing to me directly, he succeeds in making every viewer feel personally addressed by the performance, which is only possible due to this online format.
Slowly the camera pulls out to reveal the full set behind Bayley, with the three other members of the band performing. They are surrounded by a backdrop of pre-composed graphics which fit the hypnotic feel of the song perfectly.
As Bayley finally moves to join the others on stage, everything begins to come together. Bayley’s intimate performance combines with the flawless hypnotic rhythms provided by the other three members and the mesmerising visuals on the screens behind them. This is seemingly as close as any of us are going to get to a live performance this year.
Glass Animals provide us with a variety of hits from across their albums, with consistently stunning visuals, guest stars, a new hit and a potentially career-defining performance. The culmination of such a show presents what is potentially the future of “live” music, should a return to in-person concerts prove impossible for the foreseeable future. Live in the Internet is a truly unique show, with all the traditional elements that make a live show a spectacle to watch, whilst still feeling truly personal and intimate, as all of the best gigs should.
Unfortunately, Live in the Internet also shows the shortcomings of this potential future of gigs.
Sadly, around 20 minutes before the end of this virtual show, Glass Animals’ stream crashed. This was due to no fault whatsoever of their own, but unfortunately it drastically and irreversibly detracted from the impact that the show had succeeded in creating over the previous 50 minutes. The intimacy and involvement felt in the show was suddenly ripped from the thousands of viewers watching the show all at once.
Whilst, as an alternative, the show is being offered to those who missed the end of the show for 72 hours (and what an end it is, with the most incredible rendition of their song, “Pork Soda”, I have ever had the pleasure of hearing), it clearly shows the limitations of an internet gig.
As much as I am impressed with the show put on by Glass Animals and the display of what can be achieved even during the current circumstances, it is clear that it is no substitute for the real thing. To say the least, at an in-person gig, it is highly unlikely that the show would be cut 20 minutes short due to technical issues.
But even besides that fact, nothing will ever be able to take the place of being firmly planted in the middle of a sweaty, pulsating crowd, singing your heart out to songs you have spent the last two weeks memorising. There is nothing that will ever be able to take the place of that experience.
Glass Animals’ online show presents a potential look at the future of live music, showing both the potential and shortcomings of the format.
Overall, however, the show, like the band’s third album, seems to show the appeal of a pre-digital world; a world where bands still performed in-person and VHS reigned supreme. Perhaps one day the world will be ready for exclusively online gigs, but our generation is not ready for that world yet.