This show was possibly the most surreal concert I have done in a long time. There have been weirder shows; but they were weird, because the show, or the show circumstances were weird. But they were all a ‘known’ and ‘expected’ kind of weird. This show was a different kind of weird.
With the whole world being on hold due to the COVID-19 regulations, Blind Guardian were asked to perform at Wacken World Wide, the online streaming festival that replaced the cancelled 2020 edition of Wacken Open Air.
It was going to be recorded in a TV studio, with a massive amount of eXtended Reality being added on top, and masks and social distancing were going to be obvious operative words. How much would that new situation impact our show? This was brand new territority, to all of us. to the band, to us, their regular crew, and to the local crew as well.
One thing that was clear, “StageLove”, as the on-stage portion of the crew referred to themselves; would not be exchanging hugs.
Because it was the first show in almost three years, we’d planned a rehearsal day prior to recording this show. For the band to get familiar again with the songs, for the crew to get to dust off and fire up the gear that would typically only be used on tour. And for all of us of course, to get familiar again with each other; from a distance.
It was surreal, to be touching ‘our’ flight cases, and tools, and instruments again. Obviously, there had been shorter and longer breaks for all of us throughout the years, but never was that break a pandemic related mandatory break. It made me acutely aware of the fragile equilibrium, or slack rope, that we’d been balancing all our flight cases and shows on for all those years; miraculously escaping catastrophe while knowingly ignoring health and safety related procedures that have now been made incredibly obvious to us as a society.
But hey, we’ve got a show to do, right!? Yes, this might indeed be the last one for an even longer time (all of the tours I had lined up for 2020 and beyond were removed and postponed for “somewhere second half of 2021”, but with a certain amount of apprehension), so we are going to savour this one.
Guitars were picked, cleaned and restrung, drum skins were changed and cymbals polished, and when the last notes were played by the band, all got packed down. On to the TV studio to record this show.
Our pre-show documents, that usually contain the setlist and daysheets, were a lot more elaborate this time. The vast majority were health and safety regulations; guidelines for the hotel, guidelines for the TV studio; who were to wear face masks, and when. Everything would be different; even our catering times; set times we’d need to have our lunch and dinner, and only a max amount of people at each of these times.
When we (the backline techs) got to the studio, and unloaded our gear, sound and light crew had already been in for a while, pretty much finishing their basic setup, and now it was time for us to get our gear set up. So, from that point of view, it was still the same. Setting up our gear, with socially distant stagehands, and making sure our work stations were socially distant from other crew positions called for a bit more concerted efforts, but in the end, it all worked.
The local health and safety officer made sure that while we were in compliance with the regulations already, were reminded explicitly of what we were and weren’t to do. One of the things that meant were: all of the crew were to keep on their face mask at all times, and band were to do the same, except for during the actual soundcheck and show.
After a delay to work on a synchronisation issue between video and eXtended Reality, we finally got the go to start the show intro, and we were going; the show did go on!
I don’t remember much of the show itself, other than the performance taking on gradually more and more surreal characteristics.
How do you play for a live audience, when there is none? What do you tap into, as a band member, draw your energy and adrenaline from, if you don’t get that immediate payback from the audience’s reaction and energy? How do you interact with the spectators, who are sitting in their own living or bed room?
Is this what doing live shows is going to be like from now on? Is this an interim solution? Will we get back to doing live shows? If so, when? Will they be with an audience, or a bunch of cameras? For every short term answer we received doing this one show, a multitude of questions popped up, and yelled for attention all throughout the day, during the show, after the show, and all along the seven hour train ride back home.
I can’t. I literally can’t.