July 13, 2021

Looking Back: 8 Best Virtual Shows of the Pandemic-Era

Looking Back: 8 Best Virtual Shows of the Pandemic-Era

Live music is one of the most powerful ways for an artist to connect with their fans, and the rush of performing is often what pushes people to learn an instrument in the first place.

But over the last year, when of COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions kept fans and artists from gathering together in sweaty clubs or outdoor fields, live music never stopped, it adapted. Artists and musicians adapted to these unexpected ir surroundings by livestreaming their shows, taking to Instagram, and creating innovative late-night television events.

As life begins to get back to normal and live music returns, we wanted to take a moment to remember some of our favorite virtual concerts from the past year and change, as a way to say goodbye and welcome better days ahead.

1. Phoebe Bridgers' Smashing Good Time

Phoebe Bridgers' wry album Punisher was a balm to many of us during the pandemic, as was her equally great Twitter account. In the absence of touring, Bridgers got innovative with her late-night appearances, performing ICU from her car for The Late Late Show and bringing a Holiday flair to her performance of Savior Complex on The Tonight Show. But it was her guitar-smashing take on I Know The End on Saturday Night Live that truly blew up social media, cementing her transition from indie favorite to everyone's favorite.

2. #SaveOurStages Fest for Independent Venues

Our friends at NIVA organized the Save Our Stages Fest to raise funds for the small venues that threatened to go out of business during the pandemic, and to raise awareness for the need for Congress to pass the Save Our Stages Act. The show featured an all-star line-up of talent, including appearances from Brittany Howard, Leon Bridges, and Foo Fighters, but the night truly hit a peak with Miley Cyrus and her covers of Boys Don’t Cry and Zombie.

By the way, indie venues could still use your support. Donate directly or by purchasing Limited Edition NIVA x EarPeace ear plugs. and you can donate here.

3. Run the Jewels to the Ballot Box

The outspoken hip-hop duo, Run the Jewels (aka Killer Mike and EL-P), were supposed to spend the year opening for Rage Against the Machine, but when that had to be put on pause, they teamed up with Adult Swim and Ben & Jerry's to present Holy Calamavote, a special concert that urged viewers to vote in the Nov. 3 election. 

The non-partisan, get-out-the-vote telethon featured virtual guest spots from Pharrell Williams, 2 Chainz, Zack de la Rocha, Mavis Staples and Josh Homme and ended with EL-P urging his fans to take to the ballot box to make their voices heard. "And when you get there, tell them Run the Jewels sent you.”

4. Adam Schlesinger Tribute by Ben Gibbard 

Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard had planned to spend Spring 2020 on a solo tour, but when the pandemic hit he pivoted to a series of acoustic shows on YouTube called Live From Home. He fundraised for various causes had fun with themed episodes, including a fan-request show and all-Beatles performance.

But the most touching moment came from his tribute to the late Adam Schlesinger, the Emmy and Grammy-winning Fountain of Wayne songwriter who passed away due to complications from the coronavirus. Gibbard took a few minutes to reflect on Schlesinger's influence before performing a loving cover of the Fountain of Wayne song, Barbara H.

5. Global Citizens One World: Together At Home Livestream

Global Citizen organized the benefit concert One World: Together At Home to raise money for the World Health Organization and relief workers. The eight-hour show was simulcast around the world and via the internet, and served as a reminder that no matter where you were, we were all stuck in this together.

There were plenty of highlights, from Kesha’s emotional performance of Praying to Elton John's earnest I'm Still Standing to the The Rolling Stones’ socially distanced take on You Can't Always Get What You Want, which featured all of the members streaming from their homes & served as a reminder that even seemingly indestructible legends were taking pandemic precautions, so the rest of should as well.

6. VERZUZ

For hip-hop fans, Verzuz was one of the few good things about 2020. Created by Timbaland and Swizz Beatz and streamed via Instagram Live, the show featured two artists "battling" with music from their discographies while joking around and telling stories. The show was, in theory, supposed to be a competitive event, but most episodes were really about old friends hanging out and virtually enjoying each other's company.

Highlights included Alicia Keys vs. John Legend talking about the start of their career, RZA vs. DJ Premier taking their fans to school and Gladys Knight vs. Patti LaBelle reminding everyone why they are legends.

7. Dua Lipa's Arena-Ready Studio 2054

The British pop star pulled out all the stops for her live stream, spending $1.5 million on production costs, which included arena-ready special effects, elaborate choreography from her carde of back-up dancers, and cameos from Kylie Minogue and Elton John. The ticket event, hosted by the platform Live-Now, was worth it, as ticket sales for Lipa’s tour reportedly went up 70% after the virtual show aired.

8. Smells like Post Malone's Nirvana Tribute

Post Malone is known for his face tattoos and unique pop & hip-hop blended sound. He specializes in vibey, lean-in music, but anyone with that many tats probably has a rocker lurking inside of them somewhere. He recruited Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker for a set of Nirvana covers, and brought an intensity that surprised even the most dubious of Nirvana fans, making a fan of Courtney Love and raising more than $1 million for the UN Foundation's COVID-19 Solidarity Response.

*Honorable Mention

You can't talk about pandemic-era live streams without talking about Club Quarantine, brought to you by the legendary D-Nice. Even though many people first heard about D-Nice from his hours-long DJ sessions on Instagram Live, don't call it a comeback- D-Nice has been an influential part of music history for decades.

"When I first started it, it was a selfish desire for me to find a way to still stay connected to the world when everything shut down, but after the second day, I really did pay attention to what people were doing and realized the importance of what was happening,” he said. “People used it as a safe space. People came to my [Instagram] live to connect and be a part of a community.”

From Phoebe Bridgers smashing a guitar on Saturday Night Live to Dua Lipa proving that a streamed live show could still feel like an arena-pop show, these virtual shows brought us comfort and joy during a tough time.

And while these performances hold a special place in our hearts, we are more than ready to get back to live in-person music! If you're an artist, you might be wondering if it's time to start booking some gigs. 

Either way, be smart, stay safe & rock on.

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