Graham: Drive-in concerts? Thanks but no thanks

While concert industry struggles to find its footing, artists are innovating online

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

I don't want to go to a drive-in concert. 

I love live music. I miss live music. But as the concert industry attempts to adapt to the reality of life during a pandemic and new social distancing norms, live music alternatives being bandied about — including drive-in concerts — aren't cutting it.

Pastor Paul Marc Goulet prays to people in their cars at an Easter drive-in service at the International Church of Las Vegas. There has been talk of holding drive-in concerts during the coronavirus pandemic.

Drive-in movies, sure. Movies and drive-ins have a warm, nostalgic history, and it's that history you embrace when you go to a drive-in theater. You're not going because of the sound or picture quality, and good luck if you have automatic headlights that won't turn off when your car is on. You accept the technical limitations of the situation because of the overall hug of the experience.

Experience is what we're craving now, and any experience will do, because if being couped up indoors for two months has taught us anything it's that playing Monopoly ruins relationships. We want to get out, which is why the idea of drive-in concerts is being floated and, in some instances overseas, implemented.

But I don't want to go to a concert in my car. I can wait for the real thing. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced musical acts to get creative. Early on it was all solemn acoustic renderings of songs and spliced-together Zoom performances. Those got old real quick.

Post Malone offered up the first live-streamed concert with a pulse last month when he performed a full set of Nirvana covers from inside his Utah home. From the opening chords of "Frances Farmer Will Have her Revenge on Seattle," Posty reminded viewers at home of the vitality, crunch and spark of live music. He was having fun, cracking jokes with his bandmates and offering up non-sensical banter between songs, just like you'd get at a live rock show. Watching it was a jolt, and it felt like being alive again. 

No one else has been able to match that level of bombast, but things are getting better.

On Thursday night, popular house music DJ Kaskade offered up an innovative live broadcast where he DJ'd from the Skywalk at the Grand Canyon during sunset. The camera work was remarkable, with drones hovering overhead and showing the vastness of the setting behind him. It was the kind of spectacle that never would have happened before social distancing, and it showed the ways artists are exploring and actualizing new possibilities in live music presentation. 

Others, including pop songstress Robyn and chillwave maestro Washed Out, have offered up livestreams of DJ sets from their homes. Pop innovator Charli XCX wrote and recorded an entire album, "How I'm Feeling Now," from quarantine and released it Friday. These are examples of smart, savvy artists making the most of the current situation. (Taylor Swift offering up a filmed performance to air on ABC Sunday night is an example of an artist doing things the old way.) 

Hip-hop artists have in many ways lead the online charge during the shutdown. Hip-hop super-producers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz launched the "Verzuz" series where artists participate in head-to-head, hit-for-hit showdowns; Nelly and Ludacris face off on Saturday for what's sure to be a slobberknocker. Rapper/ singer Tory Lanez has elevated himself to a new platform with his popular "Quarantine Radio" series on Instagram Live. And D-Nice has united the masses with his popular online dance parties.

None of these are substitutes for the thrill of live music, but for now, they'll do. And they could lead to big changes in the way we do things going forward: before this started, the idea of a concert of Post Malone doing all Nirvana covers sounded like a bad idea at best. Now? I'd go to that concert in a heartbeat. 

I don't want to see it in my car though. Concerts are about sharing air with your favorite artists and fellow fans. They're about the energy and the electricity in the room. At a drive-in concert, first off, you have a windshield between you and the artist. You're sitting down. You're in your car. And even if you have a tall guy standing in front of you at a concert, it's better than having an F-150 in front of you at a drive in.

Live music will survive, and it's worth waiting for until it can be done right, whenever that may be. In the meantime, keep the livestreams coming.