Since the coronavirus pandemic slammed the brakes on the live music industry, musicians have been finding new ways to connect with their audiences and attempt to make back some of the money they lost when lucrative tours were put on ice. Only a few months in, we’ve become accustomed to the intimate, lo-fi, smartphone-streamed — and free — sets broadcast from artists’ bedrooms, kitchens or porches.
But what happens when the performer cranks up the production value, gets out of his or her pajamas and sells tickets for the show?
Soft rock superstar Richard Marx offered a glimpse into how that will look on Sunday for a concert he billed “Front Row Seat: Live At Your House.” For his first virtual, solo concert, Marx broadcast from a sound stage in Los Angeles with concert-quality lights and sound and a multi-camera feed. The production was light years beyond the DIY bedroom streams — which have their own ragged charm. And one of the most interesting aspects of the show was the remarkable rapport Marx shared with an audience that wasn’t in the room or visible to him.
Marx sang most of his hits — “Endless Summer Nights,” “Should’ve Known Better,” “Don’t Mean Nothing,” “Hold onto the Nights” — alternating between acoustic guitar and piano. He told the stories behind the songs and cracked some jokes — anyone that follows Marx on Twitter knows he has a razor-sharp wit, which he often aims at President Donald Trump (no politics during his set, though). A story about turning Bryan Adams onto a throat-soothing concoction was hilarious, and the inspiration behind his ballad “Angelia” gave a peek into how the mundanity of everyday life can inspire an observant songwriter.
The Chicago-born hitmaker carved out a part of the concert to perform snippets of songs he wrote with or for other artists, running the gamut from female pop-metal group Vixen (“Edge of a Broken Heart”) to NSYNC’s “This I Promise You” — the latter came with another quick-witted story. He was particularly poignant when sharing tracks written with his late friends Luther Vandross (“Dance with my Father,” 2004’s Grammy Song of the Year) and Kenny Rogers (1983’s “Crazy,” the first time someone recorded one of Marx’s songs).
Marx acknowledged several times how “weird” it was to be performing to an empty room (save for his sound and light crew) and how much he missed a live audience. But his ability to connect with an audience, even one scattered around the world and watching on computers and phones, made the show a success.
Hopefully shows like Sunday’s will only be a brief detour before musicians and fans can be in the same room again, but if it is an indication of a longer-term way of doing things, it is a viable alternative that if harnessed in the right ways might prove successful and lucrative for artists and an entertaining and distracting experience for shut-in fans.
Shore Fire Media provided Highway 81 Revisited with a voucher to watch the concert. You can buy a ticket to watch the concert on demand until July 5 here.