Written by Dustin Sclafani
My first concert experience of 2021 will be a YouTube live stream. It is both disconcerting and hopeful and I find I am feeling the kinetic anticipation of a live venue, somehow transported to those stale beer and body odor-filled clubs I miss so damn much. Staring into the blue variant screen, foot tapping impatiently, I try to chase away thoughts of the unholy, pandemic-riddled year and the devastating impact it has had on the world of live performance, but it isn’t easy.
I want for this to be a great show, but I am still afraid that somehow, the technology will not convey the music properly, or somehow render live performance obsolete or that the audience-artist connection will be lost … And then, the first, soft sounds of a lone jazz piano progression fill me with a nostalgia for live music so great I ache with it; I am instantly transported back to the place I first fell in love with music, and for that, I am grateful.
On February 19, 2016, Island Records recording artist, Jack Garratt, released the album Phase, and today’s performance is both an anniversary celebration and a fundraiser to benefit the work of Stagehand, an organization dedicated to helping technical performance professionals like audio and video engineers and stage and set staff who have been negatively impacted by the effects of COVID-19.
The event, live-streamed via Garratt‘s YouTube channel from The Village Underground in London, is intimate and poignant. No band, no backtracks, just an artist, his instruments and his audience suspended in a fearlessly soul-baring space.
Garratt delivers a powerful, emotionally raw performance that brings the listener back to the point of musical inception. Garratt is both conductor and passenger, unflinchingly swept into the emotional journey with his audience, so much so, that at one point during the track, “Chemical,” he is nearly overcome. The tears and the heartbreak are tangible in every note and it is amazing.
Perhaps the truest testament to Garratt’s talent is in the comment section filled with sentiments such as, “I was lucky enough to see Jack in Leeds,” “Thank God I saw him in his first US tour,” “OMG,” “Wow,” and “I am crying.” Where words fail, fire and heart emoji’s replace adjectives, and it is apparent the audience is feeling it. The impact of the art and artists is clear: they are ESSENTIAL.
The audience has ceased to be individuals and started to once again relate to being part of a community. We are weeks away from having spent a full year in various stages of the lockdown the world over – we immediately transitioned from board rooms to Zoom meetings and have been growing more and more isolated from the beauty of the community.
On this frigid February afternoon, while Jack Garratt bares his soul one track at a time, I am pleasantly reminded that in community, we can be whole again.
Garratt has managed to do something a lot of artists doubted would be possible under these circumstances: he organically connected with his audience and shared truly emotional and impactful moments on a remote, digital platform with nothing more than his heart on his sleeve and a desire to create a mutually beneficial, artistic space. No banter, no dog and pony show, just an artist willing to be vulnerable with his art and audience, leaving the healing to the harmonies.
From an artistic point of view, Garratt is to be commended for having the guts to play Phase track-by-track, in the original order it was released. I think it is a testament to the strength of his artistry in the face of today’s singles-driven industry. He transitions effortlessly from piano to guitar and back again throughout the set, further illustrating the textured and nuanced layers of this multitalented artist. And that Garratt’s motivation was to raise funds and awareness for the art community speaks volumes about him as a performer who values both his colleagues and his audience.
Honestly, I’m a little embarrassed that Garratt hasn’t been on my radar before now. He has shown me that in a digital world, art remains a tie that binds us, heals us. The platform hasn’t unilaterally flattened performance, emotion can still be elicited and a meaningful connection with the audience is still possible. Although I am five years late to the game, I can assure you, Jack Garratt will have a permanent home on my playlist.
The healing power of music and art cannot be overstated, especially in these troubling times. We need more love and compassion too, of course, but we need art to inspire it and us to create and tell our stories.
For those who do not believe that artists of all mediums are essential workers, Jack Garratt proved you very wrong. Please feel free to donate to the Stagehand charity in the UK here and enter to win some amazing prizes for a great cause here!
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