On October 28, I attended my first concert in over half a year. It was a virtual stream of Omar Apollo, live from Paisley Park, aka the Prince estate in the suburbs of Minneapolis. When I saw the advertisement for tickets I couldn't fill in my credit card information fast enough, ecstatic to see one of my favorite artists perform at such a legendary venue. It took me a few days to realize the show was in reality not going to be an in-person masked affair, not for me at least.
I purchased my ticket for $30 from MomentHouse, a startup founded in 2019 with the express purpose of connecting artists with their fans virtually. The service delivered a unique streaming link in lieu of a ticket to my email inbox with a note stating that streaming is only available on one device per purchase. I opened the link a little before showtime and was greeted with a countdown clock and a raucous group chat filled with all the virtual attendees.
The show was pre-recorded on October 27 to a masked and distanced crowd of about 200 press and industry personnel at Prince's former home, studio, and private venue. Most of the fans watching the stream the day after were unaware that the show was not actually live in the full sense of the word.
At precisely 8 p.m. CST, the stream began with a few minutes of behind the scenes footage from the filming process, shots of the Prince museum, and the band gallivanting around a freshly snow-clad Minneapolis. When Omar took the stage he was wearing a violet velvet suit and white high heeled boots, a perfect homage to the Purple One.
The show opened with "I'm Amazing," off the young star's debut studio record Apolonio. He then segued into "Ashamed," one of Omar's distinctively seductive tunes, dripping sex appeal across the stage with guttural moans and suggestive dance moves.
After a few songs it was easy to settle into the virtual experience and appreciate it for what it was, but it also became clear that this show was no substitute for real, live music. For many, the appeal of live music has little to do with the actual music, it's about the event.
The atmosphere of a concert elevates your senses as the melodies, light show, smoke from the pyrotechnics, and maybe even the taste of a little sweat dripping off your lip if you dance hard enough meld into one. The camaraderie of the crowd cannot be replicated in your living room. No matter how good your home sound system is, you won't feel the bass vibrating your chest the way you would at a festival or in a concert hall.
Omar was vibing with himself on the stage, but it was evident that this show would have been something else in a different year. It was undoubtedly a special moment for him, performing on the home turf of one of his greatest influences, but it is easy to imagine he would have preferred to pack the venue in a more traditional way.
Overall, the virtual event was a fun experience but it patently lacks the euphoria that is beloved of live music or the raw intimacy of catching Omar live on Instagram during a middle of the night jam session. I likely won't be paying for more virtual concert tickets, but I would pay to see more of the behind the scenes footage from Paisley Park in an Omar Apollo documentary; fingers crossed that's on the way.
In the meantime, I might be open to a drive-in show, the other currently safe form of alternative entertainment we're seeing spring up around the country. Or maybe I'll just keep waiting at home for the end of the COVID era and imagining how killer everyone's first uninhibited concert experience will be when we finally return to a sense of normalcy and safety.