Yes, you read the title right. “In the middle of a pandemic?!”, you may ask. I would have had the same reaction if I were you. As someone who takes COVID very seriously, I can assure you that the show in question was safe — and that it was far from being your typical gig experience.
A friend of mine told me a while back that her partner plays the bass in a band. “It’s too sad we won’t get to see any of his live shows together while you’re here”, she said, sad to see how COVID was ruining the American experience for a French girl like me. I didn’t think much about it until recently, when North Carolina officials announced that venues could re-open at 30% of their capacity. My friend instantly reached out to me and told me tickets were going to be sold for her partner’s band Tumbao’s show at Pour House Music Hall on Mar. 5, 2021. “They’re only allowing the venue to open at 19% capacity just to be extra safe, so we have to be quick to get tickets!”
Long story short, we got the tickets. I was both ecstatic to see live music again after a year and skeptical regarding how safe the venue would really be. We ended up receiving very clear instructions before the show: wear a mask, arrive with your entire group before you get seated, only leave your table to go to the restroom, order drinks through a QR code. Typical guidelines, but here was my favorite COVID-related instruction: “We have limited space and a very specific seating layout to adhere to covid distancing guidelines. Feel free to stand at your seat and wiggle those hips and shake those booties, but we ask you stay in place and save those wild dance moves for another day.” The absurdity of being told not to stand or dance at a concert was proof that no one was going to expose themselves to COVID that night. We were allowed to drink under our double layer of masks and stare at the musicians for one hour and a half — and that’s already a lot, considering that I didn’t think I would get to see any concert before 2022.
The venue was… empty. There were people at every table they had set up, but the venue looked empty. I was seating upstairs and had an overall view of the audience. A young couple, two guy friends, another young couple, an older couple — that’s all I could see from where I was seating. The tables were all between 6 and 12 feet apart from one another. It felt like I was attending a secret underground show held under the Prohibition in the 1920’s, except it was 2021 Downtown Raleigh and everything happening at Pour House that night was perfectly legal. I know I make it sound like it was a dull experience — it wasn’t — but I just want to make sure that everyone reading this knows the venue did everything it could to keep us safe.
Now that I’ve made it clear that Tumbao’s show was COVID-safe, let’s talk about how fun it actually was. I had no idea what kind of music the band was going to play that night — I didn’t look them up on Google before the show to keep it a surprise. Their Facebook bio describes them as “a New, Fresh Latin-infused Funk, R&B, Jazz & Rock head turnin’ blend”. Well, from what I saw live, I can tell you that their music is indeed a blend of Latin, Funk and Rock music; it’s fun, fast-paced, uplifting and would make even the shyest person in the room want to dance the night away to their rhythmic beat. The guitarist was celebrating his birthday that day, and I’m pretty sure that getting to play a live show in the middle of a pandemic is probably the best birthday gift any musician could ask for. Turns out that the girl from the young couple in the front row was celebrating her birthday that day, too. “Pisces!”, she shouted, and I couldn’t help but smile. How I had missed the surreal one-word conversations one can only witness between an audience and artists on stage. The band played a Latin-Funk version of “Happy Birthday” right after, and everyone in the audience sang in unison.
I stayed at my seat the whole show, just enjoying the music and drinking my local craft beer, but the two couples downstairs would dance whenever they could. Don’t worry, they had their masks on the whole time and stayed at least 6 feet away from everyone else. They were “wiggling their hips” and trying to pull off moves mixing rumba and waltz while still standing at their assigned seats. Everyone else at the show was seated the whole time, so both of their romantic dances were, in addition to being very cute to watch, safe, although barely compliant with Pour House’s guidelines. The whole time I was listening to the music, I couldn’t believe I was there. Live music. Instruments. A band on stage. I could mostly see the bassist and the drummer from where I was seating, and I still couldn’t help but think: is this concert even real? Yes. Yes it was. It was amazingly real. At some point, I got so lost in the music that I almost forgot that I was wearing two masks and that I was sitting in an almost empty venue. My body had been craving the sensations of live music for too long, so I let myself feel them all fully. The band ended the concert by playing a Latin cover of “Electric Feel” by MGMT, and everyone screamed the lyrics along, just like in the good old days pre-COVID. The last thing I remember about the concert is another friend of ours at the show telling us, “I have a Pour House gift card I’ve been waiting to use for a year now, so drinks are on me.” Free drinks at my first gig in forever. What a way to end this surreal night.
– Lise Nox