During normal times, the music writers here at the Houston Press have about a six months "coming soon" schedule of area concerts we use to coordinate coverage. It's a formidable list, incorporating our city's many venues and the fact Houston is an expected stop for just about every touring act.
I made the mistake of taking a look at the last one we got, in late January, and saw how many shows didn't happen this year. It's a little thing, in the face of 330,000 deaths and a crippled economy, but suddenly being reminded that Ministry/KMFDM show never happened was just a cherry on top of the shit sundae of 2020.
Some concerts did take place in the first part of the year, however. Personally, I got to see Sarah McLachlan and Maren Morris, both great — albeit different — shows. McLachlan played a packed Hobby Center that still felt like an intimate venue, while a nine-months pregnant Morris held a sellout HLSR crowd at NRG Stadium in the palm of her hand.
But if I had to pick the one show most reminiscent of why I still love live music in this occasionally rude, often bewildering city, it was Amanda Shires's "Atmosphereless" show at the Heights Theater.
Shires calls her shows "live music meditations," and the multi-instrumentalist tore through selections from her most recent release (To the Sunset) and the upcoming Deciphering Dreams. She also played some tunes from her side project, The Highwomen (alongside Morris, Brandi Carlisle, and Natalie Hemby). Unlike the McLachlan and Morris shows, she also played to a sparse audience.
At the time, that annoyed me. It's a weird complaint, admittedly; lamenting the fact you're not crammed shoulder to shoulder in the House of Blues or Warehouse, but the handful of times this has happened (Agent Orange in 2012 comes to mind) used to be depressing. There are always reasons — weather, middle of the week, other distractions — but I was always bummed people were missing out on the show, and the band was missing out on the financial support.
Looking back over the detritus of the last nine months, I'm now glad my wife and I got to experience the show that way. We hung out in one of the private booths for a time (the occupants' expected guests never showed), then moved to the main floor, roaming around to find the best sound and angle for the various songs, unmindful of how (occasionally) close we got to the other patrons. I think someone even coughed on me.
Live music will return someday. Some places, like White Oak Music Hall, have hit upon COVID-inspired solutions and are hosting shows. I suspect those first few post-pandemic months will be pretty nuts, as hordes of newly vaccinated swarm venues and bars after enduring what will likely be over a year of quarantine.
I'll be right there with y'all, though I suspect that first time I'm being shoved on all sides at the HoB while waiting to spend $18 on a Tecate tallboy, my mind will go back to that night in late February, 2020 when Amanda Shires didn't even need a mike to be heard at the back of the Heights Theater.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.