Subtitle: I finally got Covid
Live music has had a torrid time through the pandemic years. An entire year cancelled and another where any gigs scheduled outside of festival season became subject to inevitable rescheduling or reduced audience numbers by design or reaction. We are entering year three of this plague and live music is returning to some vision of its former self. Unless I am forgetting one, this was the first indoor concert since the before times that I have attended which happened on the day it was supposed to and to a full audience. It also happened to be a week or two after the UK Government in its infinite wisdom decided to abolish all Covid restriction from law in full. We didn’t know this would be the case when we booked tickets. I’d love to say I would have had second thoughts with that knowledge but I’m not sure that would be true.
My last show before the pandemic struck these shores and went on to shut down the world was Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes at Alexandra Palace. I believed that to be a true arrival for the band and a spectacular rock tour-de-force and it was a great way to see out live music before being shut up for 18 months – not that we knew it at the time.
Disclosure have been a firm favourite of mine since before their debut album. I have distinct memories of it being one of very few albums in the last 10-12 years that has had me giddy excited like I used to get as a teenager for the release. I had just moved to London and have distinct memories of navigating the tube in release week with F For You (a favourite before it was a single) and the rest of the album as a soundtrack. Somehow, however, for all the shows I go to year on year, I have never seen a full live show in one hit. In 2013 I saw two halves of their festival set, one at Glastonbury, the other at Bestival. The fact they have not played London in seven years and I haven’t had much luck with the Glasto tickets means our paths haven’t crossed since by chance or design.
Friends had to drop out of this recent show as they got Covid while on holiday the previous week and while symptomatically clear they didn’t want to pass it on while testing positive. This was a mild frustration as we got the AP tickets so we could go with them, else we would have got to the Heaven show on Wednesday. This is a special run of shows, Disclosure returning to the venues that made them, back to back. Honestly, I was tempted to go to all three (the third being Brixton Academy on night two)
On arriving at Ally Pally we queued in the rain for a short while before getting inside. Walking in was like returning home after a long time away. It was like the hug from a friend you haven’t seen in years. It felt right and our souls had a part filled that had laid empty for too long. Sure, we had been to other shows (we saw Wolf Alice at Hammersmith Apollo only two weeks ago!) but this is our local venue. It hits different.
Merchandise was purchased (a rare occasion for me these days to buy a t-shirt!) before depositing the bag in the cloakroom and seeking out food and pints. The rituals fit snug like an old jacket.
TSHA opened proceedings. We had dragged our tired corpses across London to see her open Field Day last August. It was worth it then and it was worth it now. My one comment would be she needs to open up away from the club vibe and let in her colourful and excellent discography a little more. Let it breath and build a set around showing off that beauty and headlining these spaces will become an inevitability for her, I’m sure. She is still young and at that age I’m sure I would be doing the same. It is exciting to think at some point her tracks will be allowed to shine and she’ll be the next overnight success. I’d suggest she could be the next Bonobo with the flavour her tracks are taking and she’s on the right label for that.
Covid is here tonight. I feel it in my bones. I feel it particularly in the queue for pint number two as every person in the room passes between me and the person in front no matter how I try to fill the gap. At past events I’ve felt safe. Tonight I know in my gut that the two year run is up and it has finally caught us. I could be wrong. I’d love to go to Spain next week for the stag do I’ve co-organised with a best mate and an excellent crew. My sixth sense is telling me that it is severely at risk like nothing has been before.
The staging had been just decks in the centre with a small square screen behind unused for the support act and flanked with screens used with their logo only. When 21:15 came around that all changes. White lightening sprawled across the entire wall and every screen, accompanied by a cheer and a tantalising teasing intro building up to White Noise from debut album Settle. They appeared on the decks as if from nowhere, elevated to be silhouettes against the smaller screen which was simply a relief of the enormous screen behind. The crowd was immediately in their hands and ready to party. They proceeded hit us with a quick one two with F For You following it up immediately. I’m was leaving happy tonight.
What followed was a masterclass of weaving old with new and pacing the audience. They have an incredible arsenal of hits so it is little wonder they can play with an audience however they like and unless they played obscure stuff they really can’t miss. They hit every bullseye for me. They played old favourites along with plenty from their excellent recent repertoire (Never Enough EP and latest single You’ve Got to Let Go). Tondo from the Ecstasy EP closed out the show with a euphoric carnival vibe. We all left tired and danced out ready to wait an hour for our coats and wind our way home.
I have heard from friends that went to the Heaven show that they dropped classics from their DJ days to rapturous receptions from the crowd. A clear throwback and bit of fun. There was no room for such frivolity tonight but the show was no worse for it as it set out to demonstrate in clear terms that these guys truly can stand toe to toe with the biggest names in live dance music even if they haven’t shown the capital much love in recent years.
It was worth the very long wait to see such a polished performance of some of the best dance music around. Disclosure have always had a unique voice in the space and they play with it to create such variety and entertaining excellence. I really feel they suffered from difficult second album syndrome on Caracal but even that wasn’t a total disaster with some worthy singles amongst the bloat. When the Ecstasy EP came out with the promise of a lot of tracks stacked up I was cautiously optimistic. The EP showed more world music influence and a return to form to their signature sound while playing with new elements. I was firmly on board and excited for what was coming next. Ditching the DJ Khalid route was very wise. ENERGY surprised me with only one track I dislike and even that has a VIP remix that should have been on the album proper. The Never Enough EP is almost perfect and I’d take EPs forever if they consistently hit that well. Disclosure have firmly regained prominence on my favourite artist list once more.
The gut feeling is still there. I feel like we have been caught.
Fast forward to Tuesday and a tickly throat has me a little concerned. My other half has just had a cold though so maybe it was that finally getting me. Negative lateral flow. OK it’s a cold. Wednesday, throat is a little rougher, test again, clean. Thursday a cough starts. I get to the end of the work day ready to finalise packing for the Stag Do having spent most of the day sorting boarding passes and vaccination documentation for Spain…
Slowly but surely the second line appears. I silently show my partner and she leaps up from desk to take a test herself. Four lines total and the sinking pit of doom that we have come this far and it will deny our respective weekend plans. A call to the groom, a note to the boss and a Sainsburys delivery were the sad activities in the evening instead of ramming phone chargers and sunglasses in a backpack. The next day it is inevitable, unmistakeable and very real.
It seems fantastic that live events are back and the UK Government releasing restrictions gives a sense of safety and security. A sense it has all blown over and we can emerge from ‘the Winchester’. However, this is fundamentally untrue. I am writing this at my desk in North London late on Sunday night instead of drinking with friends in Northern Spain. The current variant may amount to a bad cold or flu in severity but the breathlessness and exhaustion after moving is no joke. The case numbers are still seriously high and people are still dying.
Am I saying stay at home? Absolutely not. Get out there and support the artists and venues you love and have a great time. Just be aware you are at risk of writing off the next two weeks if you lose that particular draw. Pick your occasions and your battles. A different friend was tempted to take the tickets but was going on holiday on the Monday so passed. He still doesn’t know he made the right choice not to come.
If I get anything back from insurance for this holiday (big if!), I think All Points East Disclosure day is a likely target for some of that cash. Fred Again… is also playing that day. He was my first post-Covid gig crowd last year and is my next gig in 10 days time – negative tests pending, of course.
Keep safe out there. You might miss more important things than another Friday night out.