As with everyone else, my concept of “fun” has changed radically over the past year. The bar was lowered so much that a captivating multi-hour Netflix binge watch was an A + night. “Law and Order: SVU” gained a new anticipatory relevance. I worried if “SNL” would be a repeat and looked forward to it if it wasn’t.

For years, my wife and I have had a fairly steady diet of outside entertainment – concerts, theater, stand-up comedy, movies, and more. I’ve been writing this stuff for over 40 years. Of course, that all came to a standstill last year.

But last month we got our second Moderna recordings and were quietly overjoyed, felt safe, secure or had the illusion of security. (It varies.) And when Governor Baker allowed indoor entertainment with the stand-up comedy and live music venues at 50 percent capacity (but no singing or horns), we waded into the water.

We have all seen music or comedy online, but what we miss is the social engagement and connectivity between an artist and the audience, the feedback loop, being entangled in a common wave.

So for the past three nights we’ve been on our way: the comic Steve Sweeney at Laugh Boston !, the dub / reggae band Naya Rockers at the Beehive and the acid blues band Bees Deluxe at the City Winery.

Would the cast have their sea legs?

Yeah, pretty much.

Would we?

Most of the time, but still a little shaky.

Would we find some semblance of normalcy in this new world?

Yes, but the pleasure of being in a crowd and seeing a performance was mitigated by the need for the surroundings, the two meters distance. You don’t get the camaraderie of being close by, the joy of interacting with strangers. I thought of the old Dave Mason album “Alone Together”.

We have all seen music or comedy online, but what we miss is the social engagement and connectivity between an artist and the audience, the feedback loop, being entangled in a common wave.

Jim Sullivan

Gathered at Laugh Boston on April 23rd! about 90 people in a club with 300 seats, where the capacity is the equivalent of 150. Fans crowded – socially distant – around the front, with a yawning void behind them.

“I am so happy to be out of the house. Clap your hands when you first leave the house, “said host Corey Manning. People clapped.

Steve Sweeney started his set by mumbling through a mask (on purpose) but later said, “It’s nice to see people without a mask, it really is.” The best part about the pandemic for him was keeping him away Performing on cruise lines – “the worst job in America. You see people for a week who tell you that you suck. “

The audience laughed and if the laughter didn’t fill the room, it couldn’t. But we tried.

Was it uncomfortable?

“No,” said Sweeney, “it was great. I’m working my way back into it. People like to come out and like to laugh. Some people are scared, some are paranoid. I’m not saying ‘be ruthless’ but Jesus, I think that was a deliverance for the people and it was for me. I’m a recovering addict – nearly 29 years old – and isolation is the worst thing for me. “

Naya Rockers recently performed live at the Beehive. (Courtesy Naya Rockers)

The cozy Beehive restaurant in the South End isn’t necessarily a place to listen to music, but music can be an important part of the nighttime experience – as a background, foreground, or somewhere in between. The Beehive recently started playing live music on the weekends and as one of the servers, Jeff Gunnip, told me they were all very happy to have them back: “A bit of our soul has been missing.”

On April 24th, Naya Rockers played two 40-minute sets under the direction of drummer Nathan Sabanayagam. Despite the plexiglass partitions and the required distance, there was already a lot of activity in the dinner crowd. When Sabanayagam and his three buddies indulged in this seductive, instrumental dub and reggae, a curved groove and a warm, connecting atmosphere emerged. Music as therapy with songs by Bob Marley, Steel Pulse, Culture and Chronixx, among others.

“We connected with people,” Sabanayagam said later. “People came and said, ‘You had so much energy.’ It is the idea that musicians communicate on stage like birds that all fly together. “

Yet Sabanayagam says: “Since March 13th [2020] nothing was the same. It doesn’t feel normal at all. I had to learn to overcome fear, wearing masks, interacting with people who are in a restaurant and don’t always obey the rules. That can send you into a spiral if you let it. “

Bees Deluxe. (Courtesy Bees Deluxe.)

Bees Deluxe, who mix blues, jazz and rock in their groovy gumbo, were more ready for this world. Three members of the band sing, but they can easily play these songs without singing; and a number of the songs they cover and write are also instrumental. In fact, the quartet has just written and recorded a purely instrumental album, “Speechless”. They stir “It was done in part to celebrate and / or mock the masking of musicians here in Massachusetts,” said guitarist Conrad Warre.

At City Winery on May 1st, they played songs that were intended to be instrumental, like Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” and Jeff Beck’s “Brush with the Blues,” and those that weren’t like “Funk # 49” by James Gear and “I Want.” the Beatles you (she’s so heavy). ”A woman sang softly in her seat the lyrics of the 1967 Buckingham hit,“ Mercy Mercy Mercy ”. Bees Deluxe’s ​​own Imaginary Conversation Between Bjork & Buddy Guy was great with the synthist Carol Band’s spacey sounds punctuated by Warre’s stinging notes.

“We tend to be an improvisation band at all times, so it’s a no-brainer for Bees Deluxe,” said Warre. He said the band’s style and repertoire are so diverse that they are comfortable playing dance parties or sit-down gigs like this one.

“I felt like they listened and cared about what we were doing,” Warre reflected the next day. “Playing instrumental music is a lot of fun and we can play melodies that we would not otherwise have played or would not have time. And the audience is especially grateful because they were also in prison. “

Now all of us – performers and potential viewers – are paroled. Let’s act wisely and we’ll get more.