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

For years my wife and I have been eating from the outside on a regular basis – concerts, theater, stand-up comedy, films and more. I’ve been writing about this stuff for over 40 years. Of course, all of that stalled last year.

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

We’ve all seen music or comedy online, but what is missing is the social engagement and connectivity between a performer and the audience, the feedback loop that is embroiled in a common wave.

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

Would the cast have their sea legs?

Yeah pretty much.

Would we?

But mostly still a bit shaky.

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

Yes, but the pleasure of being in a crowd watching the performance was mitigated by the need for the backdrop, the six foot detachment. 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’ve all seen music or comedy online, but what is missing is the social engagement and connectivity between a performer and the audience, the feedback loop that is embroiled in a common wave.

Jim Sullivan

Gathered in Laugh Boston on April 23rd! About 90 people in a 300 capacity club where 150 people were recharged. The fans crowded – in a socially distant way – around the front, with a yawning void behind it.

“I’m so happy not to be home. Clap your hands when you’re out of the house for the first time, ”said host Corey Manning. People clapped.

Steve Sweeney started his set by (intentionally) marbling through a mask, but later said, “It’s nice to see people without a mask, it really is.” The best part of the pandemic for him was keeping him from performing on cruise lines – “the worst job in America. You see people telling you that you are sucking for a week. “

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 are happy to come out and happy to laugh. Some people are scared, some are paranoid. I’m not saying “be ruthless” but Jesus, I think this was deliverance for 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 a key component of the nighttime experience – as a background, foreground, or somewhere in between. The Beehive recently started listening to live music on weekends and when one of the servers, Jeff Gunnip, told me they were all very happy to have them back, “A little bit of our soul was missing.”

On April 24th, Naya Rockers played two 40-minute sets under the direction of drummer Nathan Sabanayagam. Despite the Plexiglas partitions and the obligatory distancing, there was already a lot of activity in the crowd of the dinners. When Sabanayagam and his three pals immersed themselves in this seductive, instrumental dub and reggae, a winding 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’s the idea that musicians communicate on stage like birds that all fly together. “

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

Bees Deluxe. (Courtesy Bees Deluxe.)

Bringing blues, jazz and rock into their groovy gumbo, Bees Deluxe was more ready for this world. Three members of the band are singing, 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 an instrumental album called 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 meant to be instrumental, like Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” and Jeff Beck’s “Brush with the Blues” and not like James Gang’s “Funk # 49” and that Beatles album “I Want” You (it’s so heavy). “A woman sang the lyrics from Buckinghams’ 1967 hit“ Mercy Mercy Mercy ”softly in her seat. Bees Deluxe’s ​​own“ Imaginary Conversation Between Bjork & Buddy Guy ”was great as the synthist Carol Band had spatial washes of sound that interrupted by Warre’s piercing notes.

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

“I felt like they listened and cared about what we were doing,” Warre mused the next day. “Playing instrumentals is a lot of fun and we can play pieces that we wouldn’t have played otherwise or that we wouldn’t have time for. And the audience is especially grateful because they were in jail too. “