Livestream Platform Mandolin Brings Concerts to You

I gotta say, the pandemic era sure put one helluva crimp in my concert-attending agenda. Though live shows are essentially back to what they were prior to the lockdown period, I’m less and less inclined to bother with any of the to-and-from travel hassles and overall there-and-back time commitments, not to mention the general aggravation accrued by the ever-escalating cost factors (gas, parking, and other nuisance fees). To be sure, I’m still getting out to see shows whenever I’m so inclined but I’m even more selective than I used to be.

Good thing many artists have taken matters into their own hands by offering livestreamed concert performances on a more consistent basis, whether they’re doing them from their own living rooms and home studios and/or onstage via invite-only scenarios or fully ticketed venues. Some performance spaces have also taken it upon themselves to regularly offer access to their in-house feeds and mixes for reasonable viewing and listening fees. Notwithstanding certain artists accustomed to playing stadiums, arenas, package tours, high-priced residencies, and/or destination-based events, you have a darn good chance of being able to see a wide variety of musicians who appeal to your particular musical preferences — and you can do it directly through your playback system of choice.

All of this brings us to Mandolin, a streaming platform that debuted in the summer of 2020 to help fill a then very specific live-music void. Mandolin bills itself as “the future of fandom,” and the company is certainly on the right track to fulfilling that promise. As of this writing, Mandolin had hosted over 1,000 artists and livestreamed over 2,000 events. Tiered, fee-based features like Fan Navigator enable artists the ability to engage more directly with their audiences, while fans can pay extra for VIP Experience options such as private, virtual Meet & Greets.

You can buy affordable individual tickets directly on Mandolin, just as I did for livestreamed gigs from Loudon Wainwright III ($12), Marshall Crenshaw ($15), The Lumineers Live From Wrigley Field ($20), Bettye LaVette & Band ($15), Robert Earl Keen ($20), and Father John Misty ($10). These are all very sensible prices — and not one person was ever blocking my sightlines either! Replay options typically occur within 48-hour windows, many of them unlimited within that timespan.

I mirrorcasted each Mandolin gig I “attended” on my home theater system by way of my usual HP laptop-through-Roku Ultra conduit. On the occasions I deployed Replay, I did so either on my laptop or with the Mandolin app on my iPhone. If you so desire, you can partake in the live Chat and Watch Party windows before, during, and after gigs in an upward-scrolling frame on the right side of your screen. True, it can be fun to connect and chat with friends both old and new before and after shows in real time, especially given how many attendees are spread across the globe. Once a show starts, however, I prefer to give the artist at hand my full attention — and that’s when I usually click back into full-frame mode.

In addition to the livestreams noted earlier, I was especially enamored with two other Mandolin offerings in particular — namely, separate gigs by Robyn Hitchcock and Nick Waterhouse, respectively. A recent entry in Hitchcock’s ongoing “Live From His Home” livestream series was an outright steal at $7 — though, of course, there are “Leave a Tip” options available during most shows if you want to contribute more dosh to an artist’s coffers. For 90-plus minutes of this British alt-rock stalwart’s late-summer livestreamed event, Robyn’s penchant for off-kilter, lightning-quick improvised humor shone through brightly. So did the vocal-blending on a few tracks with his life partner, Australian vocalist Emma Swift, such as on the stripped-down harmonic recasts of Robyn Hitchcock And The Egyptians’ full-band tracks like 1991’s “Oceanside” and 1988’s “Chinese Bones.” Purely solo Hitchcock takes (“Serpent at the Gates of Wisdom,” “Another Bubble”) also held much sway. All throughout the show, Hitchcock’s acoustic-guitar fingerpicking was consistently clear and resonant.

Though I initially missed the livestream of Nick Waterhouse’s show at City Winery in New York City this past spring, the kind folks at Mandolin granted me a Private Replay of that evening. And what an evening it was — for 64 minutes, Waterhouse, introduced as “The Son of the Pacific Himself,” and his white-hot six-person band melded ’60s soul/rock sensibilities (the set-opening horn-and-organ-driven cover of The Seeds’ “Pushin’ Too Hard”) with jazz/blues-inspired originals (“Very Blue,” “Raina,” Stanyan Street”). The board-quality mix offered all the fine arrangement details apparent via the piano, tenor and baritone sax, and female vocal accompaniment — not to mention Waterhouse’s understated but keenly supportive chord-based guitar fills. I also appreciated the multiple camera-angle choices.

Based on what I’ve seen and heard so far, I suspect I’ll be frequenting Mandolin on quite a regular basis, as it’s quickly become one of my favorite go-to online live venues. In short, it’s a masterful Mandolin win all around, for fans and artists alike.