Tomo Nakayama is small, almost hidden completely by the beautiful guitar in his lap and the Jameson on the rocks he holds in front of his face.
Instead of a stage, he is sitting in the corner of a cozy loft, and instead of being backed by the other seven members of his band, Grand Hallway, he is perched on a wicker dining room chair, alone. The rest of the house is quickly filling with people, shoeless, milling around the kitchen eating homemade gumbo, pouring drinks, and chatting, both with each other and with people in a chat room projected on the back wall. Everyone, whether in the kitchen or in the comfort of their own home, is waiting for the same concert.
With technology constantly changing the way we discover and hear new music, musicians are getting creative when it comes to reaching fresh ears. Tomo and Kevin, one quarter of Grand Hallway, are on the road back from SXSW. They do well in their hometown of Seattle, and are popular at festivals like Sasquatch! and Bumbershoot, but have nowhere near as many fans as they ought to. Enter Bay Area indie musician Goh Nakamura, sound engineer Kendall Li, and Gary Chou of Manja.org, who have set up a series of live streaming underground concerts out of Gary’s living room. They are aiming to expose some of their favorite musicians to a wider audience, but while the (semi-) monthly webcasts continue to increase in turnout, they have no plans on changing the venue. The whole point is to create a cozy atmosphere for artists to play in, says Goh, and use the magic of modern technology to allow anyone in the world with an Internet connection to be a part of it.
Grand Hallway’s sound is full and orchestral, but Tomo carries the solo set with ease. His voice is wide ranging and androgynous, occasionally warbling in a Devendra Banhart-like falsetto, backed by deft, folk-influenced finger picking. His left foot, sideways on the floor, lies trapped under his right, which he taps rhythmically, rocking the woven wicker of the chair until it creaks and exhales in time with the music. Hundreds of music lovers saw Grand Highway at numerous SXSW shows this past month, but none of them heard the way that we did, huddled on the floor of Gary’s apartment eating the homemade granola that someone brought, or in the comfort of our own homes, with a front row view sitting in our lap. Nothing can replace the atmosphere and excitement of a music festival or packed venue, but instead of sitting by as major record labels ban music videos on youtube while targeted ads wait around every digital corner, maybe we can use the Internet to champion the underdog and make music personal again.
You can see archived footage of the show here. If you’re local and interested in future events, or not local and looking for links to live webcasts, follow @GohNakamura on twitter for news about upcoming shows.