Note: review of Brisbane show 03/02/18 1
Welcome to Nightvale is the 300lb gorilla of the sf narrative podcast scene – a community radio show from a simple town in the desert where the one world government helicopters are always circling, angels called Erika are on every corner, and the community calendar is as likely to contain temporal paradoxes as crocheting events. Nailing a tone that reminds me of the best of the comedic X-files episodes, and hosted by the mellifluous Cecil Baldwin, Welcome to Nightvale is a permanent fixture in my podcast rotation. 2 None of which answers the current question – how does a radio show do live?
The answer fortunately, is quite well. Let’s get the weak spots out of the way first; the Glow Cloud is not my favourite Nightvale character, and I don’t think All Hail, as a regular episode centered on the mighty cloud, would be one I would recommend either as a highlight, or as a particularly great starting point. This is of course, partly by design, as All Hail tries to hit all of the recurring segments: horoscopes, community calendar, and a word from their sponsor all make appearances.
Where All Hail shone however was in audience engagement. It started with the MVP of the live performance, Meg Bashwiner.3 Ostensibly there to give the ‘rules’ to the audience, ie exits, no audio recordings etc., she vamped the crowd up with a mixture of rules, comedy, and audience banter that put the entire room into the groove. From there, we went into the musical opener, Erin McKeown, who immediately demonstrated her Nightvale bona fides with “Pretty LIttle Cemetery”, and proceeded with a short set list with plenty of interaction and call and response. Of course she stole my and my wife’s heart when she gave a shout out to the scientists in the audience, of which there were perhaps not a surprisingly decent amount.
After a second brief interlude from Meg, we got what we paid for, a full fledged Nightvale episode. The staging was just three microphones, and a desk with Disparition, but really what else was needed? Cecil was of course incredible,4 and while I won’t spoil the list, all of the performers did a good job of queuing off the audience, from Cecil’s crowd calls during the horoscopes, “ARRRR, Scorpios”, to one of the guests riffing on the crowd reactions. What made the night however were the fully interactive portions; once you prove the existence of ghosts, or swear fealty to the glow cloud, you’ll never go back.
I long been a listener to the show, but going to All Hail made me feel like a resident of Nightvale.