2018 was another tumultuous year. I feel like I’ve been writing that for several years in a row. World events continued to be a non-stop dumpster fire, and there were some definite ups and downs in my personal life. Through it all, whether I was mourning, celebrating or just enduring, there was live music.
I saw 37 live shows in 2018, which is a pretty respectable number. Here are some of the highlights.
Nick Cave: Any year in which I see Nick Cave is a good year. A year in which I see Nick Cave twice is an exceptional year. When one of those shows is in Dublin, with Cave playing his first show in Ireland in over a decade, that’s a fucking spectacular year. Add Patti Smith to the bill, and you’ve got a concert for the ages. It was a huge outdoor show on the grounds of a 17th century estate, and it was nothing short of amazing.
Patti Smith was fiery and passionate and amazing, as she always is. The sun was barely setting as Nick Cave took the stage and his first words were “Daylight? You all look frightful, so I can only imagine how I look.” Cave proceeded to make the huge outdoor venue feel as as intimate as a concert hall as he wandered out in the crowd and climbed on a barricade to sing “The Weeping Song”.
Going to Ireland was a dream come true for me, and to see one of my favourite performers in the company of good friends elevated it to something magical.
“The Mercy Seat”, live from Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin.
Radiohead: I never thought I would get to see Radiohead live. I had tickets to their 2008 show at Molson Amphitheatre/Budweiser Stage/whatever corporate BS they’ll name it after next. That night was the huge blackout that knocked out the city’s power for most of the weekend, and when the show was rescheduled, I wasn’t able to make it.
Everyone knows what happened at Radiohead’s next show. Crowds at the gate just waiting to get in. A stage collapse. One of Radiohead’s crew members, Scott Johnson, crushed underneath. Killed instantly. A legal battle that dragged on so long that it was eventually thrown out of court. We all figured the band would never return, and who could blame them. Toronto now holds nothing for the band but memories of loss, pain and a miscarriage of justice.
Then out of nowhere two Toronto shows were announced. I snagged tickets to the first one, way up in the nosebleeds at the ACC. As the date approached, media from all over the world talked about how this was the band’s first Toronto date since Johnson’s death and how badly our legal system handled it. It was grim and depressing. The night of the show, I was excited but also somewhat apprehensive, wondering what the mood of the show was going to be. When I got inside the venue, I could tell right away that everyone else felt the same way. It hanging in the air, almost palpable.
The band delivered beautiful, intense and moody soundscapes accompanied by a stunning light show, all while without saying a word to the audience. Every time a song ended you could feel the entire venue holding its breath, waiting. At the end of the second encore, Thom Yorke spoke up. “The silence is deafening” he said, and then he stepped back to hold a moment of silence for Scott Johnson. The band then launched into a searing version of “Karma Police”.
David Byrne: His stage show for the “American Utopia” record was billed as his most ambitious since “Stop Making Sense”, and boy, did it deliver. Dressed all in white and moving and dancing in formation almost the entire show, Byrne and his band were the epitome of joyous motion.
C-Tec: I was stunned when these electro-industrial pioneers reformed and announced a Toronto date. Despite playing at the ungodly hour of 11:30 pm on a Thursday night (work was FUN the next day), they delivered a set of brilliant dark dance music.
Jan Wobble: Founding PIL member, brilliant bassist and all-around genius musician, Jan Wobble’s set spanned everything from post-punk to dub reggae, all interspersed with witty storytelling.
VNV Nation: This was my second VNV show, and it catapulted me from a casual fan to a diehard. Their new album is brilliant and Ronan is one of best, most genuine and engaging performers I have ever seen. I was there with a bunch of friends and we all started dancing like mad the moment the set started. Ronan was delighted by this and referred to us as “the dance floor” for the rest of the evening. More than once, he came running over to say “Hey dance floor, how you guys doing? ‘This next song is for you!” According to my step counter, I danced 10km that night.