Janelle Monáe – Summerfest – Milwaukee, WI – July 6th 2018
Show #4 on the list is an artist whose live show is an impressive display of art and music and that is Janelle Monáe. Monáe headlined a set at Milwaukee’s Summerfest, a giant twelve-day music festival with hundreds of artists, back in July in support of her Grammy-nominated album “Dirty Computer”. Monáe is a dynamic live performer and this showed in her performance as she used dancers, multiple costume changes and impressive set designs to highlight songs off her 2018 album.
The late Prince helped Monáe on this album and the influences shined through on songs such as “Make me Feel”, “Take a Byte” and “Screwed”. Her live performance was invigorating, and you could tell Prince had influenced in more aspects than just music. She performed a dance break before “Make me Feel” and “Purple Rain” accompanied the outro of her song “PrimeTime”. Also her outfits fit the feel and design of the show perfectly.
Monáe is an electrifying live performer and could be a Grammy winner when all is said and done next year. If you get the chance, check her out. Her show is hard to describe, you kind of just have to see it to see the spectacle and experience the energy.
Come back soon for show #3 in the Top 10 Concerts of 2018!
Lorde – Schottenstein Center – Columbus, OH – March 31st 2018
Coming in at number 5 on the list of the Top 10 Concerts of 2018 is one of the most unique artists in the pop game since she emerged on the scene a few years ago and that is 22-year-old Lorde. I had the chance to check out Lorde on her Melodrama World Tour in support of her album “Melodrama” which I thought was one of the best albums of 2017.
Staring with “Sober” off of “Melodrama” Lorde rolled through 21 songs in about a 100-minute set. Sometimes artists with one or two albums under their belt roll out a 75-minute set (about the shortest you can do if you’re a headliner by contractual standards) but I was impressed Lorde expanded on that length with a few covers and some heartfelt speeches.
Rocking a minimal set design much like the instrumentation of her first two albums, she incorporated dancers, some impressive chorography, and a floating box above the stage that she and her dancers used at various points of the show to make up for a crazy set. This idea worked to perfection as it allowed Lorde’s vocals to stand out as well as the lyrics of the songs. Also this show had one of the best crowds of 2018. Everyone was into the show and singing along to not just the singles, but the album tracks, which was great to see.
The New Zealand singer stopped once to chat about how she didn’t know people ate nachos and pretzels at her shows until she discovered the concession stands earlier that day walking around the arena, and a few other times to chat about songs. Sometimes artists totally mail this part of the show in, and going to a bunch of concerts, I can usually tell when it’s the same thing they’ve said in 50 other cities. (e.g. “You’re the best crowd of this tour!” Heads up: You’re actually not. They said that in the 35 other cities they hit before you.) Lorde kept it genuine though in her crowd work which I appreciated.
Lorde is only 22 and if she’s this good at live shows already, I’ll be impressed to see what she rolls out with album #3. She commands the stage while staying genuine and appreciative of her fans in what makes for an excellent concert.
Check back tomorrow for #4 in the Top 10 Concerts of 2018!
Zac Brown Band – Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center – Indianapolis, IN – August 3rd 2018
Hope you all had a merry and safe Christmas! We are up to number 6 on the list of the top shows of 2018 and that is the Zac Brown Band. Even if you’re not a country fan, you should at least check out the Zac Brown Band once in your life as they are an amazing group vocally. The 8-piece group plays their hits of course, but what makes their concerts so unique is when they decide to dive into covers of other artists. ZBB hit 12 covers during the show and their entire encore was nothing but covers. People around me were split on this decision as they didn’t know that going in and were expecting to hear some more Zac Brown Band songs during the encore, but they did work 21 songs into their main set, so one can’t complain too much.
Some of my personal faves include ZBB’s ballads such as “Highway 20 Ride”, “Colder Weather”, and “Free” which they excelled at on this evening in August. Zac Brown’s voice sounded great and his supporting cast knew they roles well. They were highlighted when appropriate during some songs and took a back seat on others depending on the instrumentation.
Back to their covers, I think some of them work and some of them don’t. Honestly seeing Zac Brown Band cover Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” and the Beatles “Eleanor Rigby” is a little odd and doesn’t totally fit their dynamic as a group. The harder rock covers such as “Enter Sandman” “Thunderstruck” and “Sabotage” seem to work better for their group, at least they did at this show.
You should check out Zac Brown Band at some point when they roll through town if you’re a fan of great musicians and some excellent harmonies. Maybe on the next tour they will hold back on some the covers and showcase some more of their original music, which is what it seemed like most fans wanted at this show.
Come back tomorrow for show #5 in the Top 10 Concerts of 2018!
Harry Styles – Bankers Life Fieldhouse – Indianapolis, IN – June 27th 2018
Show #7 on the list is a dude from a massively popular boy band that showed he could hold his own commanding a show solo, and that is Harry Styles. One of the former members of the mega boy group One Direction, Harry showcased his work from his debut 2017 solo album, Harry Styles, at this show at Bankers Life Fieldhouse back in June.
I thought Harry’s solo album was the best one from the members of One Direction who have released projects and that it had a very 70’s/80’s rock sound to it, so I was excited to see him perform the songs live to see if they held up. Working a mix of One Direction and solo songs, Styles performed seventeen songs in a roughly hour and thirty-minute set.
Starting the show with a spinning Rubik’s Cube graphic, Styles rolled out in a suit and opened with “Only Angel” much to the delight of his thousands of screaming fans. This song is perfect for building anticipation with its slow rising opening before thrusting into a guitar heavy chorus. Other highlights of the show included “Carolina”, the unreleased “Medicine” and the closer “Kiwi”.
Styles also does an A+ job at crowdwork. It’s funny, and he’s very quick witted, as evidenced by this video below of him trying to figure out how to pronounce a fan’s name.
He also worked a side stage playing a few songs stripped down before jogging back to the main stage for “Sign of the Times” off his solo project before returning for an encore of “From The Dining Table”, Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” and “Kiwi”. Check out the video below to see “Kiwi” which was a furious closing song to a fantastic show.
Sam Smith – Nationwide Arena – June 23rd 2018 – Columbus Ohio
Sorry I was sick yesterday, so we missed a day! Coming in at #8 on the list is a man who I think is right up there with Adele for the most powerful voice in music and that is Sam Smith. I had the chance to check out his tour earlier this year in Columbus (unfortunately he decided to skip Indy) and the show was great.
Starting out emerging from the stage in a chair, basically replicating his album cover for “In the Lonely Hour”, Smith did a nice job of balancing songs off that album, and his sophomore release “The Thrill of It All.” Starting with “Burning” the soulful singer cruised through 22 songs in the roughly two-hour set.
Also, the thing I loved about this show was the stage design. It was a big elongated triangle, basically putting Smith in the middle of the crowd for the entire performance. His whole band and backup singers were out there too and it very much felt like a collaborative effort instead of focusing the whole show on himself, which I appreciated.
Production wise, a Sam Smith show is fairly basic. Some lights, video screens, and maybe some smoke here and there, but the dude doesn’t need it. His voice is incredible. He could stand up there with nothing and I’d be enthralled. He sounds just like he does on his records, and proved to me that live, he is a fantastic performer. This specifically showed on “The Writings on the Wall” his theme he recorded for the James Bond film Spectre. It’s such a big orchestral song, and with Smith’s voice, it felt epic. Also I’ve never met him, but he seems like one of the nicest people just from his stage presence and the way he appreciated his fans that night in Columbus.
If you ever get the chance to check out the Sam Smith, definitely do. His voice is unmatched by just about everyone in pop music today. Check the blog tomorrow for my #7 concert in the Top 10 Concerts of 2018 list!
“HEY WHAT’SSSSS UP?!?!” Dave Grohl screamed as the Foo Fighters took the stage at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville and then didn’t proceed to talk again for roughly an hour. If face-melting rock and roll is what you want, then Foo Fighters are your band. I had seen the Foo’s one before at Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center in Indy back in 2015 (where they also played this summer) and they blew me away with their musicianship, long set, and Dave Grohl’s ability to work a crowd despite having broke his leg a few weeks earlier and basically not being able to move.
(Grohl on his throne)
On this Friday night in May, Grohl, Nate Mendel, Pat Smear, Taylor Hawkins, Chris Shiflett, and Rami Jaffee displayed that after 24 years together as a band, they haven’t faltered at all throughout the decades. Starting out with “Run”, Foo Fighters cruised through 20 songs in the roughly 2-and-a-half-hour show. Highlights of the night included their hits “The Pretender”, “These Days”, “Monkey Wrench”, and “Everlong.”
One of the highlights of the night though was by a young fan who was in the crowd. Grohl brought up a kid he deemed “Lil Fonzie” on stage and this dude stole the show. Check out the video below to see what I mean. (Heads up, there is cussing. It’s a rock band, this is expected.)
Overall, Foo Fighters put on a great show and if you haven’t seen them before, I would highly recommend checking them out at least once. Their energy live is pretty much unmatched and they rock super hard.
Come back tomorrow for the #8 Top Concert of 2018!
Shawn Mendes – Summerfest – American Family Insurance Amphitheater - July 5th 2018 – Milwaukee, WI
Earlier this summer I had the chance to attend Summerfest, a massive 2 week music festival that takes place every year in Milwaukee. They select headliners across numerous genres, and one on the list for this year was Shawn Mendes. Shawn came out with his self-titled album earlier this year, which I thought was very good, and I was excited about the chance to see him live.
Opening with “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back”, Mendes cruised through 14 songs over the course of about 80 minutes, much to the delight of teenage (and much older) girls in the crowd. I’ve always thought Shawn was a solid musician in addition to his singing abilities and he showcased his guitar playing skills at this show also, welding one for just about every song.
Choosing to extend some songs to allow for an additional guitar solo or musical break not on the album versions showed me that Mendes has put a decent amount of thought into the live arrangements, even if this was a festival show and not part of a full-blown tour. One of the highlights of the evening, and an example of a new arrangement, was his performance of “Bad Reputation” off his album “Illuminate”. Here’s a video of him performing the song from that night:
Choosing to keep chit-chat and banter short and sweet while on stage, I appreciated that Mendes focused more on the music instead of talking about each song individually (ahem ahem Niall Horan some advice for your live shows sir.) Also the dude loves to perform. He’s not an artist a label just manufactured to role out to teenagers, he has real skill. My only complaint with the set is I wished it had been a little longer, but I also understand it was a festival show, so this is to be expected.
Come back on Monday for the #9 show in the Top 10 Concerts of 2018!
So this year I attended a lot of concerts and if you know me, it’s kind of my favorite thing to do. I think the idea that you can listen to an artist on the radio and then go see them perform those songs in person is so cool. Like I love Tom Hanks, but I can’t go watch Tom Hanks act out Apollo 13 on stage (although that would be dope). I can watch Taylor Swift 150 feet away from me perform songs from her massive album Reputation though, and that’s one reason I’ve always been drawn to concerts.
So over the next two weeks on this blog, I will be counting down my top 10 concerts of 2018 and highlighting a different show every day, with the culmination coming on December 31st, New Year’s Eve.
Before we get to number 10 though, I wanted to highlight some artists that I thought did the best job at opening up shows this year. The job of the opener is so tough I think because you’re literally the first (or second) person anyone sees on stage, and most of the time, no one came to the show specifically because of you. However, you’ve been tasked with the job in a timeframe of 25-45 minutes to get the crowd pumped up for the main attraction. When I go to a show, I always get there at the listed start time, because I want to see the opening act(s) and maybe discover some artists I should keep my eye on. With that, here’s who I think did a fantastic job of opening this year:
(The Struts – credit Danny Clinch)
The Struts opening for Foo Fighters –May 4th 2018 - Bridgestone Arena – Nashville TN
So I love the Foo Fighters and traveled down to Nashville to see them on their Concrete and Gold tour earlier this year and tasked with the duty of opening was a band called The Struts. I wasn’t super familiar with The Struts, but had heard a few of their songs and knew they were really going for that classic rock band sound. They got out on stage and just absolutely crushed it. Lead vocalist Luke Spiller is going for a hardcore Freddie Mercury vibe, but pulls it off excellently. By the end of their set, everyone was dancing and swaying along even if they didn’t know the tunes, which is a true showcase of an artist working the crowd to perfection. If you get to chance to see them, do it.
Songs to check out: Body Talks, Kiss This.
(Jade Bird - credit Francesa Allen)
Jade Bird opening for Anderson East – May 12th 2018 – The Vogue – Indianapolis IN
The next artist on our list is 21 year old British singer Jade Bird, who opened for Country/Folk Artist Anderson East when he hit The Vogue back in May. I hadn’t heard any of Jade’s music before arriving at the show, but I was a fan by the time her set was done. Armed with just a guitar, her fun bubbly personality, and her fantastic raspy voice, the crowd went from talking and buying drinks to paying attention to what was happening up on stage. There’s something about her that’s so authentic and you can tell she just loves to perform and play music. Also her songs are so mature and there’s a ton of depth to them. Next year she’s opening for Hozier, keep an eye on this girl.
Songs to check out: Uh Huh, Lottery.
(Charli XCX - credit Andrew Thomas Huang)
Charli XCX opening for Taylor Swift – September 15th 2018 – Lucas Oil Stadium – Indianapolis, IN
Finally on this list is Charli XCX, who had the task of opening the biggest tour in America this year, Taylor Swift’s Reputation Stadium Tour. Charli had insane energy and her songs are so bubblegum pop they work perfectly for a big setting with thousands of people. Starting with Boom Clap from the Fault in our Stars Soundtrack, possibly because John Green, Indianapolis resident and author of the novel was there, the energy didn’t stop from that point on and was a perfect setup for Swift. Closing her set out with Fancy, her collaboration with Iggy Azalea, the crowd was dancing, singing, and pumped for Camila Cabello and finally Swift.
Songs to check out: 5 in the Morning, Break The Rules
Come back tomorrow to see what show #10 is in the Top 10 Concerts of 2018!