• By: Keith Whittier

Best Concerts of 2018

What a year for catching concerts it was. Whether you saw shows at stadiums, festivals or bars, Ottawa was truly a hub for music this year. With new fests like Bon-Fire and some choice one-off shows that we never even saw coming, 2018 showed a lot of possibility for concerts to come.

10. Michael Rault – House of Targ (Megaphono Festival)

One show that stood out for its acoustics this year was Michael Rault's set at Megaphono. Rault's mastery of nostalgic tones made his recordings sing like lost classic records, and this show felt exactly like seeing one of your favourite seventies acts before they made it big. With tastes of what was to come on his It's a New Day, Tonight album, the show was crisp. While the performance was visually understated to be sure, Rault's ability to really bring out the sound of his music live carried the set.

9. Claudio Simonetti's Goblin – Mavericks

Obviously mistakes were made setting this show up at the venue, but squished venue aside, this was a unique experience for fans of Goblin's music. Watching Suspiria with Goblin's already blown out soundtrack coming from the band themselves initially feels strange, until you realize how perfectly the band captures the original textures. With some additional playing through some of the film's strangely empty sections and seeing the full range of synths and Eastern guitars like the bouzouki really made the show a treat. However it was their run through of their hits from Dario Argento and George Romero's movies like Dawn Of The Dead (aka Zombi), Phenomena, Deep Red and Tenebre that really sent the night off on a high note.

8. Weaves – House of Targ

Weaves' chaotic shows have rocked House of Targ on more than one occasion and have seen their mannequins dragged around the floor. Though their latest set at Targ was a lot more musically focused, much like the pop album they had recently released, the energy top notch. With addictive hooks and great swing to many of their songs, what this diminished in punk ferocity it made up for in how fun it was to shout along with them. As usual Jasmyn Burke's obtuse performance style made even the most quiet song an experience in itself. In fact, their less gritty focus this time around just made songs like "Slicked" and "Scream" all the more intense when they hit their choruses.  

7. Elton John – Canadian Tire Centre

It was hard not to be awestruck by the massive frame and screen setup that Elton John had set up, that not only pulled you into the world of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. but also showed the breadth of music he's written. John teased out the chords of "Bennie And The Jets" hilariously, as even spread out the crowd knew them instantly. Songs like "Tiny Dancer" were equally fun and emotional as John's movie-like visuals gave a new depth to his tunes. While the floor was a seated area, there was rarely a song where everyone was sitting down. "Levon," "Take Me To The Pilot" and "Rocket Man" were full of power, as the crowd chanted with glee. One particular standout was John's own percussionist who's theatrical enthusiasm made him as interesting to watch as Elton at times. With his piano rolling back and forth across the stage, "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" turned the show into a party of dancing fans, even hours into the show.

6. Beck – RBC Ottawa Bluesfest

Wow is definitely an accurate description of how Beck's show could make you feel. With so much colour behind the band through displays and an eclectic mix of genres, the show could feel like hitting shuffle and never getting a dud. Bright pop from Beck's new record Colors, was particularly fun to dance to, and he even had the humour to end "Wow" by doing an Owen Wilson impression. Classics like "Devil's Haircut" had everyone screaming their hearts out, and an extended acoustic break saw the crowd cheering whether Beck sang his most sombre tracks or covered "Raspberry Beret." Even his band intro was a feature in itself, as each band member got a minute to noodle on an iconic track for their particular instrument. Needless to say, this show was definitely where it's at.

5. The Balconies Last Lunge Farewell Shows – The 27 Club (setlist)

Instead of bowing out quietly, Ottawa's own Balconies decided their fans deserved to see them go out with a bang. For Jacquie Neville and Liam Jaeger this meant covering their whole career, including lost material they'd only just put out properly. With fans jumping and shouting along to the likes of "The Slow" and "300 Pages" The Balconies focused this show on fans, and knew how to make sure their day-one fans weren't put off. With original takes of tracks like "Kill Count" and "Battle Royale" you could feel fans really going ballistic to hearing one of their favourite bands one last time.

4. Jack White – TD Place check setlist

Jack White never delivers a bad set, and his fierce energy at TD Place showed how his seemingly quirky new album was supposed to feel. Tackling the strange "Ice Station Zebra" next to White Stripes classics made for a show that constantly delivered, and his brief dives into riffs  of other songs he didn't have time to play in full were a total treat. Even the funk of "Corporation" became an epic beast in its own right, as his rotating pillar screens added to the infectious feeling his grooves were already delivering. Drummer Carla often felt like the second star of the show, as her beats delivered and her interactions with Jack (both musical and visual) were delightfully fun. She even took a moment to emulate Meg White's mannerisms just to poke fun at Jack. White rotated through material from most of his different bands, and moved between his set of guitars, piano and even a drum set like each was the most natural place to be. Truly however, it was hearing stompers like "Hardest Button To Button" and the mantra-like blues of "Ball and Biscuit" that left fans with smiles by the end of the show.

3. Foo Fighters w/Greta Van Fleet – RBC Bluesfest

Though it's rare that openers can feel wholly like a proper appetizer to their headlining act, Greta Van Fleet really set the stage of a rock show. Between Led Zeppelin-like vocals and a colossal energy, the band of brothers delivered a set from another era. As Dave Grohl took the stage with Foo Fighters however, there was this uptick in the crowd's spirits was so noticeable you could hear voices cracking as early in the set as "Breakout." Even the Concrete and Gold tracks felt like welcome breaks in the high-energy, three hour set, and the additional backing vocals from Grohl's own daughter were delightfully wholesome. It's also worth noting the humour Grohl delivered on the mic and from side stage, as keen eyes could even see him sarcastically waving his arms and scoffing during Taylor Hawkins' drum solo. Whether you were rocking out to "Everlong" or the tenacity of "Everlong," Foo Fighters never let up on their dynamic energy.

2. Courtney Barnett – RBC Bluesfest

As much as I expected to have a great time seeing Courtney Barnett live, I had no idea how visceral her performing could be. Her lyrically potent music had an invigorating momentum to it, seeing die-hards shouting louder and more consistently than most shows I saw this year, and that energy worked its way to other fans and Barnett's band alike. Rather than sucking the energy out of her set for a sad track like "Need A Little Time," Barnett leaned into the emotion with all of her might to make you really feel it. At the show's most brutal moments, a track like "Pedestrian At Best" or "Elevator Operator" would have everyone bouncing in a frenzy much more extreme than you'd imagine listening to Barnett's records. Between its own dynamic explosiveness and fans' own tension from knowing all its drops, "Small Poppies" was the set highlight, as it slow-burned its frustrated drops until the crowd was practically begging for them. With the lighting on point to enhance the show, this set blew me away and then some.

1. David Byrne – CityFolk

Where do I even start with this show. As David Byrne took the stage lifting a brain while surrounded by chains, theatricality was clearly a focus of his show. Byrne's band emerged with completely wireless instruments, turning their massive size into a visual highlight whether it was their individual dances or the shapes they created as a unit. With a very organic and upbeat approach to songs from across his discography, I found myself singing and dancing to "Lazy" and even his Fatboy Slim musical track, despite having never heard them before. Talking Heads tracks like "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)" were called out as much from the band as they were the crowd, as the larger than usual CityFolk audience were visibly having the time of their lives across all ages. Byrne even highlighted how well his band's could work as he built "Born Under Punches" piece by piece until chants of "The Heat Goes On" were practically deafening. This was one of the few shows I saw all year that had such a great mix of songs, approach and a feeling of engagement that the constant sense of elation was a constant natural high. Byrne's finale was definitely a gamble, as he Janelle Monae's "Hell You Talmbout" to call attention to ongoing police violence. The risk paid off as the song not only fit his band perfectly but won over the crowd for a show I had no idea would be so over-the-top.