My 2018 in live music

2018 was, as they tend to be now, a … difficult year. Fortunately, I live in a city where we want for little when it comes to top-quality live music options. And since going to a show is one of the ways I like to forget about my (and the world’s) troubles, you better believe I saw a few.

Though the year is technically not over, and I do have tickets to one more show—Lee Fields & the Expressions at The Chapel, which is a New Year’s Eve show that will not end until 2019, and so I will include it in next year’s wrap-up—I nevertheless present you with a list of all the shows I saw in 2018, in descending order of awesomeness.

All venues are in either San Francisco or Berkeley unless otherwise indicated:

  1. X and Los Lobos (The Fillmore)
  2. Fleet Foxes (The Greek)
  3. Calexico (Great American Music Hall)
  4. Southern Culture on the Skids (Slim’s)
  5. Mipso (Freight & Salvage)
  6. Bombino (The Independent)
  7. Elvis Costello (The Masonic)
  8. George Clinton & P-Funk (The Independent)
  9. Yukon Blonde (Hotel Utah Saloon)
  10. Mipso (Lincoln Theatre, Raleigh NC)
  11. The Pretenders (The Masonic)
  12. Rodriguez (The Warfield)
  13. Robyn Hitchcock (Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival)
  14. Toots & the Maytalls (The Fillmore)

With the exception of the very last entry, this list wasn’t easy to put together. That’s because that Toots & the Maytalls show was the only actively bad show I saw all year. The gap between, say, #12 / #13 and #14 is pretty wide, because Rodriguez put on a very low-key but still highly engaging performance. In a different year, he would have ranked much higher. But unfortunately for him (and the Pretenders, for that matter), I caught a lot of great live music in 2018.

By contrast, the selection of best show of the year wasn’t nearly as easy. It was always between X / Los Lobos and Fleet Foxes, but the fact that X has long been one of my favorite bands AND they brought Los Lobos—a hugely fun band that is still more than capable of headlining on their own—along with them are the two factors that tipped the scales.

Still, that Fleet Foxes show was pretty incredible. Here is a short video clip I shot; my old iPhone SE had a shitty low-light camera so the image is terrible, but the sound is what’s important here anyway:

There is something about the simplicity and haunting honesty of their performance that just hit me square in the heart.

Seven of the bands on this list are acts I had seen before; in fact, it was my third time seeing both Elvis Costello and George Clinton & P-Funk, and my fourth seeing Robyn Hitchcock. Elvis was as solid as he always is, and he did a full three-hour set with no opening act; considering how he almost died (apparently) earlier in the year, that’s pretty impressive. George gets points for his outrageous stage show and for the fact that his classic cuts are still so strong, but his set itself wasn’t as tight as I would have preferred. Still, it was a much better performance than when I saw him at Stern Grove a couple years ago, in an outdoor amphitheater at two o’clock on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

I doubt I will be able to top this list next year, but you never know. The 2019 slate starts, as I mentioned above, with Lee Fields & the Expressions, and will also likely include Richard Thompson and Judas Priest (though not on the same night).

What standout shows—good or bad— did you see in 2018? Tell me about them in the comments!

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