The way we consume music has been evolving for decades, but the importance of live performances has remained consistent. As vinyl gave way to cassettes, CDs, MP3s, and now streaming, people’s desire to see their favorite artists in person has not diminished, and the connection that can be made by looking a musician in the eyes still holds as much power for children as it does for seasoned adults. With that in mind, it’s pretty amazing that concerts have so many new things to offer attendees, how just when you thought you’d seen everything, someone like Travis Scott will fly around on a giant bird.
This year’s most memorable, affecting, and transformative live performances came at giant festivals and tiny shows, from pop stars big enough to star in movies to musicians most people have never heard of. The common thread is the care that the artists all take in their craft, and how the spirit of seeing live music with like-minded fans can be all-consuming.
If 2018 is thought of in one musical moment, it has to be Beyonce’s colossal headlining performance at Coachella. It hasn’t even been a year and it already feels like the stuff of mythology, with the storyline of how it came into being only adding to the mystique. Of course, she was supposed to be the 2017 headliner, riding high on the release of Lemonade, but her pregnancy meant postponing it for a year. For most artists, this would mean a loss of relevance, but Beyonce is always relevant, and the year to prepare only intensified the rabid nature of how the set was consumed.
We can talk about the grandeur of the set, with nearly 100 backing dancers, fireworks, costume changes, special guests, and more hits than most sets could dream of. We can talk about the fact that the set had its own fashion, how fans staked out their spots hours in advance and held onto them for dear life. We can talk about how Beyonce took her moment and made a statement about Black greatness, not dimming her own light for a second while the whole world tuned in via livestream. But like she has at awards shows, Super Bowls, and virtually any other place that she has the opportunity, Beyonce seized her chance to do something that has never been done before. No other artist in the world is as fearless in the biggest moments, and Beyonce went and changed how festival headliners will be viewed forever.–Philip Cosores
David Byrne isn’t what most people would categorize as a traditional thinker. His solo career and work with the Talking Heads has been defined by pushing boundaries. I would say that’s what he did with his American Utopia tour, but if you took a quick glance at the stage, you’d quickly notice there isn’t anything to push.
For the shows in support of his 2018 album of the same name, Byrne adopted a minimal and fascinating approach. He equipped his backing musicians with instruments strapped to them like they were in a high school marching band. This allowed them to take advantage of the space and freedom that setup provided, delivering a level of clever choreography and free-flowing energy you don’t really see with instrument-playing bands.
The result was wonderful. I saw the show at Portland, Maine’s Merrill Auditorium, and the audience was beyond into it. It was the loudest and most excited room I’ve been in all year. Aside from amazing stage design (or lack thereof), Byrne is still a charismatic and alluring performer at 66 years old, and still capable of whipping a crowd into a frenzy. As he walked his bare feet all around the stage, it was clear that he hasn’t lost a step. It was a unique show in 2018, and it felt like a performance that only a talented, seasoned innovator like Byrne could have delivered.–Derrick Rossignol