Editor’s Note: This year, we asked our bloggers to name their Top 10 shows of 2018 or choose their Top 10 photos of the year. We will run them over the course of mid-December as our Best of the Year posts.
Hi, I’m Mickey, editor of Parklife DC. I’m an MTV-bred New Wave and Post-Punk kid at heart, and it will come as no surprise to you that my Top 10 concerts of 2018 mostly burst right off your television screens in 1985.
David Byrne and company blew my mind when I saw their show at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Dressed in matching suits, dancers and musicians slowly joined David after the first number, and the concept for the show became clear — 12 mobile musicians creating music in a line that sometimes zigged and sometimes zagged, occasionally moving in unison and occasionally acting independently but as gears in a greater machine. David provided long-time admirers satisfaction by weaving a selection of songs by the Talking Heads into his incredible performance.
Led by frontman Andy McCluskey, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark is very simply one of the most ingenious bands ever to play a stage, and their unique blend of new wave theatrics with intellectual lyrics and sophisticated instrumentation produce a potent elixir that proves irresistible.
Over the course of the show, there were pleasant surprises, most notably “Of All the Things We’ve Made” from the triumphant Dazzle Ships, the 1983 album now viewed as a shining jewel in the OMD musical catalog. For the song, synthesist Paul Humphreys, keyboardist Martin Cooper, and drummer Stuart Kershaw joined Andy at the lip of the stage as the quartet arrayed themselves in the manner of their heroes Kraftwerk. Such an arrangement makes OMD fans positively giddy, and we remained high on haute electronica while OMD rolled into the next number.
If you’re a member of Gen X, young enough to spend your lovelorn formative years in the tail end of the ‘80s, then New Order was a band designed for you. On stage at The Anthem, Bernard Sumner was the perfect guide through his band’s glittering yet austere audio landscape. At 62, he cut a distinguished figure, but throughout him shown the boyish savant who composed “Blue Monday” with his bandmates Stephen Morris, Peter Hook, and Gillian Gilbert a few short years after the suicide of Ian Curtis, who fronted Joy Division with Barney, Stephen, and Hooky. There is something quintessentially British about the music of New Order, and it’s a little bit like we all lived in Manchester ourselves with them for the briefest of times in our youth.
Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill swung by 9:30 Club with a new-look Simple Minds and delivered a career-spanning, stunning, and extremely satisfying show.
From the beginning, Jim beamed brighter than anyone, anywhere in summertime and led his merry pack through a dynamic and fun set of timeless tunes. The gregarious Scot knew he held two golden hours in the cusp of his hands, and there he nurtured them, soothed them, and let them fly as Simple Minds smacked down impossibly good song after song.
The toe-tapping frontman raised his microphone high and hunched his body down low in time with the rhythm, and everyone was shared in Jim’s evident delight to be there, performing and still very much at the top of his game.
There is something remarkable to The Damned beyond their incredibly smooth performance. The band, founded by quirky Captain Sensible and dapper Dave Vanian more than 40 years ago, remain incredible originals, offering enticing earworms that draw upon their foundation as the first English punk band to release a single but also extend that foundation with logical curves into new wave and goth.
Most recently, The Damned sensibly got a little glam, hiring David Bowie and T. Rex producer Tony Visconti to helm Evil Spirits, an 11th studio album that became the first album by The Damned ever to crack the UK Top 10 charts. The Damned visited Black Cat in support of the new album, which provided them with some accessible new songs that nevertheless bore sophisticated and mature messages worthy of Dave’s remarkable voice.
The Kills, consisting of American singer Alison Mosshart and English guitarist Jamie Hince, played for a packed Lincoln Theatre. When not on the mic or strumming her guitar, graceful Alison whirls, tips, and lets her blonde hair fly in all directions. She doesn’t waste time with banter between songs, but dances and approvingly surveys the crowd. All the while Jamie, wielding his guitar like a weapon, unloads a torrent of riffs that anchor each song. The Kills are a guitar band!
The duo performed songs from their catalog of five albums and four EPs, and they didn’t pass up an opportunity to dazzle and stun their audience into submission.
With a sparkle in her eyes and brilliance in her voice, Pat Benatar was all fired up at MGM National Harbor, as she and husband Neil Giraldo rocked through a smashing catalog of thundering anthems and hushed serenades.
Early in the show, Pat and Neil played as an acoustic duo, giving the full house a taste of the more intimate version of their concert performance. During this interlude, they performed “We Belong,” a very favorite song of mine from Pat’s sixth album, the lush Tropico. As a duo, Pat and Neil also played “Disconnected,” a tune that seems to speak to our current times where people don’t seem to understand one another, from 1993’s Gravity’s Rainbow.
Later in the show, the band thumped through the sort of songs that demand singalongs — and sing along the crowd did, to the might of “Love Is a Battlefield” and then to “Heartbreaker.”
With a jaunty set of scrappy songs, Nicole Atkins sassed her way through a thoroughly entertaining evening at The Barns of Wolf Trap, staking a claim to the title “Americana’s sweetheart” if not all of America’s. The irrepressible singer-songwriter paid homage to her “spiritual father” Roy Orbison, and astounded with an a capella cover of “Over the Rainbow” (sung after all in a barn because where else do you pay homage to the Wizard of Oz). Nicole was back with her latest album, Goodnight Rhonda Lee, and she was sounding so damn good.
Thomas Dolby shared tales during warm reflections on his career, collaborations with other artists, and his life as a businessman-inventor in a very well-received show at The Birchmere. Thomas would tell a fascinating story of his life as a young musician supporting the likes of Foreigner or a middle-aged businessman running the Internet startup company Beatnik, accompanied by slides or synthesizer samples, and then he would play a related song.
The songs for the evening were drawn somewhat randomly by the audience. Twice over the course of the evening, Thomas selected a volunteer who drew three or four ping pong balls out of a hat. Those ping pong balls bore names of songs by Thomas Dolby, who dutifully told the tales about the songs and then played them in two sets divided by an intermission. It was a wonderful lecture/performance/concert by a very smart and talented chap.
If you want to make somebody love you, then introduce them to Franz Ferdinand! A sold-out audience fell in love once again at 9:30 Club with a retooled Franz Ferdinand, who exhibited fine chemistry and charisma in their first official appearance in DC.
You see, frontman Alex Kapranos brought around the refashioned quintet from Glasgow, showcasing the talents of new members Julian Corrie on keyboards and Dino Bardot on guitar — replacing founding member Nick McCarthy who bowed out in 2016. Thankfully, the two new members fit the revitalized band like a glove, and Franz Ferdinand struck like five fingers of a hand smoothly swiping obstacles out of your way in the name of a better day at 9:30 Club.
Seeing them perform remained a wholly thrilling experience. And of course, Alex was the stupendously charismatic frontman that makes Franz Ferdinand so watchable at the end of the day.
I saw local musician Ms. Mundy Spears perform for the first time at DC9. She pasted punk cabaret stylings over late ‘70s soul inside a new wave atmosphere — and knocked over a full house. With her sci-fi moxy and winsome voice, she not only echoes her hero David Bowie but also new wave ladies of a certain sound like Lene Lovich, Hazel O’ Connor, and Gina X Performance. She’s formidable indeed, and you should catch her next DC show.