Best Shows Of 2018 (Honorable Mentions)

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Thu Dec 13 2018

I used to lament the fact that my parents never took me to concerts when I was a kid. Not counting the Rock County Fair, I didn’t get rolling until age 15; by then it was too late for a lot of stuff, so it’s only natural that I’ve been trying to make up for it ever since, right?

Truthfully, my parents were too busy trying to make ends meet and, y’know, parenting and such to think much about concerts, and I still managed to catch most of the pivotal artists of my youth while I was still young. You know what’s weird? Almost all of those bands are STILL TOURING. Even the deaths of iconic singers can’t stop the death march of greed. As for the few bands who’ve actually hung it up, why, there’s a TRIBUTE BAND playing all the same theaters and halls that the original bands used to play way back when.

There were always tribute bands when I was a kid, although I only recall hearing about Beatles and Zeppelin tributes, and they were relegated to bars and small clubs. Tribute bands graduating to theaters is disturbing. It indicates just how little value fans put on the authentic live experience. Who needs Jim Morrison when you can just as easily sing along with some guy who kinda sounds like him? I can understand those Pink Floyd laser spectaculars, and obviously Kiss tribute bands are most likely just as good as Kiss, and that band that recreates those Gabriel-era Genesis concerts, if you can stand that music, that makes sense as a worthwhile thing to pay money for.

Other than these, why not get together with your friends, make a playlist, and get sloshed and talk incessantly in the comfort of your own home? Or go all out, rent out a banquet hall and get some costumes and your friends could lip-sync; that would be a way better time than seeing a Rush tribute band, I’m telling you. Maybe if lots of people stopped going to see tribute bands, some young, original bands would have a chance to squeak into the touring market. At this rate, what band from the past 20 years could possibly have a tribute band of its own? They can’t get famous enough. They can’t make a living from album sales, and they can’t break into the concert market because every third-tier alt-rock band from the ’90s is still kicking around, not to mention tribute bands that won’t admit they’re tribute bands like Queen and Alice In Chains and Stone Temple Pilots JUST TAKE YOUR MILLIONS AND GO HOME ALREADY YOU FUCKING HAS-BEENS.

This is me admitting my own culpability, okay? Because if we non-young assholes would quit forking over our dough, these geezers would cut their losses and make way for some relevant artists. The good news for the generations after mine is that there won’t be an option of endlessly recycling nostalgia in your declining years like we and people older than us are doing. The bad news is, society probably won’t outlast the existing tribute bands. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, generation x has utterly failed to make any impact on the world. We care, but we really don’t know what to do about it. We’ve known since we were kids that climate change is real and we’ve done nothing. We’ve watched as our government has revealed itself to be a sickening cycle of capitalist self-preservation and we’ve done nothing. At this very moment, we’re entering a dark world that knowledge of history and science fiction were supposed to prevent, and our eyes are wide open. We’re witnessing unconcealed corruption at every level of government, and we’re too busy trying to budget for healthcare to riot.

We still make it out for some live music whenever we can, though! For a lot of reasons, I went to fewer shows this year than in recent years, but still way more than the average human. And since I haven’t posted a single show review on this blog all year, the usual countdown is gonna be spread out over ten individual posts, some of which got way longer than I expected. Below I’m going to mention a few that didn’t quite make the top ten but were still wonderful performances (by people even older than myself). I’m only human, kids.

(Links in titles are to original reviews, where applicable.)

Thom Yorke | Riverside | 12/5

I’m 100% in the cult of Yorke. This sometimes involves bitching about his main band’s disdain for properly touring the U.S., a very spoiled and privileged outlook on my part, and completely hypocritical to boot. Such is the nature of fandom in the age of the impervious power of the ticket brokers. The bottom line, still, is that if you play enough shows to satisfy demand, you put those fuckers out of business, and Radiohead refuses to come close to satisfying demand. Compound this with the fact that I was forced to eat tickets I had bought to actually see what would’ve been my first Radiohead show since 2012 this past summer, and perhaps you can understand how this particular appearance by Thom without a band didn’t quite make my top-ten list, but still, shit, it was Thom, doing his thing, IN MILWAUKEE, gracing us with all kinds of new material in the beloved confines of the Riverside, and it was wonderful. And based on the number of attendees who left early, Milwaukee will probably never see him again.

Yes | Ravinia | 9/7

Steve Howe would insist that I refer to this band as “Yes Featuring Anderson, Rabin & Wakeman”; I would argue that his version of Yes is even lamer than the one I saw because he’s touring with a tribute-band singer AND THE REAL GUY IS STILL ALIVE. Ravinia is freakin’ weird; it has a lawn with no view of the stage whatsoever, not even video screens, and you can bring your own booze and food and chairs and whatnot and pretend it’s not even a concert, thus it is perfect for middle-aged poseurs who want to half-pay attention and not feel bad about bothering the people who paid actual money to sit in the seats, and actually you can find spots where the sound is terrific. It was a beautiful amazing wonderful extraordinary beautiful night for reasons I won’t even touch on here, but also the best performance by this version of Yes I’ve “seen” yet, even though Jon biffed some of the lyrics in “Awaken” which was unprecedented. Rabin took plenty of liberties when he had the chance to solo, and Wakeman, who was pretty sloppy the previous couple times I’d seen him, was kinda killin’ it. I daresay they’ve got some life in ‘em yet. Please play Big Generator in its entirety next time though.

Liz Phair | Turner Hall | 10/12

I’m pretty sure Liz Phair is the only rock-star crush I ever had. It’s gratifying to think that she also kinda opened my mind up to new possibilities in music. Yeah I was into punk rock and “alternative” already, but Exile In Guyville was altogether different, weirder, not very marketable even in that early-’90s context, and boldly feminist, just in time for me to avoid adopting the pervading rural-Wisconsin belief that that term just meant “man-hater”. It’s also gratifying that she can still make a living in 2018 after the critical pummeling she took when she went pop, and that people will pack into Turner Hall after all this time to see her even though all she’s put out in the last 13 years is a single internet-only album that was little more than an I’m-still-here stunt, and that she’s redesigned so many of her old songs into fresh new jams, and that when you’re at her show by yourself rocking out and singing every lyric, some random stranger might find you in the crowd and then there are two of you rocking out and singing every lyric together. I was reeeeeally hoping for some Girly Sound tunes so that was a mild disappointment, but otherwise this show was awesome and I even forgot about the Brewers for a little while during it.

Jeff Tweedy | Pabst | 9/19

No Radiohead this year and no Wilco either; the main dudes from each would have to tide me over, and they both did so by playing a bunch of brand new songs I’d never heard before. I must say Jeff’s were much more memorable than Thom’s. The other thing about Jeff is that his banter is always a highlight of any show he plays, and since this was just him and his guitar, there was a lot of banter to make up for the lack of blistering Nels Cline guitar solos. He didn’t really play any of the Wilco deep cuts that I crave, but so many of his words have found their way into my heart over the years, I’ll take pretty much any chance I can get to hear him sing ‘em.

Third Eye Blind | Summerfest | 6/30

I’m serious! I totally thought I hated this band. I really couldn’t remember what their hits were; those pop-alt New Rock 102.1 nuggets all run together two decades later. I had no intention of seeing them; I had to review a different show for the Journal Sentinel anyway. But then I got roped away into checking this show out because, well, sometimes journalism is weird. And it turned out that the singer for Third Eye Blind, Stephan Jenkins, is a really entertaining son of a bitch, or at least he was on this night, an oddball one-off show between tours at which, as Jenkins put it, “We can do whatever the fuck we want!” And some of those hits they had were really not so bad, and they had quite a few that I knew! I was figuring one or two at most. I definitely hated “Semi-Charmed Life” back when it was on the radio; I distinctly recall singing it mockingly with my punk rock friends but I guess absence has made the heart grow less hateful or something. The band seemed very loose but well-rehearsed, rolling with whatever tangents Jenkins took them on, and the crowd was way into it. Who knew—they’re actually a pretty damn good band. We will never speak of this again.

Metallica | Fiserv Forum | 10/16

This show absolutely sucked; I just need to set the record straight. If you have ever seen Metallica before and are thinking you might want to give it one more shot, please don’t. Don’t encourage this nonsense to continue. Let your memory of what Metallica once was remain intact as it is, I implore you. If you’ve never seen them…maybe wait a little while. See if Lars maybe goes back to drumming school or something. Demand proof before buying a ticket. Because when they say he’s not as good as he once was, that does not begin to prepare you for how truly awful he is. Also, ask yourself: Are you prepared for the entire crowd to go “duh duh duh DUH, duh duh duh DUUUH” like Beavis and Butt-Head throughout “For Whom The Bell Tolls”? I’ve been surrounded by Phish crowds yelling “HEY” and “HOOD” and (God help us all) “WOO” for decades but I was not prepared for this. Yet amidst the mind-blowing lameness of nearly everything about this concert, I realized I was a damn fool for thinking it would be okay if I went my whole life without seeing Metallica live. Some of their songs are so deeply embedded in me that I was practically in tears, because I hadn’t listened to them in so long, because Lazer 103 completely ruined every one of them for me back in the ’90s, but after a nice long break…holy shit do they have a lot of great old songs. And y’know what, I’m probably good for another decade at least, but dang, it felt good banging the ol’ noggin to all those pre-Load tunes, and the FF absolutely blows away the Bradley Center in every respect. And if they come back around, and my wife realizes she also can’t go to her grave without seeing Metallica…well, shit.

Cal Roach

Cal Roach is a word whore currently being pimped sporadically by Milwaukee Record and the Journal Sentinel, and giving it away for nothing right here at He also co-hosts the Local/Live program on 91.7 WMSE FM every Tuesday at 6 p.m. and spouts nonsense on twitter as @roachcraft.

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