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The best concerts of 2018

December 26, 2018

I attend more concerts in a month than most people do in a year. That’s not a brag. It’s just part of the job. Rodeo season alone includes almost two dozen shows. (And yes, I love it.)

That makes it even tougher to narrow down my favorite live shows of 2018. Every show, in my experience, has something that makes it memorable, from Jack White’s cell-phone ban to Lil Wayne’s hourlong free set after a mad dash for tickets.

So I thought about the shows that stuck with me, the ones that created a fierce bond with the audience, the ones that left us wanting more. Here are ten that filled my year with energy and emotion.

1. Astroworld Festival, Nov. 17 at NRG Park

Travis Scott’s inaugural festival experiment mixed forward-thinking hip-hop with theme park nostalgia. And it worked beautifully. Everything was right here, from the time of year to the carnival rides to the merch. No other recent festival in Houston comes close to the creativity and energy. And they could all learn a lot from Astroworld. Here’s to next year.

2. The Carters, Sept. 15 at NRG Stadium

The first of two shows this year from Beyoncé and Jay-Z was expectedly grand. But it also played like a conversation between husband and wife, a continuation of joint album, “Everything is Love.” Bey got the louder reaction. But Jay held his own. They zipped through solo songs then combined their powers for a series of duets, from “Upgrade U” to “Apesh—.”

3. Harry Styles and Kacey Musgraves, June 7 at Toyota Center

Styles, formerly of One Direction, and Musgraves, a Texas native, turned this show into a Pride celebration. He waved around the Pride (rainbow) and Transgender Pride (pink, blue and white) flags. Her opening set included “Follow Your Arrow,” a 2013 single that’s become an LGBT anthem. Musgraves also wished the crowd “Happy Pride Month,” and declared, “we should be able to be ourselves, even in country music.” It felt like an act of revolution.

4. Garth Brooks, Feb. 27 and March 18 at RodeoHouston

Brooks brought a distinct energy to each of his RodeoHouston shows this year. He teared up during the first one and was joined by wife Trisha Yearwood on closing night. But there was one constant: his firebrand energy. Brooks last played RodeoHouston in 1993 and promised to return for the 100th anniversary.

5. Ed Sheeran, Nov. 3 at Minute Maid Park

Anyone who doubts Sheeran’s appeal need only experience him live. It’s incredible, really, to see him commanding a crowd of more than 40,000 people with no help. It’s just him onstage. No band. No backup dancers. Just a few guitars and a loop station. He also attracts a wide swath of fans, from kids to couples to grandmothers.

6. Kendrick Lamar, May 19 at the Woodlands Pavilion

Lamar was joined by SZA at this tour stop, and both proved why they’re among today’s most vital artists. Even with an abbreviated set, Lamar made a major impact and had the crowd on its feet. And though SZA apologized for being sick, she proved a vibrant, charming performer.

7. Bobby Feeno, Nov. 24 at House of Blues

Former Houston Texans running back Arian Foster debuted his hip-hop alter ego at this show after releasing debut album “Flamingo & Koval” earlier this year. He’s a thoughtful, soulful performer and calls to mind Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. And he has the endorsement of rap legend Scarface, who joined him onstage.

8. Taylor Swift, Sept. 29 at NRG Stadium

Swift’s evolution was complete with this massive tour, which showcased the full extent of her pop powers. But the best moments were smaller, on (relatively) modest stages near the back of the stadium. She was joined by openers Charli XCX and Camila Cabello for “Shake it Off,” strummed an acoustic guitar for a pair of songs and led the crowd through a “Blank Space” singalong.

9. J Balvin, Oct. 4 at Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land

Balvin has repeatedly pushed at the macho tropes that dominate reggaeton and Latin music in general. This show was an exercise in wackiness, from the neon dinosaurs that roamed the aisles to the fashion-forward merch for sale to the giant egg that anchored the stage. He’s a breath of fresh air.

10. Elton John, Dec. 8 at Toyota Center

The icon’s farewell tour is everything it needs to be — an emotional, invigorating journey through pop music. John played the hits for almost three hours, showcased a succession of sequins and dedicated “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” to Houston socialite and philanthropist Lynn Wyatt, who he called “my yellow rose of Texas.”



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