In the ever-fluid world of Atlanta concert venues, 2018 unfurled another round of changes.
The Buckhead Theatre was updated with hardwood floors and expanded bars.
State Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain Park opened its season a couple of months later than usual to accommodate a noticeable overhaul that includes a spacious plaza area and significantly upgraded concessions – and also received a new name.
The Tabernacle celebrated its 20th birthday in April; and in October, the much-publicized $200 million transformation of now-State Farm Arena (it started the year as Philips Arena) was unveiled with Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def 25th anniversary show.
Through 12 months of (usually) attending a few concerts a week, a handful of favorites have emerged.
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Here is my much-contemplated list. Surely you will have your own opinions — and feel free to share them with me at email@example.com or in the comments section below.
10. Harry Styles, June 11 at Infinite Energy Arena: Both charming and impish, the breakout star of One Direction demonstrated legit rock credentials during his arena tour. Sure, he’s handsome and magnetic, but more importantly, Styles is a lovely singer with a penchant for meaty songs that recall the best of Bowie and Queen.
9. Butch Walker, Sept. 16 at Music Midtown: While festival settings are never ideal, Rome native Walker nonetheless turned a smaller stage at the back of Piedmont Park into his own sweaty, grimy club for a set of his intoxicating blend of stomp-rock, ‘80s-era melodies, ’60s-styled choruses and finger-bleeding guitar shredding.
8. The Revolution, Feb. 24 at the Tabernacle: Prince might be gone, but for a couple of hours, his spirit swelled. Recent Atlanta transplant Mark “Brownmark” Brown, Wendy Melvoin, Lisa Coleman, “Dr.” Matt Fink and Bobby Z. – the core of Prince’s famed Revolution band - shepherded fans through zigzagging emotions and a setlist that tapped “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Baby I’m a Star” and a haunting “Sometimes it Snows in April” – marred only by obnoxiously loud crowd members.
7. Paul Simon, Sept. 12 at Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood: The parade of veterans signing off is ever-growing – Elton John, Bob Seger, Kiss, Lynyrd Skynyrd, George Clinton – and while some are given the side-eye of skepticism, Simon’s commitment to saying goodbye to road warrior life seems genuine. At his final Atlanta performance, he epitomized grace and joy as he skipped through his remarkable catalog.
6. Janelle Monae, Aug. 4 at the Tabernacle: Finally, the Atlanta transplant is receiving long-due respect for her music (her sinewy “Dirty Computer” earned an album of the year nod for the 2019 Grammys). But she’s still best consumed live, when this funk-soul princess and open-hearted social justice warrior can roam the stage with unfettered glee.
5. The Struts, April 28 at Georgia State Stadium (opening for Foo Fighters): Any rock fan lamenting the lack of, you know, fun in music lately need only turn their lonely eyes to this British quartet. By masterfully blending elements of Queen, the Darkness and the Sweet with their own cheeky rock sensibilities - and with vibrant frontman Luke Spiller leading the way - the band blitzed through 40 minutes of stadium swagger.
4. David Byrne, Oct. 2 at Fox Theatre: At 66, the Talking Heads icon created a show that was exhilarating in its creativity. For the duration of the concert, Byrne, six percussionists, a bassist, guitarist and keyboard player moved in rhythm around a stage devoid of any accoutrements. Art rock at its finest.
3. Pink, April 21 at State Farm Arena: No doubt, Pink does more impressive things upside down than most of her upright peers. Seriously skilled as an aerialist – this is no gimmick, it’s dedication – AND a powerhouse wailer as well? Few live performers can navigate Broadway-level set pieces while maintaining an emotional grip on an audience and keeping the music center stage. Pink is an anomaly in all the best ways.
2. Taylor Swift, Aug. 10 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium: A female solo artist who can command a stadiums-only tour is a unicorn – and to do it this well is testament to Swift’s own blonde(ish) ambition. With packs of dancers (with whom she ably kept pace), towering inflatable snakes, red-hued pyro and a set list of exuberant pop songs, her “Reputation” outing felt like the accomplishment of an overachieving student council president who also happens to be the class clown.
1. U2, May 28 at Infinite Energy Arena: When the Irish quartet announced its first Atlanta date in nearly a decade, there were many moans of, “Why are they playing there?” To which I always responded, “You’re insane if you have an issue with this.” That the cozy arena in Duluth became U2’s performance home because of the renovations to its larger downtown Atlanta peer (State Farm Arena) was a gift to every fan. Bono is the type of frontman who makes you feel things even in a cavernous stadium, but in this airtight sanctuary, his from-the-gut hollers, tender storytelling and expected political nudges offered an unyielding grip. The potency of the sounds emanating from the Edge, Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton only intensified a night of musical devotion. Oh, yes, there was also a stunning, 100-foot-long catwalk/video screen that bisected the venue. But, cool as it was, who needs arresting visuals when Bono is in charge?
Other shows that left an impression: Elton John at State Farm Arena Nov. 30; Sugarland at James Brown Arena (Augusta) May 25; Big Boi at One Musicfest Sept. 10; Sting and Shaggy at the Tabernacle Sept. 17; Bon Jovi at State Farm Arena April 20; Steely Dan at Verizon Amphitheatre May 19; Bob Seger at Infinite Energy Arena Dec. 22.