The Top 11 Things of 2018: A Bumper Crop

The flesh is weak but the spirit is strong. 2018 was another tough health year (though I did manage to get a diagnosis of my “complex chronic disease” after a dozen years of trying), with one surgery and 78 different health-related appointments. As a result, this site and I lay more dormant than I would have liked. So forgive me for squeaking this in right under the wire of the year!  Still, she persisted. And despite all that, 2018 had some incredible moments. Herewith, and because, like in Spinal Tap, my lists go right to 11, here’s the best bits of the last year:

11. It was a GREAT year for releases. After a couple of dog years, 2018 was a corker. Herewith a list of some of my favourite albums from the past 364 days.

From the very quietest, to the very loudest, it was truly bumper crop. Here’s hoping 2019 brings a batch as good.

10. Two killer UMO shows in Boston and Vancouver. Seeing my friends Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s star rise has been so godsdamned gratifying. And the band’s latest album, Sex & Food, is a stonking good listen. Read my summary of the two shows I took in, here.

9. Gomez’ 25th Anniversary “Bring It On” show. I can hardly believe it’s been two-and-a-half decades since everyone’s other favourite Liverpool band released their Mercury-Music-Prize-winning debut. I was there in the beginning and at nearly every show in Toronto, London, England and Vancouver since. But when the band stopped playing live about 7 or 8 years ago, us ‘mez fans despaired. So how wonderful to have them back FIIIINALLY to hear that classic album run through from start to finish, and see my old friends in such fine form. My ears were happy. And it was great to goof around backstage with the lads, too.

Tom Gray of Gomez and Mikala/photo
Tom Gray of Gomez and Mikala

8. The Alarm. One of the oddest and most wonderful shows I saw this year was when Mike Peters, frontman of ’80s Welsh rockers The Alarm, brought his band into town on October 30th. I’d been a hyoooj fan of The Alarm’s kinda-cheesy, uplifting anthems in my teens and last saw Mike at SXSW in 2014.  The two-time cancer fighter raged his way through an entire-career-spanning set at Vancouver’s Rickshaw Theatre, belting out hits with a smile on his face for nearly every song. The tiny but devoted crowd seemed to feed him, and he had a joyous energy on stage that I’ve rarely seen. Here was a person who truly believes that music is life…and he made us believe that, too.

Mike Peters, the Alarm/photo
Mike Peters, The Alarm

7. Nils Frahm. Sometimes, the quietest shows are the most intense. And this one was a doozy. I wrote about Nils Frahm’s intention here.

6. Taking A Train With Penelope. In a weird BSR-meets-Dayjob crossover, I had the incredible opportunity to spend a few days with a BBC film crew and the legendary punk-rock documentarian and filmmaker (Wayne’s World among them), Penelope Spheeris, onboard the luxury train I work for, Rocky Mountaineer. Penelope is one of the most authentic, warm and remarkable women I have ever met and she regaled me with stories about her time filming the Decline of Western Civilization series. And while they’re not rock in any way shape or form, here are the two very beautiful travel pieces we made together: featuring Penelope on the train and in Banff, Alberta.

5. The Twilight Sad play their own show. It’s been a crazy year for one of my favourite bands, who spent most of the past two years on tour with The Cure, and mourning the loss of their friend, Frightened Rabbits’ Scott Hutchison. But 2019 has them poised to work through it all with the release of their new album It Won/t Be Like This All the Time, due out January 18th. CAN. NOT. WAIT. Their October 20 show at the Fox Cabaret was a typically emotional, remarkable and collective catharsis. Was like a church for goths.

4. Finally getting to the Roskilde. For a half-Dane who’s been to Copenhagen 30+ times in her life, it’s amazing that it’s taken me this long to attend this massive, non-profit music festival. We fixed that in 2018, and trudged around in the dust to take in Nick Cave, Stefflon Don, Young Fathers and others. I’m still tired and dusty just thinking about it. Here are the Top 11 Things I Learned at the Roskilde Festival.

3. Bristol’s IDLES and London’s SHAME. I am super here for male vulnerability, feminist, anti-homophobic, pro-refugee British punk music. OH MY GODS, I AM SO HERE FOR IT. I can’t tell you how inspiring I found IDLES’ album (even its title) Joy As An Act of Resistance. And how impressed I was by the grown-up, post-punk sounds of the very-young  SHAME. Both toured North America incessantly in 2018 and thankfully started to make dents. While IDLES show in Vancouver was sold out, Shame’s was woefully underattended, proving there’s still work to do. But they played a small space like an arena, and that’s the mark of an awesome act and I pray they return, quicksharp. If you like smart, loud, insane music, and charismatic, bonkers live shows, GO SEE THEM. Mad, wonderful forces to be reckoned with, the both of them.

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Taking a wander off-stage @shame – #twitter

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2. Young Fathers finally break wide open. I’ve been talking about them for years. Here in 2015. And here in 2016. But 2018 was the year that Young Fathers took a seat within the collective consciousness. Hailed on all the discerning top album lists of this year, their album Cocoa Sugar (my favourite of 2018) brought a more cohesive (but no less unique) sound and with it came more followers. Seeing them live in Copenhagen at Roskilde in July and in Seattle in November had me beaming wide with pride at their trajectory. See? I told you so. Dishing out non-stop, visceral energy, Young Fathers are the most tremendous live act on the planet. No joke.

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I just kept yelling FUUUUUHHHHHCK through this whole gig, it was that good. Always is. Fourth time in three countries now. The best. @young_fathers #twitter

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1. A Conversation With Nick Cave in Boston. In 2018, Nick Cave decided he wanted to have a dialogue with his fans. And so, over the course of just a handful of shows on the East Coast in April and May, he did. He stood on stage in front of reverent audiences, and we stood up and asked him questions. And he answered them. Thoughtfully. Respectfully. With humour. And pain. And as if attending that unique experience wasn’t enough, I also got to meet the man afterwards. Here’s what I had to say on the night:

“I got to hear Nick Cave talk about the death of his son, grief, his wife, his creative process, why he has been thinking about community, his childhood (“I was a little prick”), about growing older, the crushing anxiety he feels before shows (and the poignant moment when a girl with acute anxiety asked him about it) and so much more. He did it with so much honesty and empathy and thoughtfulness. He played about a dozen songs on the piano too, including Ship Song, Henry Lee, Stranger than Kindness, Weeping Song (one of my huge faves) and the Mercy Seat, ahh!

And in front of an entire theatre I, from the third row, got to ask Nick Cave a question about the value he holds dear, kindness, and what he thinks we should all be doing to nurture it. He responded saying that he had been thinking about how things should become smaller, and closer, and how we should all be trying harder to foster the things that do that. I got to tell him that I had come all the way from Vancouver, and to thank him for doing this. And then I got to thank him in person. “Oh you’re that one, are you?” (The Vancouver one.) And you can tell by the look on my face here how I felt about the whole experience. A wonderful, magical night. I can’t thank you enough for this, Boston. Oh my word.”

Oh my word, indeed. If you’re not signed up to Nick Cave’s email list, the “Red Hand Files”, in which Cave answers his fans’ questions like he did in Boston, do so NOW. It contains some of the most beautiful writing I have read all year.

Nick Cave and Mikala Folb/photo
Nick Cave and Mikala in Boston

Thank you, 2018. Roll on the next. And wishing you all the best and brightest lights and love for the year ahead. What were your favourite moments of the year? \m/

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