Every year, Denver is host to a variety of incredible shows at venues big and small all across the city—and 2018 was no exception. This year the 303 Magazine staff attended nearly 200 shows and our music writers have determined our top 16 shows of 2018.

MØ @ Ogden Theatre on February 6

Photo by Alden Bonecutter

MØ’s first visit to Denver was long overdue. The Danish up-and-comer has quickly risen to fame with her unique voice, striking individuality and the help of collaborator Diplo — and this sold-out show at the Ogden Theatre was a celebration of that. The musician even sprinted up the stairs of the venue at one point running into the VIP area and then back through the second-tier crowd. She showed her fans enough love to prove that she supports us just as much as we support her giving every ticket-buyer that night an unforgettable performance.  – Tyler Harvey

Check out our full review here.

Black Star @ Ogden Theatre on February 10

Photo by Alden Bonecutter

It is hard to put into words what the Black Star album has meant to hip-hop over the last 20 years. The group consists of hip hop heavy-weights Mos Def and Talib Kewli and although they have come together for various projects over the years, they have only ever put out one official album as Black Star. They brought the album to Denver twice this year, once in February and again in July as an opening act for Nas. The February show was one of the best of the year because it showcased the cult following that this one album has accrued over the years. Seeing such a legendary track list live is something every music fan loves to check off their bucket list, and these two icons lived up to the hype. – Denby Gardiner

Check out our full review here

Mura Masa @ Ogden Theatre on March 1

Photo by Kenneth Coles

Photo by Kenneth Coles

Mura Masa’s show propelled the musician to the top of my list of favorite artist’s right now, period. Deconstructing his sound — surrounded by instruments — Mura Masa proved he’s so much more than today’s standard for live dance or electronic music. Bringing along two talented and energetic guests to cover the vocals on his tracks — including Bonzai from “Nuggets” — it was an entertaining feat. Though impressive as hell, it was modest with limited lighting, rare words spoken from the musician and Mura Masa, himself, positioned at the back of the stage in the shadows. Yet it was continuously hard to take your eyes off of him as he tackled one instrument after the other with ease. – Tyler Harvey

Check out our full review here

ATOMGA @ The Bluebird on March 15

Photo by Kenneth Coles

ATOMGA is Denver’s star player in music, the collective of instruments crammed on the stage always gives its local audience everything they were looking for and more. This March, ATOMGA delivered more than just their usual performance. They put their most recent project, AGA, on a live platform for the first time. The 10-piece group made it impossible to stand still at the Bluebird and sweat was profusely pouring on the patrons. No other local show played as big of a venue so well and so energetically this year, which is why ATOMGA should be on everyone’s must-see list of 2019 and beyond. – Denby Gardiner

Check out our full review here

Opiuo @ Red Rocks on April 21

Opiuo

Opiuo at Red Rocks in 2017. Photo by Miles Chrisinger

Opiuo has a special place in his heart for Colorado. Sure, any artist could say that about the state they are currently touring in, but on April 21, Opiuo proved it. For one night only, Opiuo brought a 20-piece orchestra to Red Rocks and gave his fans the show of a lifetime. Dubbed the Syzygy Orchestra, Opiuo created an entirely new experience by morphing some of his original electronic favorites with string instruments played by masters of the craft. Opiuo orchestrated one of the most impressive feats of his career. The execution was flawless — the strings melted into the upbeat bass rhythm Opiuo is known for, while the danceable beats kept metronome to our dance moves and the ensemble. The orchestra added excitement and breathtaking beauty to the songs we already knew and love. – Ellie Herring

Check out our other favorite Red Rocks shows here

The Other Black’s Colorado Superjam @ 303 Music Fest at The Church on May 17

Stephen Brackett performing at the 303 Music Fest Other Black Colorado SuperJam. Photo by Seth McConnell

If you missed The Other Black’s “SuperJam” performance at the inaugural 303 Music Fest, you may have missed out on the party of the year. Wes Watkins, the ringleader of sorts for the band, roped in a dozen or so local musicians, arranged a number of songs in the Other Black’s style, and collectively brought the house down. There were surprise guests like the Flobots, Air Dubai and iZCALLi, an unbelievable cover of Nathaniel Rateliff’s “S.O.B” and so many musicians performing in unison that the stage could hardly support it all. For the Denver music scene, it was a precious moment of collaboration that the city hardly experiences, and one whose impact won’t soon be forgotten. – Kori Hazel

Read our full review of 303 Music Fest here.

David Phipps @ Ophelia’s on May 18

Photo by Ryan Lewis

STS9 is near and dear to the Colorado community because of their years of consistently bringing the heat to Red Rocks in the summer and to the Fillmore in the winter. Their allegiance with Conscious Alliance, a Boulder non-profit that aims to assist in providing food for the less fortunate, further connects them with our local aspirations. David Phipps, the band’s keyboardist, assisted Conscious Alliance earlier this year by performing two sold-out sets at Ophelia’s to help raise money and awareness for the organization. For STS9 fans everywhere this experience was a trophy performance to be cherished for years to come. The once-in-a-lifetime concert was special to our music scene and is sure to top the year’s list for everyone in its audience’s 2018 show list. – Denby Gardiner

Bassnectar @ 1STBANK Center June 1, 2 and 3

Bassnectar filled the 1stBank Center. Photo By Sina Ghozati.

It’s no secret that the bay area based producer and DJ — Lorin Ashton aka Bassnectar — has a thing for Colorado. Whether it’s a several night run at Red Rocks (noise ordinances have made this a thing of the past but it was fun while it lasted), Dick’s Sporting Goods Park or his long-held appearances at Decadence, Ashton has made a point to venture back to the Mile High City year after year. The renowned producer returned to the First Bank Center in June for the second summer in a row to grace us with three nights of face-melting bass music dubbed “The Freestyle Sessions: Summer Gathering.” Each night’s music was curated with a specific theme in mind — “Freestyle,” “Dreamtempo,” and “Wildstyle.” The Freestyle Sessions have proved to be geared towards unreleased tracks and throwbacks rather than a showcase of tried and true favorites — and we’re okay with that. While fans were thrilled to hear popular tracks such as “Wildstyle Method,” the crowd was equally enthused about throwbacks like Bassnectar’s 2007 track “Underground Communication.” Night three was also lucky enough to hear the previously unreleased collaboration with Boulder-based producer, Jansten, called “Heavyweight Sound” which was met with fervent head-banging from the massive audience. Whether his style of heavy bass music is your preferred listening or not, I highly recommend that everyone see at least one Bassnectar show in their lifetime. If not for the music, for the production value alone. His lighting is second to none and the energy he creates is something akin to the supernatural. While next summer’s show has yet to be announced — Colorado bass heads patiently (impatiently) await the return of the Freestyle Sessions for another three-night extravaganza of dirty drops, awe-inspiring light shows and good vibes. – Chloe Dore

Lettuce w/ The Colorado Symphony @ Boettcher Concert Hall on June 8

Lettuce - Photog- Will Sheehan-25

Photo by Will Sheehan

No band likes to shake things up quite like Lettuce. It is hard sometimes to remember the band is not from Colorado, considering all the treats they love to throw our way. Most recently, the treat came in the form of playing a full set with Colorado’s beloved Symphony. Led by Christopher Dragon, the Symphony learned a slew of Lettuce tracks and then lit the Boettcher Hall up for a night every member of the audience is sure to remember forever. The two talented entities proved that no matter your background and musical preference, good music is simply good music. Lettuce allowed their fans to see something incredibly unique and special, and it was easily one of the best live performances in Denver this year. – Denby Gardiner

Check out our full review here.

Janelle Monáe @ The Paramount on July 1

Janelle Monáe

Photo courtesy of Janelle Monáe’s Facebook page.

Who knew Janelle Monáe would put out one of the best albums of the year, let alone one of the most exhilarating tours of 2018? With Dirty Computer, Monáe found her sweet spot — a clarity and focus in her artistic voice. When her “Dirty Computer Tour” swept through The Paramount in July, it swept Denver off our feet. Radical costume changes, a slew of backup dancers, and an uncompromising political message made the performance not only entertaining but embedded an urgency and importance in today’s political climate. For Monae and her attendees, it was less a concert as it was a rally — for one’s sexual identity, for one’s womanhood, for one’s ability to feel heard. Monáe came in loud and clear, and we took note.  – Kori Hazel

Check out our full review here.

Dead Latin @ Skylark at UMS — July 27

Photo by Kyle Cooper.

Dead Latin is the closest thing Denver has to LCD Soundsystem, and their performance at UMS cemented that notion. A non-stop dance party from the jump, Dead Latin’s one-off performance as a supergroup was a collaborative behemoth, one that packed out the Skylark in an all-too-short sweaty odyssey. For being the group’s first live performance ever, it was a well-oiled machine — a surprising gift that kept on giving, to the point where, six months later, I’m still asking for more. – Kori Hazel

Check out more of our favorite 2018 Underground Music Showcase acts here

Retrofette @ The Irish Rover at UMS on July 28

Photo by Heather Fairchild

As a child of the ’90s, I can’t say with absolute confidence that Retrofette is a blast from the ’80s, but I will anyway. A local Denver band formed in early 2016 — composed of Sean Culliton, Xavier Provencher, Ben Weirich and Dylan Johnson — the quartet uses multiple synths, synth bass and drums to liven any concert hall, bar, or any other venue they play at. When they played at UMS this summer, the narrow space inside the Irish Rover barely had enough room for everyone to dance, but dance we did. They played some of their most-listened-to songs, “Lover in Japan” and “Munich,” and peppered in some lesser-known songs that were just as easy to pop along to. Plus, the foursome performed in white turtlenecks — which seemed to be an homage to the antics of experimental rock group Devo. Ultimately, Retrofette’s sound is a little kitschy, but it’s the kind of music that makes you smile and doesn’t ask much in return.  – Cori Anderson

Check out more of our favorite 2018 Underground Music Showcase acts here

Juice Wrld @ Ogden Theatre on August 16

303 Magazine, Milo Lee, Juice Wrld, Max Nason

Photo courtesy of Milo Lee.

In his first trip to Denver in 2018, Juice Wrld lit up the Ogden stage after a stacked group of openers. Blake, Lil Mosey and YBN Cordae set the groundwork for Juice Wrld with three consecutive high-energy sets that got a crowded Ogden Theatre moving to bass-heavy trap beats. In the prime of his rise to stardom, Juice Wrld’s trip to the Ogden was met with loyal fans that have followed the Chicago rapper/singer since his earliest Soundcloud hits. Juice Wrld’s performance met the high expectations of the eager crowd. Opening to his chart-topping track, “Lucid Dreams”, Juice Wrld put on a show that rewarded the most loyal of fans. One of the stand out tracks in his performance was the unreleased trap hit, “Game”. Playing plenty of other hits off his debut album, Goodbye and Good Riddance, Juice Wrld kept his fans moving throughout the entire show to both his fast-paced trap bangers and his slower singing ballads. The now 20-year-old superstar has made a point to emphasize his acapella talents at his live shows, and that is part of what makes his shows so captivating. In collaboration with his ability to rap bars about love, pain and heartbreak, Juice Wrld is making himself known for his raw singing talent and that has filled venues around the world with day-one fans eager to hear his vocals in person. Juice Wrld’s acapella performance mixed with an electric crowd of loyal listeners is what made his show at the Ogden Theatre one of the best of the year. – Max Nason 

Check out the full review here.

Jerry Paper @ Lost Lake on October 10

Photo courtesy of Jerry Paper’s Facebook

Lost Lake rarely disappoints. It is a venue that has fantastic live music nearly every night of the week and the Stones Throw takeover was no exception. Local artist Prophet warmed up the crowd,  Stimulator Jones delivered a fun, playful set and Kiefer played his set with a  passion unparalleled by any live act I’ve seen recently. Jerry Paper’s set was impeccable. He toured with a full live band, almost entirely female, who were all masters of their respective instruments. Jerry Paper himself performed wearing a green dress shaped like a muumuu and cracked joke after joke between songs. Perhaps his jokes landed due to the fact that Jerry Paper is a spitting image of Michael Cera, but either way, he gave Denver a fun, engaging and absolutely amazing live show. – Padideh Aghanoury

David Byrne @ Red Rocks on August 27 and 28

Photo by Ryan Lewis

The legendary Talking Heads frontman played not one, but two sold-out shows at Red Rocks this year. Sporting wireless instruments and microphones the band was allowed to explore the stage, organized with stellarly creative choreography. It was clean and elegant with a simple stage setup and everyone wearing white suits — but not too elegant for Byrne, with no one sporting shoes. He took the crowd on a journey through his solo album American Utopia but didn’t leave out a variety of Talking Heads hits creating an exciting setlist for all of his fans. – Tyler Harvey

Childish Gambino @Pepsi Center on December 4

Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images for iHeartMedia.

The last few years have undeniably been good to Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino. From his breakout album Awaken My Love! to his viral video “This is America,” Glover evolved rapidly as a creative. (And that’s not to mention Atlanta). But in true maverick fashion, the multi-hyphenate is swearing he’s calling it quits for, what most people assume, are his cinematic pursuits. Seeing such an artist perform at his peak while simultaneously knowing it could be their last show, is enough to make any performance memorable. But Glover did not rest on that fact. His performance at the Pepsi Center, which was at first rescheduled because he danced so hard he broke his foot, was every bit as charged as you’d expect from such a driven persona. Unsurprisingly, the show heavily focused on Glover’s talents — with most of his equally skilled band and dancers hidden from view. As a result, the deeply personal show sometimes felt less like a musical performance and more like a champion fighter shadow boxing his own demons. Even with a nose-bleed seat, you could almost feel the sweat drip from Glover’s face as he pushed his soul into every note and every dance move. By the last song, his sensational “Redbone,” Glover went into a full exorcism — not pulling any punches with whatever dark power that consumed him. At the end, it was unclear whether Glover had won or not — but it was undeniable that many in the crowd would make a deal with that devil to see him perform again. — Brittany Werges

 

Check out our full review here

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