Because plenty of factors other than the music inform an opinion on live performance -- the mood of the people who accompany you to the show, the guy with the ginormous head who stands directly in front of you, etc. -- it’s musical Rashomoncompiling one of these lists. That said, here are 10 of the best things to hit San Diego stages in the last 12 months:
Black Lips at the Casbah, Jan. 24
I'm not quite sure whether this Atlanta-based "flower punk" quartet takes its music seriously, but that certainly doesn’t stop it from delivering high-energy, audience-friendly, wildly entertaining performances, and this night was no exception.
St. Vincent, Wildbirds & Peacedrums at the Belly Up, Feb. 10
Not only did Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, make good on the promise of her two critically acclaimed albums, singer Mariam Wallentin of Swedish opener Wildbirds & Peacedrums nearly stole the show with her amazing vocals and frenetic stage presence. Check out a gallery of the show
Bonobo at the Casbah, April 20
It was unknown if Ninja Tune sound guru Simon Green, aka Bonobo, would be able to make his electronically based down-tempo tunes translate onstage, but with an exceptional live band and vocalist Andreya Triana in tow, he did -- and then some.
The Tallest Man on Earth at The Loft, May 5
He's actually not that tall and hasn't yet been able to shake incessant comparisons to Bob Dylan, but armed only with a guitar, Swedish troubadour Kristian Matsson had the entire audience smitten that night.
Billy Joe Shaver at AMSD Concerts, June 20
Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of his songs of addiction, love and loss played from the chancel of an old church, but this onetime songwriter for Waylon Jennings, Elvis Presley and Kris Kristofferson delivered his outlaw honky-tonk as well as his engaging anecdotes.
Gladys Knight and Smokey Robinson at Harrah's, July 17
Yeah, yeah, I'm sure this might have been better 20, 30 or even 40 years ago, but these two legends didn't miss a beat as they ran through some of the greatest classics in R&B/soul history.
Joanna Newsom at the San Diego Women's Club, July 29
The pixie-voiced chanteuse ripped through her classical compositions with verve, switching back and forth from harp to piano, and charming the audience with her charismatic demeanor. Fleet Foxes front man Robin Pecknold opened the show with an engaging set of new tunes. Check out a gallery of the show
Seu Jorge and Almaz at the Belly Up, Aug. 11
The Brazilian singer/actor proved he had far more up his sleeve than The Life Aquatic Bowie covers he's best known for. Backed by members of the late Chico Science's band, the mix of samba, rock and Portuguese rhythms was electrifying.
The Black Keys at Soma, Sept. 25
I was sure that this Akron, Ohio, duo had lost some of its charm and power after expanding its sound beyond the lo-fi, garage-blues that launched them and adding additional touring members. I was wrong.
Mavis Staples at the Belly Up, Nov. 4
Working with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy on her latest album, You Are Not Alone, infused this legendary gospel singer with new energy, and those who caught this latest tour were the benefactors. She still belts it out with the best of 'em and showcased why she's been a respected figure in music for more than five decades. Check out a gallery of the show
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion at the Belly Up, Oct. 3. The New York City punk-blues trio showcased its true professionalism and mastery of the genre in its seamlessly orchestrated set.