Putting this list together is always difficult. After so many good shows during the year, it’s hard to define what stood out from the rest. But here are a dozen that did exactly that for me. Here’s to more of the same in 2013!
Mexican Institute of Sound at The Loft, Jan. 20 – Camilo Lara, onetime president of EMI Records Mexico, made the right choice when he started making his own music. Lara and his live band had everyone in the Loft dancing and singing that night, but their ridiculously infectious energy could have easily captivated a crowd 100 times larger. Here's a link to my text nterview.
Alabama Shakes at the Belly Up, Jan. 24 – Impressive to sell out the Belly Up without even releasing an album, but two songs into the set that night, it was obvious the hype was both warranted and well-deserved. Singer/guitarist Brittany Howard, a lethal combination of Janis Joplin and Nancy Wilson, is an engaging, undeniable talent and should be making music for a long time.
Deer Tick at the Casbah, May 4 – Bandleader John McCauley III has a long and storied reputation for rock and roll debauchery, and exorcising some of its accompanying demons on stage. That night was no exception. And the fact that, despite it all, night after night, McCauley continues to keep both the band and the music on point makes it that much more impressive. Here's a link to my video interview.
Spiritualized at the Belly Up, May 20 – Jason Pierce, aka J. Spaceman, has been making opiate-infused space rock for over three decades now. On this particular Sunday night, with the house lights low, Pierce ran through a career-spanning set of his trademark fuzzed-out gospel blues in hypnotic, workmanlike fashion. Here's a link to my video interview.
Alison Krauss and Union Station at Humphrey’s, May 27 – What more can you say about Alison Krauss? She has one of the most amazing voices of all time, she travels with a band of top-tier musicians and she sounds better in person than she does on even her best recordings. From foot stompers to intricate arrangements to pristine a cappella numbers, she’s got it covered. Here's a link to my text review.
Ceu and Curumin at the Belly Up, June 20 – These exciting Brazilian artists are two of the best their country has to offer when it comes to reinventing and contemporizing traditional bossa nova and samba sounds. Both have relied heavily on electronics for recordings, but create organic, sultry jams in the live setting. Huge bonus = they decided to tour together and do two separate sets each night.
Andrew Bird at Spreckels Theatre, Aug. 11 – This guy’s just at the top of his game and basically showing off each night. But it’s a good idea to see him now before he pulls a Cat Stevens or JD Salinger and you’re stuck with nothing but YouTube videos and regret. Here's a link to my text review.
Heartless Bastards at Birch Aquarium, Aug. 15 – Erika Wennerstrom is a force of nature. She’s Joan Jett with better writing chops and, regardless of venue, she never disappoints live. But putting her and her excellent band on a stage overlooking the Pacific at sunset was pure gold. Here's a link to my video interview.
Amon Tobin at House of Blues, Sept. 27 – Dressed as an astronaut, the Brazilian DJ brought a new version of his geometric “structure” to San Diego after remodeling it post-Coachella. I’ve since seen pictures and video of this show and am convinced you have to be there to experience the elaborate set piece and scope of production that comes along with it. Even if Tobin’s electronic music isn’t your cup of tea, it’s an enjoyable, immersive experience. Here's a link to our video of his performance. Here's a link to my full concert review.
Dan Deacon at the Irenic, Oct. 19 – I’m not even sure how to define this performance. It was part show, part gigantic Simon Says game, part social mixer and part dance party – all under the glow of a gigantic video screen, strobe lights and a blinking green skull. The yin to the yang of his work with classical orchestras, Deacon uses his “rock and roll” shows to break the fourth wall in transcendent and massively entertaining ways. Here's a link to my video interview.
Beth Orton at House of Blues, Oct. 22 – British singer/songwriter playing an acoustic show with only a guitar in her hand – not exactly a barn-burner. But I am so taken with Orton’s voice and general presence that, for me, to see her alone, playing stripped-down versions of the best songs from her entire catalog, was something I couldn’t miss. She didn’t disappoint.
Meshell Ndegocello at Anthology, Dec. 5 – Ndegeocello has spent the last couple of decades blasting through the pigeonhole she was placed in when she debuted as the first woman on Madonna’s Maverick label. She’s become an impeccable live act that only uses original compositions as a starting point. But nothing could prepare me for her take on the Nina Simone songbook. The accompanying album only scratches the surface of these interpretations. In the live setting, they come to life in the most extraordinary and soulful ways – something I thought was impossible using Simone’s impeccable originals. Here's a link to a text interview I did with her back in January 2012.
Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of Eight24.com