Prince at the Hard Rock Hotel heads up one of the 13 Best Live San Diego Shows of 2013.
This is a list of the acts that were responsible for my best live music experiences in 2013. After such a great year, it really was difficult to whittle it all down. But when push came to shove (and it always does, doesn’t it?), this baker’s dozen were truly worth the price of admission.
- FIDLAR at M-Theory Music, March 21: Prior to playing a wildly entertaining set at the Casbah later that evening, these frenetic punks owned the afternoon with an amazing in-store at M-Theory in Mission Hills. From stripped-back versions of album cuts to a rollicking cover of Warren Zevon’s "Carmelita," the L.A. quartet made the most out of its confined playing space. These guys are a whole lot smarter than they pretend to be, and you’ll be hard pressed to catch a more lively show from anyone. Check out FIDLAR on SoundDiego TV here.
- METZ at the Casbah, April 28: This band is just something to behold. Savagely attacking its instruments instead of merely playing them, this Toronto three-piece bludgeons you into submission with a relentless wall of rhythmic noise. You’re either ducking for cover or powerless to resist. Read about them on SoundDiego.com here.
- Prince at Hard Rock Hotel’s Legends Ballroom, May 3: This is the obvious no-brainer of the group. The Purple One, backed by an all-female trio, playing a career-spanning set, in a room that only holds 1,000 people? Um, OK. Sounds good. And it was. Really, really good. Check out Prince on SoundDiego.com here.
- Bonobo at the Belly Up, May 6: When Simon Green, aka Bonobo, made his first-ever San Diego appearance at the Casbah in 2010, the show was so incredible I thought he would never be able top it. I was wrong. He did exactly that on his second-ever area appearance three years later at the Belly Up. With more room to spread out and extra lighting to enhance the mood, this DJ-led collective was cinematic in scope and musically on-point. Check out Bonobo on SoundDiego TV here.
- Janka Nabay at the Void, May 17: I really didn’t know what to expect from Sierra Leone singer Janka Nabay when I saw him last spring, but from the time they took the stage and until the minute they left it, Nabay and his excellent backing band, the Bubu Gang, kept the tempos up and the vibe electric. The small but sturdy crowd at the Void gave into Nabay’s charismatic lead and danced the night away. Check out Janka Nabay on SoundDiego.com here.
- Erykah Badu at Humphrey’s Concerts By the Bay, June 27: I had seen her many times (and at smaller venues) in the past, but there was just something about this Humphrey’s performance that was outstanding. Maybe it was her fantastic rendition of Outkast’s "Liberation" -- a song she guested on in 1997 -- or the fact that she always travels with an extended cast of top-shelf musicians, but either way, she was on that night. Check out Erykah Badu on SoundDiego.com here.
- Eilen Jewell at AMSD Concerts, July 26: Like Hank Williams or your grandma’s cooking, there’s just something innately authentic about this girl. And she didn’t disappoint in her first-ever area appearance. Sporting an incredibly tight backing band that incudes her drummer/husband, Jewell was also a charismatic storyteller as she ripped through her signature brand of Americana, country, rockabilly and blues. Check out Eilen Jewell on SoundDiego.com here.
- Foals at the House of Blues, Aug. 8: What can I say? Great band plays a great show, and the lead singer does a balcony-jump into the crowd at the House of Blues. It was like a nearly out-of-control house party just before the cops show up. Check out Foals on SoundDiego TV here.
- Allah-Las at the Casbah, Oct. 1: Great band. Great debut record. Great live experience. And whoever was doing sound that night at the Casbah was fabulous. That was one of the best-sounding shows I’ve ever heard in that room -- and I’ve heard some good ones. The whole thing was a perfect storm of sun-drenched rock & roll goodness and precision engineering. Check out Allah-las on SoundDiego TV here.
- Primal Scream at the Belly Up, Oct. 15: It took these vets a while to warm up, but once they did, it was just like 1993 all over again. Shredding through a career-spanning set of greasy rock & roll and psychedelic ramblers, frontman Bobbie Gillespie and Co. proved they haven’t slowed down much at all. Check them out on SoundDiego TV here.
- Kate Nash at Porter’s Pub, Nov. 20: The onetime U.K. pop princess just keeps getting better and better. Out from behind the piano, Nash now wields a guitar as her weapon of choice and sports an all-girl backing band. Punk rock in both attitude and execution, Nash keeps things brisk, loose and in your face. She’s also no slouch in the role of charismatic and polished host. It’s exciting to think what the future holds as the 26-year-old seems to just now be hitting her stride.
- Pearl Jam at Valley View Casino Center, Nov. 21: Epic, three-and-a-half hour, local-centric (with shout-outs to Lou’s Records and everything) jam session for the masses; Mike McCready going nuts; Eddie Vedder guzzling wine; and the sold-out crowd singing in unison on every other tune. When a band gets big enough to fill an arena, this is exactly the kind of experience that exceeds expectations and makes ticket buyers feel great about forking over the dough. See our photo gallery from the show here.
- Nightmares on Wax at the Belly Up, Dec. 2: In their first ever San Diego appearance (there were a lot of them this year), this DJ-led collective blew away the Belly Up crowd with its double percussionists, three guest vocalists and impeccable set list. Effortlessly jumping from soul vibes to reggae grooves to dance beats, N.O.W. and bandleader George Evelyn made the most out of their inaugural visit to America’s Finest City. And if the crowd’s reaction was any indication, it won’t be very long before they return.