Every year, we all see marquees of huge venues around town sporting the names of local bands who’ve made it big. But what about the little guys? We’d like to think we keep our finger on the pulse of our city’s expansive music scene, and it goes without saying that some of the greatest bands you’ve never heard of are playing small shows in your own backyard on a routine basis. While we love seeing the big guns in action, we also make room for the uber-talented groups that might just make it onto those big marquees someday soon. You never know. So these are 9 of the Top San Diego Bands to See in 2016 (in alphabetical order). If we missed your No. 1 pick, let us know in the comments.
- Ashen Earth: Taking cues from a more European-inspired brand of death metal, Ashen Earth matches each brutal riff with a melodic undertone -- making their live shows a thing of furious beauty. Word on the street is that their sophomore album is nearly done (if not finished already) and that means shows are on the way: they're at the Merrow on Feb. 11 with Last of Lucy and Morphesia.
- The Bad Vibes: Straddling the gravel-covered middle ground between backwoods alt-country and melodic, modern blues, this group blew us away the first time we saw ‘em last year. Fans of Little Hurricane and Dead Feather Moon, definitely take note -- these guys are your people. See them at the Hideout on Saturday, Jan. 30 and at Ray at Night on Feb. 13.
- Creature and the Woods: After a lineup change toward the end of 2015, this Americana/blues/rock quartet are back at it (and play the Casbah on Jan. 30 with the Silent Comedy). Their “Widow’s Waltz” EP release show back in August was simply riveting, with each band member literally leaving it all on stage. They’re thunderous and haunting -- in other words, get onboard.
- Garden Echo: Few bands in town have more buzz than Garden Echo. Sporting a sound that falls somewhere between Beach House, Tennis and London Grammar, this quartet has a four-song EP to their name (“Quiet Voices”) and all the potential in the world. See what all the hype is about on Feb. 26 at the Merrow, when they play with MRCH, PRGRM and Natalie Emmons.
- Generik: There’s a reason 91x’s music director, Michael Halloran, tapped Generik to open the 91x Lump of Coal show in December after hearing him for the first time -- dude is just on another level. Dropping culturally relevant rhymes about the pitfalls of conformity all while beatboxing? It’s incredible to say the least and needs to be seen in person for full effect. No shows announced at the moment but keep an eye out.
- Juice Box: If Don Draper had a theme song, it’d be written by the experimental (and crazy groovy) jazz virtuosos of Juice Box. Hell, they’ve already got a mad catchy tune called “Strut.” Truly remarkable stuff. Catch ‘em at Winston’s in Ocean Beach on Feb. 19, with the Sure Fire Soul Ensemble.
- Le Ra: Splitting time between Tijuana and San Diego, Le Ra has been steadily making a name for themselves over the last couple years or so. And with good reason: their psych-flavored jangle pop mixes all sorts of influences ranging from bossanova to jazz to shoegaze to surf-pop. See ‘em at the Hideout on Jan. 30 with the Whiskey Circle and the Bad Vibes.
- Mint Field: Another band with TJ roots, Mint Field play what they describe as “noise pop shoegaze” and that couldn’t be more accurate. Their music is the best of both worlds: soaring, disparate, expansive, wiry, beautiful, stark – everything at once. Whatever it is, it’s great. They’re playing the Echoplex on Feb. 20, and will hopefully line up some more local shows afterward.
- Transviolet: While they’re technically based out of LA, we can’t ignore that Transviolet’s lead singer is Sarah McTaggart from the (now defunct) San Diego band Noise Floor (who played our SoundDiego LIVE party at El Dorado back in March of 2013). Well, she’s got a new(er) group and they’re making all sorts of indie-pop waves. After their label, Epic Records, embarked on a strangely genius marketing campaign by mailing cassettes of their single, “Girls Your Age,” to unsuspecting teenagers at random addresses with no explanation or details, the buzz started and it hasn’t let up. No San Diego dates on the horizon at the moment, but it won’t be long until they’re here, that’s for sure.
Here are a few other lists we’ve put together.