I saw some amazing shows this year, but these are the ones that left the longest lasting mark:
Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio at the Loft (Feb. 20)
I’m always willing to take the risk on seeing a jazz great in an intimate venue, and Dr. Lonnie Smith did not disappoint. Rounded out by guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Jonathan Blake, the trio cranked through boogaloo jams and spacey, soul-infused excursions with precision and infectious energy.
Angel Olsen at Soda Bar (March 1)
Playing songs from her excellent 2014 LP "Burn Your Fire For No Witness," Olsen held the capacity crowd at Soda Bar in rapt attention throughout her set. She also openly discussed her tour bathroom habits at the end of the gorgeously intimate performance, shattering any mystique she had built up, and punctuating the show with a hilarious exclamation point.
The War on Drugs at the Casbah (April 6)
Adam Granduciel’s indie rockers have taken on a '70s radio, psychedelic/extended jam flavor as of late and it really flourishes in the live setting. Songs from their recent "Lost in the Dream" LP already lean that way, but all of the band’s songs have more room to ramble on stage.
Caravan Palace at the Belly Up (April 19)
Fresh off playing to thousands at Coachella, this Paris-based collective brought that energy from the desert to the sold-out Solana Beach crowd and had everyone jumping.
Wanda Jackson at the Casbah (June 7)
The living legend delivered an electric, career-spanning performance to the adoring crowd. It was hard to catch a glimpse of the diminutive singer from the middle of the packed house, but Jackson sounded as good as ever.
Lee Fields & the Expressions at the Casbah (June 30)
Fields told SoundDiego he didn’t know what he was truly capable of until he worked with the Expressions, and their synergy was palpable. A true showman, Fields led the modern-day soul revue through a stunning set.
Jurassic 5 at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club (July 18)
Tearing through a set that included 30+ songs, the original six-member hip-hop crew reminded the crowd of what’s great about keeping it classic. Hopefully, their 2013 Coachella reunion – and the slew of live dates that followed - was the start of an earnest second run.
Thee Oh Sees at the Belly Up (July 28)
This San Francisco trio is known for its high-energy live shows and this date was no exception. Never letting the sold-out crowd catch their breath, it was pedal-to-the-metal from the first song to the last.
Gary Clark Jr. at Harrah’s Resort Southern California (Sept. 19)
Was never a fan of Clark Jr.’s critically acclaimed 2012 debut LP, "Blak & Blu," but took the risk based on the rumor that his live show was other-worldly. It is. Comparisons to Hendrix are warranted, but this bluesman has his own thing going on. [See our photos from the show here]
The Pixies at Humphrey’s By the Bay (Sept. 27)
"Indie Cindy," the seminal band’s first release of original music in 23 years, was a disappointment. But it certainly didn’t affect the quartet’s ability to shred through their career-spanning set. I was worried this show would be a disappointment – it was the exact opposite. [See our photos from the show here]
DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist at House of Blues (Oct. 1)
From a historical perspective – the two DJs were using vinyl exclusively pulled from hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa’s massive collection – this was an amazing night. But add a gigantic video screen running through historical photos and videos, as well as a wild, crowd-performed breakdancing session at the end, it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Moon Duo at the Belly Up (Oct. 13)
Now a trio, the psychedelic shoegazers made the most of their opening slot with the Horrors. Can’t wait to see them play a longer set and really get lost down the rabbit hole.
Allen Toussaint at the Belly Up (Nov. 16)
It should be rule of thumb to see an influential Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee like Toussaint at a venue like the Belly Up. But add the fact that the amazing Preservation Hall Jazz Band was backing him, and it was an absolute no-brainer. It was like the French Quarter on the Pacific that night.
Allah-Las at the Casbah (Dec. 12)
This band just keeps getting better and so does their live show. But add the ol’ overhead projectors and colored oils trick, and it was easy for even the most casual fan to get lost in their infectious, hazy vibes.