Because plenty of factors other than the music inform an opinion on live performance – the mood of the people that accompany you to the show, the guy with the ginormous head that stands directly in front of you, etc. – it’s musical Rashomon compiling one of these lists. That said, here are ten of the best things to hit San Diego stages in the last twelve months.
Black Lips (Photo by Zach Wolfe)
Black Lips – Casbah – January 24
I’m not quite sure whether this Atlanta-based “flower punk” quartet takes their music seriously, but it certainly doesn’t stop them from delivering high-energy, audience-friendly, wildly entertaining performances, and this night was no exception.
St. Vincent and Wildbirds & Peacedrums – 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.
Bonobo – 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 on stage, but with an exceptional live band and vocalist Andreya Triana in tow, he did – and then some.
The Tallest Man On Earth – 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 – 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 one-time 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 – 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 – SD 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.
Seu Jorge and Almaz – Belly Up – August 11
The Brazilian singer/actor proved that 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 – SOMA – September 25
I was sure that this Akron, OH, duo had lost some of its charm and power after expanding their sound beyond the lo-fi, garage-blues that launched them and adding additional touring members. I was wrong.
Mavis Staples – Belly Up – November 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 over five decades.
*Honorable mention goes to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion at Belly Up on October 3. The New York City punk-blues trio showcased their true professionalism and mastery of genre in their seamlessly orchestrated set.
Originally posted on NBC San Diego SoundDiego Blog on December 31, 2010.