For most of the country, summertime means festival season. San Diego has the benefit of a much longer outdoor concert season than most, but the added benefit of festival-driven tour dates means a lot more major acts find their way to our backyard. Here are nine of my picks for must-see San Diego summer concerts.
June 6: Father John Misty, Jason Isbell at Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre
You’d be hard pressed to find two better contemporary storytellers through music than Jason Isbell and Father John Misty. Each one is a different kind of troubadour; Isbell is thoughtful and reflective, while Misty (whose real name is Josh Tillman) cuts his confessions with potent doses of irony and cynicism. What they share, however, is an unflinching honesty that makes every last verse a gripping one, even when they’re opening up about hitting rock bottom.
June 18: Jamila Woods at The Casbah
Jamila Woods doesn’t have the same name recognition as a lot of the artists featured in this roundup, but listeners would do themselves a massive favor delving into her new album, LEGACY! LEGACY! A singer, songwriter, and poet who’s collaborated with fellow Chicago artists such as Saba and Chance the Rapper, Woods pays tribute to a number of artists—Zora Neale Hurston, Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, James Baldwin—through songs with all-caps titles ("MILES," "ZORA," etc.) that take hard-grooving stylistic twists and turns. It’s easily among the year’s best, and the opportunity to see her perform in such an intimate venue probably won’t be around long.
June 26: Anderson .Paak at Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre
Back in January I had Anderson .Paak on my wish list of Coachella acts I hoped would make their way a little southwest to grace us with their live show. Well, wish granted! Paak’s been especially productive of late, having released two albums—Oxnard and Ventura—within six months of each other, each of which features his signature feel-good R&B and funk. Still, a set full of standouts from his 2016 album Malibu would be more than enough to convince me to catch this show.
July 20: Beck and Cage the Elephant at North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre
Though I don’t often listen to Beck’s most recent batch of records, I still contend that he’s one of the best live acts I’ve seen. He was amazing when I saw him in 1997 on the Odelay tour. And he was amazing in 2002 when he performed backed by The Flaming Lips. Those might be hard performances to live up to in the scheme of things, but at his core Beck is a showman, and he’ll no doubt deliver a killer performance.
August 3: The B-52s at Embarcadero Marina Park South
For some reason The B-52s have proven, anecdotally, to be somewhat polarizing. It might have something to do with the fact that they make music to serve pretty much one purpose: To have fun. I fail to see the problem, personally, especially when songs like "Rock Lobster" are still as much of a blast 40 years later (or so I’d assume; I wasn’t yet born in 1979). So yeah, there’s plenty of room for serious music, but don’t expect to come to this show—which is part of the San Diego Symphony's Bayside Summer Nights series—and have a bad time.
August 8: Carly Rae Jepsen at Humphreys Concerts by the Bay
Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2015 album Emotion was a high point for millennial pop. Though I’ll admit I came to it a little late after requiring some much needed space from 2012’s ubiquitous "Call Me Maybe," I was stunned to discover that the Canadian artist had created one of the most endlessly playable, fun, and joyful pop records of recent years. She’s releasing its follow-up, Dedicated, later this week, and I look forward to finding out where she goes next. In the meantime, I’m game to hear "Run Away with Me" a few hundred more times. (A bit of advice: Don’t attempt that song at karaoke unless you know you have the range for it.)
August 20: Herbie Hancock at Humphreys Concerts by the Bay
Last year, I spent about a month listening to a significant chunk of Herbie Hancock’s catalog. And let it be known that from 1962 up until the mid-’70s, there’s not a bum note to be heard. He’s one of the most significant players in jazz history, not only releasing his own groundbreaking albums like Mwandishi and Head Hunters, but his name can be found in the credits of literally hundreds of albums, having performed with the likes of Miles Davis and Stevie Wonder. And the jazz pioneer is still going strong.
August 22: Kacey Musgraves at Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre
Kacey Musgraves is another artist I featured on my Localchella Wish List back in January, and since then she won the Album of the Year Grammy for her 2018 LP, Golden Hour. And it’s well deserved. Though she might not be obliterating genre in the same way that Lil Nas X’s "Old Town Road" is, she’s certainly offering a different and more diverse kind of country that boldly, seamlessly incorporates disco, rock, indie folk, and other styles. She’s a treasure.
August 28: Smashing Pumpkins at North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre
Smashing Pumpkins have had a hit-or-miss record over the past decade or so, and up until recently that’s meant a version of the band with few original members other than Billy Corgan. Yet last year the band embarked on a 25th anniversary tour for their classic album Siamese Dream, with a setlist full of hits from their first four albums as well as soundtrack highlights such as "Eye" and even a number of covers. Far be it from me to celebrate a "just play the hits" point of view, but seeing some of the setlists from that tour makes me think this is the ideal way to see the band.
Other San Diego summer concerts to put on your calendar:
Oh Sees at Belly Up (June 14)
Charly Bliss at The Casbah (June 29)
Jackie Mendoza at Soda Bar (July 14)
Jill Scott at Humphreys (August 4)
Snail Mail at The Irenic (August 21)
Chris Isaak at Humphreys Concerts by The Bay (August 28)