I go to a lot of shows. By my count I've seen well over 80 bands live in 2019, some of them on my must-see list for years, which made this year feel even more eventful in terms of all the concerts on my list. However, a lot of them were at venues or festivals outside of the city, so I opted to stick to only the best ones I saw in San Diego. Here are my 10 favorites.
Eric Bachmann at a Private Residence
One of the first, and best, shows I saw this year was in someone’s attic. That’s not a weird thing to say if you’ve ever been to DIY punk house shows. And for that matter, the increasing trend of living-room tours has made the practice more common in a constantly changing music industry landscape. Eric Bachmann, vocalist and songwriter in Crooked Fingers and Archers of Loaf, serenaded an audience inside a house in South Park, pulling from throughout his catalog and even taking a few random requests, in what amounted to an intimate and special evening, one unlike any other show I saw this year.
Chameleons Vox at The Casbah
Enough rock reunions have taken place in the past decade that I’m increasingly skeptical anytime another one gets announced. (Until one comes along that I genuinely get excited about, of course—I’m complicated.) This wasn’t necessarily a reunion show for iconic UK post-punk band The Chameleons. The only original member was vocalist and bassist Mark Burgess; regardless, the show was far tighter, more powerful and intense than I could have expected. It’s enough to warm a coastal goth’s heart.
Mike Doughty at Soda Bar
I don’t like to think of myself as the kind of person whose favorite live shows throughout the year are nostalgia trips, but I’m just going to go ahead and lay out my confession: Hearing Soul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty perform the band’s debut album, Ruby Vroom, in its entirety was the best kind of reminder of discovering all kinds of weird, fun and unfamiliar music when I was in junior high. And 25 years later, I’m pleased to say that the album more than holds up—and Doughty himself is a stellar entertainer, not to mention a super funny guy.
Idles at Observatory North Park
I’ve seen Idles three times in one year. That has to be some kind of record for a band that none of my friends are in. But there’s a good reason for it though: The Bristol, UK band is one of the most vital rock acts right now, balancing furious punk and post-hardcore with a magnetic positivity that’s often sadly missing in loud, aggressive music. There’s nothing but love to go around at their incendiary live shows, and I don’t imagine anyone left this one without having an absolute blast.
Bob Mould at The Casbah
While we’re on the subject of getting caught up on legendary bands on my live-music bucket list, I only this year saw Bob Mould—former frontman of Hüsker Dü and Sugar—for the first time. And the show more than lived up to my expectations. The Minneapolis punk legend ripped through more than two-dozen songs from throughout his 40-year career, and seemingly every time he started a new one, I thought to myself, "Oh right, this song is also amazing!" An amazing show, and while we’re on the subject, one of the nicest musicians I’ve ever interviewed.
Angel Olsen at Observatory North Park
I’m always heartened by seeing the progression of an artist firsthand. Back in 2014, I caught Angel Olsen on a rainy night at Soda Bar, and she closed her set with three quiet (and stunning!) solo tracks that managed to hush the entire bar—a rare feat in a rock club. But since then the singer/songwriter has gradually made her way to even bigger rooms. On this tour, she brought a bigger band with her, including a violinist and a cellist, which allowed her to bring the songs from her outstanding new album All Mirrors to life.
Sleater-Kinney at Observatory North Park
As I mentioned in my preview of this show earlier this year, Sleater-Kinney without Janet Weiss is bittersweet, and unfortunate that her departure from the band happened the way it did. That being said, the live version of Sleater-Kinney—expanded to a quintet—sounds phenomenal, and with as much energy and intensity as ever.
Weyes Blood at The Irenic
One of the biggest bummers in San Diego music this year was the closure of North Park venue The Irenic, one of the few places in town that doesn’t have a 21-and-up age limit. But before it closed down, Weyes Blood delivered a gorgeous performance composed mostly of songs from her latest album Titanic Rising. It was a warm night, and the only thing available to drink was canned Guayaki Yerba Mate (which was fine, I guess?), but the thing I’ll remember most was Natalie Mering’s amazing songs.
Jamila Woods at The Casbah
Jamila Woods’ first album HEAVN was an underrated favorite of 2016, but its follow-up, this year’s LEGACY! LEGACY!, is nothing short of a masterpiece. Inspired by the experiences and contributions of artists of color throughout the 20th century, LEGACY! is a rich listening experience that showcases the range of Woods' poetic songwriting. It’s also funky as hell, and Woods delivered a smoldering set backed by a band that had more groove than San Diego typically knows what to do with.
Yob at Brick by Brick
I don’t often talk about it on this page, but I believe in full transparency: I’m a metalhead. An unapologetic and enthusiastic metalhead who buys "oxblood" colored vinyl because that’s way more metal than standard black. That said, Yob is not a conventional metal band by any measure. The Eugene, Oregon band usually makes time for San Diego on every tour, and their most recent stop was outstanding. Heavy yet spiritual, colossal yet transcendent. It’s massive music that evokes a deeper, emotional connection, and as much as I appreciate the cathartic aspect of heavy music, sometimes it’s nice when it feels restorative as well.