From Paul McCartney and Billie Eilish to Lyle Lovett and Lizzo: Top San Diego pop concerts of 2019

Paul McCartney alternated between grand piano, guitar, bass and upright piano during his nearly three-hour-long 2019 concert at Petco Park.
(Photo by George Varga / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Other top San Diego concerts in 2019 were performed by Squeeze, Jamila Woods, Richard Thompson, Gaby Moreno and more


Venerated legends and rising young stars alike performed in San Diego in 2019, from Elton John and Jade Bird to Santana and Anderson .Paak. On a longer list, they, too, would have made the grade.

And, if my list had included performances beyond San Diego, the Rolling Stones’ Rose Bowl concert and Bob Dylan’s tour-opening show in Irvine would have ranked high.

These are my 10 favorite pop concerts of the year. (My favorite jazz concerts of the year are a click away.)

1. Paul McCartney, June 22, Petco Park

Paul McCartney was being rhetorical when — in The Beatles’ classic 1967 song — he asked: Will you still need me ... when I’m 64? The answer, 52 years later, remains unequivocal. Yes, we still need Paul McCartney, who at 77-going-on-just-17 still still rocks out in sold-out stadiums, seemingly whenever he likes. In June, he did precisely that at his second Petco Park concert of the past five years. Together with his well-honed band, the two-time Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee performed 38 songs during his nearly three-hour concert. Whether doing classics or new songs, he delivered all of them with admirable poise and irresistible panache.

2. Billie Eilish, July 13, Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre at SDSU

Speaking of being just 17, that’s how old Billie Eilish was on Nov. 17 when she earned six Grammy nominations, including for Album, Song and Record of the Year, as well as for Best New Artist. That’s also how old Eilish was when she performed here for a sold-out crowd of 5,000-plus this summer, only eight months after her gig at the far-smaller Soma. The fact that she wore a foot brace to protect her sprained right ankle didn’t keep the Los Angeles native from bounding across the SDSU stage. Her ecstatic audience, mostly young and mostly female, sang along to virtually every word of “Bad Guy,” “Xanny,” “Wish You Were Gay,” “All Good Girls Go to Hell” and Eilish’s other bracing songs about youthful aspirations and timeless teen angst. The result was a celebration and exorcism rolled into one.

3. Richard Thompson Electric Trio, Jan. 28, Belly Up

The greatest English guitarist and singer-songwriter to remain a cult act for his entire career, at least in the U.S., Richard Thompson was 69 when he performed with his band at the Belly Up. He sounded like he still had something to prove, whether his fingers were blazing on electric guitar or dancing across an acoustic guitar. His singing was as alternately fiery and nuanced as his playing.

4. Lyle Lovett & His Large Band, July 4, San Diego Symphony’s Bayside Concerts

Lyle Lovett’s concert produced enough musical fireworks and finely calibrated subtleties to merit having him perform here every Fourth of July. Country, folk, blues, Texas-swing and more — whatever the style, the veteran Texas troubadour and his marvelous band excelled whether delivering rollicking romps, hushed ballads or anything in between.

5. Zappa at Dizzy’s: A celebration of the music of Frank Zappa, Aug. 18, Dizzy’s

Featuring five former Frank Zappa band members, including San Diego guitar and keyboard virtuoso Mike Keneally, this dazzling band performed the late Zappa’s deviously challenging music with suitably dizzying skill and verve. The delighted couple behind me sang along to even the most obscure Zappa compositions.

Singing in both English and Spanish, Gaby Moreno charmed and enthralled a capacity audience at her Adams Avenue Unplugged solo performance.
(Photo by Jose Leon / Courtesy of Adams Avenue Unplugged)

6. Gaby Moreno, April 27, Adams Avenue Unplugged

Armed with an acoustic guitar and her wonderfully mellifluous voice, Guatemala-born, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno charmed her capacity audience in both English and Spanish at her one-woman concert.

7. Steely Dan, Sept. 25, Humphreys

How did Steely Dan fare at its first San Diego concert since the 2017 death of its guitar-playing co-founder, Walter Becker? Remarkably well, especially given that singer/keyboardist Donald Fagen is now the sole original member in the jazzy rock band he and Becker launched in 1972. While the void left by Becker will never be filled, especially on record, the touring version of the band seems strong enough to carry on.

8. Squeeze, Sept. 14, KAABOO Del Mar

Appearing in front of a multi-generational crowd that included a 62-year-old San Diego mother and her 25-year-old daughter, who both sang along in unison, Squeeze soared from classic (“Pulling Mussels from the Shell”) to classic (“If I Didn’t Love You”) to classic (“Tempted”). Does this English band, whose debut album came out in 1978, really have so many great songs in its repertoire? Indeed, it does.

Lizzo is shown performing in April at the 2019 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio. While suffering from a cold at her October concert in San Diego, the singer, rapper and flutist kept the sold-out audience on its feet throughout.
(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

9. Lizzo, Oct. 24, Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre at SDSU

For her sheer charisma alone, Lizzo ranks as a galvanizing presence, as befits a 31-year-old singer, rapper and flutist who in November earned a field-leading eight Grammy nominations. Her concert here was marred by her cold, which she mentioned, uneven pacing and an apparently bare-bones production budget. But her infectious delivery had the capacity crowd on its feet throughout and her message of self-empowerment was inspiring and then some.

10. Jamila Woods, June 18, Casbah

With “LEGACY! LEGACY!”, Chicago music maverick Jamila Woods produced one of the year’s most potent and provocative releases, a heady concept album whose songs are named after (and inspired by) such disparate icons as Frida Kahlo, James Baldwin, Muddy Waters and Eartha Kitt. Consistently matching the album live on stage proved impossible, but when everything clicked, Woods and her band demonstrated ample promise. She returns for a Jan. 23 San Diego concert at House of Blues, where she’ll open for Raphael Saadiq.