Out of the hundreds of performances I was fortunate to see over the course of the year, assembling a list of the 10 most memorable was startlingly easy. The big arena spectaculars surprised with their soul, just as the more intimate moments were outsized in their own right.
Here are the 10 best shows I saw in 2013.
1. Prince at South by Southwest (March 16)
As I stumbled out of La Zona Rosa at 3:30 in the morning, my mind blown and adrenaline surging through my veins, I knew nothing else I’d see over the coming weeks and months would come anywhere close to what I had just experienced. My hunch proved correct: Prince, in front of about 1,500 people and backed by a 22-piece band, ripped through his classics, had his way with others’ material and, six encores later, demonstrated why he’s endured for four decades (and counting). A ferociously good time, and a high watermark of my concertgoing life. ( Original review.)
2. Pearl Jam at American Airlines Center (Nov. 15)
Grunge nostalgia has been fashionable of late, what with 20-year anniversaries arriving with swift regularity. Eddie Vedder and his matchless bandmates hadn’t graced a Dallas stage in a decade, but nevertheless played a three-hour set, brimming with favorites and freshly authored tunes, as though they’re North Texas fixtures. The sold-out crowd was treated to a special encore with Carrie Brownstein and St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) guesting on Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the Free World, but it was merely the digestif following a sumptuous feast. ( Original review.)
3. John Fullbright at Poor David’s Pub (Jan. 19)
An Oklahoma singer-songwriter who has rocketed to the forefront of the folk world in what seems like an instant, John Fullbright’s sprawling showcase on a frosty January night was dazzling — and that was well before special guest Martie Maguire joined him for a smashing take on his song Jericho. Fullbright carries himself with a deceptive ease, as though he’s been doling out piercing, poignant slices of life for far longer than he’s been alive. The spookiest part? He’s just getting started. ( Original review.)
4. The Mavericks at Granada Theater (Oct. 6)
Cliches are true for a reason, and one old saw about music critics is they rarely display any sort of outward emotion while on the clock at shows. It’s true in most cases, but I couldn’t have kept the grin off my face during the Mavericks’ two-hour party if I’d wanted to. Led by Raul Malo’s inimitable pipes and a freewheeling set pulling heavily from the band’s superb comeback LP, In Time, this Sunday night shindig was just about the most fun I had at the office all year. ( Original review.)
5. Jake Bugg at Kessler Theater (Oct. 5)
Another fearsomely talented wunderkind, this 19-year-old British tunesmith has already booked a return trip in a much larger space (Jan. 28 at House of Blues), but those fortunate to be crammed into the SRO show on that rainy evening were privy to an electrifying, hour-long display of raw, riveting talent. A synthesis of well-worn influences managing to feel fresh and vibrant, this Bugg burrowed deep. ( Original review.)
6. Patty Griffin at Kessler Theater (Oct. 26)
One more instance of an artist unexpectedly prying something loose. During Griffin’s reading of Wild Old Dog, from her latest record, American Kid, tears welled up for reasons I couldn’t put my finger on. The metaphor is certainly moving — a concept of God as a stray canine, roaming the highways, unclaimed by anyone — but it was as much Griffin’s deeply felt delivery that struck a nerve. Like so much of her catalog, the night was a study in hard-fought grace rendered with warmth and dry wit. ( Original review.)
7. Bruno Mars at American Airlines Center (Aug. 12)
The incessant airplay of this multi-platinum pop star’s songs masks a shocking truth about his live shows — dude is an old-school entertainer. Forget Michael Jackson or Elvis, Mars reaches back to the Rat Pack, not only for the ring-a-ding-ding set dressing, but also the leave-it-all-on-the-stage attitude. 21st century songs, mixing hip-hop, pop and soul, delivered with chops the pros in Vegas would admire. Just try downloading that kind of charisma, whippersnappers. ( Original review.)
8. Kanye West at American Airlines Center (Dec. 6)
If Kanye West’s Yeezus was like an open wound, his mesmerizing, megalomanical stage show was an attempt to explain why he inflicted it. Over the course of two peculiar, hypnotic hours, ‘Ye expounded upon nothing less than his artistic worldview, but made sure to mix in one concussive hit after another, reminding everyone how he ascended the pop culture peak to begin with. ( Original review.)
9. Justin Timberlake at American Airlines Center (Dec. 4)
The 20/20 Experience, together or apart, was a near-total dud, but Timberlake’s saving grace is his hard-working showmanship. Most pop stars are content to knock out 90-minute sets, collect a hefty paycheck and cruise at his level. Not JT: A nearly three-hour extravaganza, which wisely reined in some of Experience’s more stultifying tendencies, and piled up the flash until there wasn’t anything else to do but applaud in admiration. ( Original review.)
10. Depeche Mode at Gexa Energy Pavilion (Sept. 20)
You can’t swing a MPC these days without hitting some young band busily reinventing synth-pop for the Age of Google, but often, forgetting the essential ingredient: soul. Not Dave Gahan, who made walking the line between man and machine seem not only inviting, but downright sexy. Charisma, properly deployed, can elevate an entire evening into the realm of magical. Gahan, grinning like a madman throughout, was content merely to bathe in the screams of delight. ( Original review.)
ALSO: Check out our round-up of Preston Jones’ picks for best national albums and local albums, critic Cary Darling’s top movies of 2013 and Robert Philpot’s picks for the top entertainment stories of the year.