Favorite concerts (not intended as a “year’s best concerts” list, because I didn’t attend all the worthwhile pop shows there were to see in Orange County):
1. Richard Thompson, Coach House.
2. Neville Brothers, Coach House.
3. Pixies, Crawford Hall, UC Irvine.
4. Richard Barone, Coach House.
5. Smithereens, Coach House.
6. Midnight Oil, Irvine Meadows.
7. Social Distortion, Crawford Hall.
8. Deborah Harry, Coach House.
9. Dan Crary, Shade Tree Stringed Instruments.
10. Concrete Blonde, Coach House.
1. Richard Thompson, Coach House. Thompson may be the best songwriter we have, and that combined with his sonorous voice and the orchestral fullness of his acoustic guitar work added up to a spellbinding performance.
2. The Benson and Hedges Blues Revue, Pacific Amphitheatre. A show to remember both for it being the late Stevie Ray Vaughan’s last local, and typically incredible, appearance, and for the blazing performances of such older masters as B.B. King and Irma Thomas.
3. The Neville Brothers, Coach House. The nation’s funkiest band, Aaron Neville’s angel of a voice. Who needs more?
4. Derek and the Diamonds, most any night at a variety of county watering holes. Unlike most club bands, the Diamonds dare to be exciting, and singers Derek Bordeaux and Venson Quarles are incandescently soulful singers.
5. Chris Gaffney & the Cold Hard Facts, Bogart’s. Great singer, great songs, awfully good band.
6. John Hiatt, Coach House. Hiatt finally has a live band that can keep up with his on-stage mood shifts, which added up to a heartfelt, comic, tender, manic show.
7. Jonathan Richman, Bogart’s. Traveling by bus with no more luggage and equipment than he can hand-carry, Richman may be the rock artist best prepared for the gasoline-shy ‘90s. And his one-guitar-and-a-microphone shows continue to be all that rock should be: direct, fearless and entirely immediate.
8. Eggplant, Don’t Mean Maybe and Bazooka, Bogart’s. Some of Orange County’s most inventive bands at their best, with the surprise being El Grupo Sexo spinoff Bazooka’s tremendous instrumental sax-drums-bass funk-bop burn-down.
9. Youssou N’Dour, Irvine Meadows. An incredibly kinetic show, with Peter Gabriel’s pal N’Dour creating some of the most insistent music coming out of Africa. Too bad hardly anyone in the county showed up to see the free concert, which drew packed crowds in more civilized climes.
10. The Cajun and Zydeco Fest, Long Beach. The most accordion-shakin’ and crawfish-suckin’ to be found this side of Louisiana.
Out of the running: Los Lobos’ Coach House shows quite possibly were among the year’s best, but it was nearly impossible to tell, as the sound man (the band’s, not the club’s) gave them such a painfully distorted mix that the vocals and music were all but obliterated.