No, Hugh Jackman isn’t the greatest showman. But he put on a great show in St. Paul. So did Jennifer Lopez less than a week later. We’d never think of either of these actors/dancers as Grammy-winning singers, but they made my list of the best concerts of 2019 so far (with some out-of-town extras).
Orpheum Theatre, Jan. 28
The last three concerts in this once-in-a-lifetime four-night stand could be on this list. But the second was the best for its playfulness, freewheeling pace and generous length, and for Young’s chattiness and lovable finickiness. Plus, every concertgoer got to sing backup on a new song by this eccentric and essential rock giant.
Xcel Energy Center, March 18
After a six-year hiatus from the road because his son had cancer, the Canadian crooner was full of gratitude, music and glib, self-deprecating B.S. His singing was believably sincere (he even ad-libbed a tune for his son), but it was Bublé’s rib-tickling humor and smart staging that elevated this two-hour concert to a wonderfully entertaining pop show.
Mott the Hoople
First Avenue, April 2
Who might imagine that a rock singer, two months shy of 80, and his band of grizzled veterans could play with such vigor, swagger and spirit? Performing their 1974 repertoire including “All the Young Dudes” and “All the Way From Memphis,” Ian Hunter suggested Bruce Springsteen with a sore throat fronting the carefree Faces in their heyday. All the old dudes rocked.
Xcel Energy Center, May 5
Even though this was a reprise of last year’s spectacle, this Philly pop star still amazed, with her combination of physical derring-do, potent vocals, empowering messages, approachable personality and quirky interactions with fans. Plus, she delivered two impressive new songs without any elaborate production. After a recorded spiel about a pep talk she’d given her 7-year-old daughter, who’d complained she was the ugliest girl in school, Pink roared through “Raise Your Glass” — and brought out her daughter midsong.
Northrop, May 31
Touring behind his first album of new material since 2005, the legendary songwriter seemed completely refreshed and delightfully talkative, whether about inspirations for the new tunes or reminiscing about his pal Leon Redbone, who had just passed away. This evening was as poignant as it was entertaining.
Xcel Energy Center, June 8
In his exhilarating, never-exhausting 2 ¾-hour marathon, the Mexican superstar proved one of the most emotive performers vocally and visually on the arena circuit. Working exclusively in Spanish, Miguel sang with force, control, dynamics, nuance and feeling — and he did it with grand arm gestures, gentlemanly machismo, spurts of athletic dancing, bursts of gleeful air guitar and a megawatt smile. Magnifico!
Cécile McLorin Salvant
The Dakota, June 19
Seldom does an accompanist outshine a singer, but pianist Sullivan Fortner was even more adventurous than magical singer Salvant. She, too, was outstanding, treating familiar songs like conversations with varying tempos, voices and emotions. An extraordinary evening by this jazz duo.
Xcel Energy Center, June 22
This was one of the more uncompromisingly ambitious, flashily entertaining and consistently uplifting tours undertaken by a performer you never expected to see in a sports arena. Sweet, sentimental and spontaneous, the cheesy and hammy movie star dazzled as a dancer, held his own as a singer and absolutely charmed as an entertainer, especially when he went off script and interacted with fans.
Xcel Energy Center, June 28
In her 140-minute extravaganza, J. Lo had more costume changes than Cher, more rhinestones than Dolly Parton’s closet, more dynamic ensemble dancing than Janet Jackson, more knockout moves than “World of Dance,” more lip-syncing than Britney Spears and more energy than all the Twin Cities air conditioners used in July. Not to mention that Jenny From the Block made a grand entrance and even a grander exit. Quite a show.
Mystic Lake Casino, June 30
This epic performance by the Philly hip-hop veterans recalled one of Prince’s Paisley Park jams with its outstanding musicianship, compelling chemistry, facile spontaneity, consistent passion, deep repertoire, straightforward approach, enduring length and we’re-on-fire-so-we’re-not-gonna-stop attitude. So many standout soloists, especially guitar star Cap’n Kirk Douglas, who soared like Santana and scatted like Al Jarreau.
Three out-of-town bonuses
The O’Jays and Al Green (New Orleans Jazz Fest, April 28): Two of my all-time favorite soul acts delivered in the heat, sweating through 1970s classics with conviction, gravitas and ageless voices. May we all find “Love and Happiness” and ride the “Love Train” into eternity.
Rolling Stones (Soldier Field, Chicago, June 21): Intent on proving his heart valve procedure was no setback, manic Mick Jagger started the concert in fourth gear and seldom slowed down for the next two hours. When the Stones cut loose on extended versions of “Miss You” and “Midnight Rambler,” it reminded concertgoers that this is indeed the world’s greatest — if oldest — rock band.
Billie Eilish (Summerfest, Milwaukee, July 6): At 17, she is prodigiously talented — focused, expressive, confident, vulnerable, so representative of someone her age. Backed only by her older brother on guitar/keyboards and a drummer, she commanded her artfully minimalist stage with similarly uncluttered pop-meets-trap music, incendiary vocals and electrifying moves.