This year, like any other year, had its good, great, mediocre and horrendous pop shows. Here are 10 of the best and a few honorable mentions: Rickie Lee Jones, May 25 at Ruth Eckerd Hall: Her bay area debut was the clear-cut Best Show of the Year. Jones, who is sometimes a hesitant performer, was perfectly at ease with the Eckerd crowd. The set was filled with drama, pathos, subtle theatrics. Her slurry, jazz-tinged voice was in peak form. She mixed old stand-bys like Chuck E.'s In Love with newer material and some obscure things. A completely enchanting two hours.
Anita Baker, Oct. 14 at the USF Sun Dome: This was another bay area debut by a brilliant singer. And Baker did not disappoint. The show had its glitzy elements, but stayed true to the music, an engaging blend of pop, R&B and jazz.
Baker pushed her gauzy voice past the limits of her recordings, phrasing with abandon and reaching into spine-tingling upper registers. (I met with Baker after the show, and she said she didn't feel there was anything special about the set. I hope one day to see her when she's really on.)
David Byrne, April 28 at Tampa Theater: The head Talking Head brought his full-tilt Latin show to town and turned Tampa Theater into a salsa club. The large ensemble was full of verve as it ran through a compendium of Afro-Cuban grooves. Byrne's throaty yowl _ a strange counterpoint to the liquid Latin rhythms _ was in top form.
Zachary Richard, Nov. 3 at El Pasaje Plaza: The "Cajun Rocker" turned his show into a street dance, bouncing between pummeling zydeco, second-line New Orleans R&B, Cajun two-steps and waltzes. Most among the crowd could not sit still.
Eric Clapton, July 27 at the Florida Suncoast Dome: The British guitar wizard's albums have plowed little new ground in the last decade and a half, but his live shows are something to behold. Unlike his recorded work, Clapton lets his guitar shine in concert. And his backup band was outstanding.
Paul McCartney, April 12 at Tampa Stadium: A sea of baby boomers flocked to bask in the glow of the former Beatle. And he delivered what they wanted: an extensive set of Fab Four classics, mixed with solo and Wings favorites along with some new material. It all came together beautifully. The atmosphere in the stadium was more relaxed than manic.
Pat Metheny, Oct. 13 at USF Special Events Center: For the first time, the contemporary jazz guitarist played the bay area without his regular Group. His trio show with bassist Dave Holland and drummer Roy Haynes was looser and jazzier than anything Metheny has done on a local stage before. And unlike the Question and Answer album that inspired the trio tour, Metheny felt free to break out his futuristic guitar synthesizers and hurl sonic surprises at the audience, swinging all the while.
Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Oct. 20 at Coachman Park (Clearwater): As three-time performers at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, the New Orleans brass ensemble looked more than comfortable giving the festival a welcome party jolt. DDBB mixed a lusty, feel-good stage presence with with saucy syncopated grooves and crackshot musicianship.
George Jones and Merle Haggard, Nov. 25 at Bayfront Arena: Three grizzled country vets met at the Bayfront arena, and only Conway Twitty failed to turn in a memorable set. Jones' proved to be a remarkably facile singer, with a wide range and flair for lugubrious phrasing. Haggard's stage presence was remote, even uneasy, but his set had real roadhouse grit.
Take 6, Nov. 8 at Tampa Theater: The a cappella gospel-jazz group spread the Word with otherworldly harmonies and a strong sense of pacing, made infectious by the sheer exuberance of the six young singers.
Other shows worth mentioning: Silos, June 16 at Club Detroit; Soundgarden, Feb. 3 at the Cuban Club; King Sunny Ade, June 2 at Jannus Landing.
Dog of the Year: Hall and Oates, July 1 at Hamlin's Landing: The sun made it feel like 110. The crowd set up lawn chairs on dusty ground. The show started about two hours late. The sound system was muddy. How could Hall and Oates be anything but bad?