I love absolutely love compiling my year-end top concerts list.

It gives me a chance to relive the finest moments of my always-packed concert calendar. And there were certainly plenty worth reliving from the past 12 months.

It was a great year for live music -- and what a thrill it's been to share many of my experiences with readers.

The following are my top 10 concerts of 2012.

1. Rock the Bells, Aug. 25-26, Shoreline Amphitheatre

There's never a shortage of intriguing music festivals by the Bay. Our annual treats include Outside Lands, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Treasure Island, Noise Pop and the Bridge School Benefit. The best festival that I attended in 2012 was Rock the Bells, which was a two-day slice of nirvana for local hip-hop fans.

What truly made this event special was its incredible mix of old-school acts (such as Ice Cube and Salt-N-Pepa), rising talents (such as Mac Miller and Kendrick Lamar) and top headliners (notably, Nas and Kid Cudi).

The weekend delivered about 22 hours of hip-hop, nearly all of which was worth fans' time. The biggest treat, however, was the chance to see the pioneers of the game -- especially Big Daddy Kane, who remains one of the most talented MCs in the world.

2. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Nov. 30, Oracle Arena, Oakland

If the Boss tours, he ends up on my year-end list. That's not because I'm a Springsteen fanatic, but because he is an entertainer who has absolutely nothing left to prove in the concert arena, yet somehow manages to live up to his incredible legend seemingly each time he takes the stage.

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band perform at Oracle Arena in Oakland on Nov. 30, 2012.
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band perform at Oracle Arena in Oakland on Nov. 30, 2012. (Jane Tyska/Staff)

I can't honestly say that the Oakland show was better or worse than the one in April at HP Pavilion in San Jose -- they both were excellent. The Oakland date is simply the more recent of the two, thus the incredible songs, musicianship and, above all else, passion of that night (just after the election) resonate a tad stronger.

3. Leonard Cohen, Nov. 7, HP Pavilion, San Jose

I consider it nothing less than an immense honor to attend one of Cohen's concerts. To be in the audience as the mighty singer-songwriter sings such exquisite lyrics, each one worth hanging on to for days, is something I treasure. The San Jose outing was another glorious evening of song, as the 78-year-old Canadian crooned through "Dance Me to the End of Love," "Tower of Song" and other favorites during his roughly three hours onstage.

4. Phish, Aug. 19 (last night), Bill Graham Civic Auditorium

I enjoyed Phish's entire three-night stand at the Civic, especially since each of the shows had its own distinct personality, vibe and (of course) set list. The last night of the run, however, was epic. It was filled with joyous surprises, mind-blowing improvisation, heroic guitar leads from Trey Anastasio and, overall, ample evidence as to why Phish is the best jam band in the known universe.

5. Mary J. Blige, Sept. 8, Sleep Train Pavilion

I've long believed that Blige isn't just one of the greatest female vocalists of our time -- but rather one of the greatest of all time. The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul certainly backed up that assertion on this night, as she triumphantly showcased her powerful voice, mesmerizing style and rock-solid songbook -- all of which have exerted untold influence on the contemporary pop/R&B world over the past two decades.

6. Devo, Jan. 14, Fillmore

Snicker all you want about the funny hats, weird jumpsuits and wild videos. These guys have far more to offer than just novelty and "Whip It" -- and they certainly proved it during this thoroughly rocking evening. There's a definite nostalgia element to this band, which peaked commercially in the early '80s, yet its best songs -- like "Gates of Steel" and "Beautiful World" -- sound amazingly fresh today.

7. Pulp, April 17, Warfield

Jarvis Cocker is the coolest guy this side of Bryan Ferry, and the Pulp frontman was certainly at his charismatic best during this much-anticipated gig. Pulp put out so much good music, mostly in the '90s, and fans clearly weren't ready to see the band go bye-bye in 2002. Pulp's recent reunion was a blessing for Britpop lovers everywhere; unfortunately, it appears to be over now. Still, it was fantastic to grab one more night with such a dynamic outfit.

8. Buzzcocks, April 20, Uptown Oakland

This was an uproariously good evening from the best pop-punk band of all time. The Buzzcocks have been around since the mid-'70s, but the group's songbook remains an ageless wonder. One can only wish that there was something new on rock radio today that sounded as vibrant and vital as the Buzzcocks' best, which includes such punk gems as "Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)," "I Believe" and "What Do I Get?"

9. Kelly Clarkson, July 25, Sleep Train Pavilion

I'm never shy about slamming "American Idol," yet I have to admit that the voting public definitely got it right in 2002. The first-ever "A.I." champ continues to dazzle in her solo career and, more to the point, on the live stage. Her hourlong Concord show was pure pop-music pleasure, filled with such wonderful cuts as the rich power ballad "Behind These Hazel Eyes" and a pair of cool covers (Katy Perry's "Wide Awake" and fun.'s "We are Young".)

10. Jefferson Starship, Jan. 25, Rrazz Room

There's something to be said for having low expectations, which is definitely what I had walking into this show. How could I not after all the Jefferson Airplane/Starship configurations fans have put up with over the past few decades? Thus, it was an unexpected and quite delightful surprise to witness just how high this Starship can still soar.

Follow Jim Harrington at Twitter.com/jimthecritic, Facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.

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To see more highlights from Jim Harrington's year of concerts, click each artist's or band's name.