“It’s nice to be back again, after 27 years!” Dave Grohl said midway through a typically high-octane set by his band, Foo Fighters, who headlined the opening day of the completely sold-out 2018 KAABOO Del Mar festival.
Grohl’s enthusiastic comment may have confused a fair number of people in the overflow crowd at KAABOO, which is scheduled to conclude Sunday with overlapping performances by Katy Perry and Led Zeppelin co-founder Robert Plant.
After all, this proudly upscale festival was launched in 2015, not 1991, which was at least a decade before some of KAABOO’s younger attendees on Friday were born. And Foo Fighters have performed in San Diego a number of times more recently, including in 2015 at what is now Mattress Firm Amphitheatre, 2011 at SDSU, and 2004 at Street Scene, the now sadly defunct downtown San Diego festival KAABOO founder Bryan E. Gordon has cited as one of his inspirations.
So just what, exactly did head Foo Fighter Grohl mean Friday when he said it was “nice to be back again, after 27 years?”
He was referring to a Dec. 28, 1991, concert that took place in O’Brien Pavilion at the same Del Mar Fairgrounds where much of the KAABOO festival has been held since its inception. The pavilion is just a stone’s throw (or two) from the Rolling Stone Sunset Cliffs Stage the Foo Fighters performed on Friday.
Recalling the lineup of that 1991 concert, a beaming Grohl told the KAABOO audience: “I gotta say, it was a pretty good bill!” He then cited the opening act, “a very young band called Pearl Jam,” and the headliners: “What the hell were they called? … Red Hot Chili Peppers.”
Grohl didn’t mention them by name, but the band he played in at that now-fabled 1991 Del Mar concert — at which Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder dangled precariously over the stage and audience, mid-song, from the highest beams in O’Brien Pavilion — was Nirvana.
Grohl also didn’t mention that the only performer’s name to be printed on the ticket for that Bill Silva Presents-produced 1991 show was the Peppers’. Nor did he note that — buoyed by the success of the band’s single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” — Nirvana’s game-changing “Nevermind” album bumped Michael Jackson from the top of the Billboard national charts just two weeks later. (A dirt-encrusted ticket stub from that 1991 Del Mar Peppers/Nirvana/Pearl Jam triple bill is currently priced at $149.49 on eBay.)
Regardless of such omissions in his onstage remarks Friday, the former Nirvana drummer-turned-Foo-Fighters-singer-and-guitarist clearly relished the historical significance of his Del Mar return. And he and his band clearly enjoyed the unique setting at KAABOO, where they performed under a crescent moon-lit sky, as trains zipped by on the tracks that run just beyond the outer perimeter of the fairgrounds.
“Sometimes you can’t do a show if there’s a (expletive) train going by!” Grohl said, using a word that rhymes with “mucking,” after his band had completed its ninth selection, “Summer Rain.”
In response to the passing train’s loud honking, Grohl seized the moment. He broke into a few bars of what might well have been a revved-up homage to the guitar riff from “Mystery Train,” the 1953 Little Junior Parker R&B classic Elvis Presley recorded a version of two years later. This was followed by an up-tempo blues shuffle that suggested an Allman Brothers’ jam, circa 1969.
“We only do this (stuff) when trains go by,” Grohl quipped.
Both of those spontaneous musical interludes were a prelude to a playful romp down a more recent memory lane, as Foo Fighters jumped into a brief version of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”
“Usually, we do an extended bass solo, but we don’t have time for that,” Grohl said when “Dust” concluded. “We have 35 minutes left to play 116 songs!”
What followed was a snippet of John Lennon’s “Imagine” that segued into a lounge-music ballad version of Van Halen’s “Jump.” The Foo Fighters then charged through the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop,” with the audience gleefully joining in on the “Hey! Ho! Let’s go” refrain, before the nostalgic reverie concluded with Grohl and drummer Taylor Hawkins splitting vocal duties on the Queen/David Bowie chestnut “Under Pressure.”
The Foos scored equally well with some of their own songs, most notably “The Sky Is a Neighborhood,” “My Hero” and the high-octane “Monkey Wrench,” Grohl’s 1997 chronicle of his then-failing marriage. A preponderance of mid-tempo rockers sometimes slowed the momentum, but the group’s animated performance was delivered with winning verve.
Some other Friday KAABOO performances disappointed.
Rapper and singer Post Malone, 23, drew loud cheers and a large audience. His unapologetic cultural appropriation of hip-hop — take a bow, Vanilla Ice — is troubling for anyone who favors originality over cultural appropriation.
Then there was the equally crowd-pleasing Halsey. Also 23, she has undeniable charisma and talent, but needs time for her songwriting and musical personality to deepen and evolve.
Perhaps Halsey could have learned a few key lessons Friday from Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Blondie. The band’s lead singer, Deborah Harry, is now 73, still sexy, still singing well and still fully capable of commanding a stage.
Her band — whose first album came out in 1976 — delivered such favorites as “One Way or Another,” “Heart of Glass” and “Rapture” with spirit and well-honed precision. They were no less engaging, even without guitarist Chris Stein, when playing newer songs, including last year’s “Fun,” whose title said it all.
“We just want to have some fun!” Harry said.