Olivia Rodrigo gives fans one Shell of a time at sold-out San Diego debut concert

Appearing in San Diego the same night as Debbie Harry and Blondie, Rodrigo delighted her fans, including Skylar Levitan, 11, who sang along throughout (but left out the periodic F-bombs)


What are the chances?

On Wednesday night, 2022 triple-Grammy Award-winner Olivia Rodrigo performed at a bayside concert venue in San Diego with her band at exactly the same time Debbie Harry and her band, Blondie, appeared at another bayside venue here a few miles away.

Both concerts were quick sell-outs. Rodrigo drew 8,500 adoring fans to her gig at The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, while Harry drew 1,450 devotees to Blondie’s gig at Humphreys Concerts by the Bay.

Debbie Harry, center, and Blondie
Debbie Harry, center, and Blondie perform in San Diego Wednesday at Humphreys Concerts by the Bay, just a few miles from Olivia Rodrigo’s concurrent concert the same night a few miles away.
(Shauna Auguirre)

Had any music fan been able to attend both events at once, it would have been doubly instructive. (This reviewer opted for Rodrigo.)

Disney Channel TV star Rodrigo, 19, was born in Murrieta and grew up in Temecula. A commercial and critical hit, she is pop music’s current “It” girl, topping the album and singles charts, winning multiple awards — including Billboard magazine’s 2022 Woman of the Year — and swiftly selling out every show on her ongoing maiden tour.

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Harry, 76, was born in Miami and grew up in New Jersey. She was 33 when Blondie’s star-making third album, 1978’s “Parallel Lines,” made her pop-music’s “It” girl of her day. Billboard’s Icon of the Year honoree in 2008, Harry was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.

The vital template Harry helped create for female rock singers extends to Rodrigo. The teen singer-songwriter is a superstar on the video-sharing social network app TikTok, where Blondie’s 1980 hit “Call Me” has also been embraced by a newer generation.

Despite their 57-year-age difference, Rodrigo and Harry are similarly health-minded. Both required all attendees at their respective Wednesday concerts to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination with matching photo ID.

Accordingly, the line to get into Rodrigo’s concert extended from the front entrance of The Shell to Seaport Village several blocks away. Some fans were on hand Wednesday morning to snag a prime spot at the all general-admission show.

What Rodrigo had that Harry did not was an audience dominated by young women — teens, tweens and twentysomethings. Young women, specifically, like 11-year-old Skylar Levitan, a fifth-grader who — with her parents — heard Harry and Blondie at the 2019 edition of KAABOO Del Mar.

Like many in the audience Wednesday, Skylar listened attentively to Holly Humberstone’s engaging opening set but was giddy with anticipation for Rodrigo. Skylar enthusiastically sang along to nearly all of Rodrigo’s 13 selections — minus the periodic F-bombs — from the opening number “brutal” to the concert-concluding “good 4 U,” both of which exuded infectious punk-pop vigor.

Skylar Levitan
Skylar Levitan, 11, enthusiastically sang along to nearly every word at Wednesday’s Olivia Rodrigo concert, except the f-bombs. She also shot videos throughout on her phone and posted them on her Instagram and Snapchat pages. Asked how many videos she posted, Skylar — shown here before the concert began — replied: “A thousand!”
(Courtesy of Jo Ann Levitan)

The only selection Skylar and a good number of the other attendees did not sing along with from start to finish — perhaps due to lack of familiarity — was Rodrigo’s energetic if vocally challenged version of the 1995 No Doubt hit “Just a Girl.” But when Rodrigo delivered a rousing version of Avril Lavigne’s 2002 hit, “Complicated,” the crowd harmonized with her as one.

On each number from Rodrigo’s chart-topping 2021 debut album, “Sour,” the audience sang along with such fervor that the star of the show at times almost became a vocal accompanist to her fans. “Sing it!” Rodrigo commanded during “drivers license,” the heartfelt piano ballad that became her breakthrough hit last year. She then beamed and listened as her fans happily complied.

Slow or fast, most of Rodrigo’s songs are introspective ruminations about teen anxieties, insecurities and ex-boyfriends. Like many in the audience, Skylar may still be too young to have experienced the heartbreak of a failed relationship firsthand.

But the messages of self-empowerment that buoy even Rodrigo’s most downbeat numbers are easy for Skylar to connect with. Or, as Rodrigo put it between songs: “The most beautiful thing about music is that sometimes it can capture feelings better than words.”

Ably backed by a four-woman band, Rodrigo had a palpable connection with what was almost a hometown crowd.

“I grew up about an hour from here,” she said at one point in her hour-long concert. Later, she exclaimed: “Oh my god! Someone in the audience has a sign that says: Your mom was my teacher.

Rodrigo’s interaction with the audience, especially her explanations about the inspiration for some of her songs, impressed Skylar.

“My parents took me to see Janet Jackson at Pechanga Arena (in 2017), and this was way better!” Skylar said. “Janet Jackson just played her hits and didn’t do any extra stuff. Olivia told stories about her songs. She’s the best!”

Olivia Rodrigo
Olivia Rodrigo sang with consistent enthusiasm at her Wednesday night San Diego concert, even when her voice faltered later in the show.
(Ariana Drehsler/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

With only one 34-minute album to her credit, Rodrigo had to stretch to deliver her hour-long concert. While her voice faltered toward the end of the evening, she commanded the stage with a combination of confidence and “I can’t believe I’m really up here!” glee.

The drone buzzing overhead was not part of the show. It was being utilized by a film crew hired by Rodrigo’s record company to document her ongoing “Sour” tour. At a venue as panoramic as The Shell, which last year became the $85 million new outdoor home of the San Diego Symphony, the footage shot here should be a highlight.

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Dancing and twirling across the stage, Rodrigo looked like someone having the time of her young life. So did Skylar and thousands of other fans Wednesday.

Will Olivia Rodrigo follow in Blondie singer Debbie Harry’s long footsteps and still be performing concerts to loyal devotees when she’s 76?

Skylar, who is wise beyond her years about the short shelf life of pop music and the fickle nature of young fans, isn’t so sure.

“I love Olivia so much,” she said. “But I can totally see her fading in two years.”