Brandon Flowers has been in heavy support of his solo record, with very few dates in the States in 2015 for his band. They recently performed at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas, as well as a late-add show the night before in San Diego. Some fans told me how tired and hungover they were from a show that didn’t start until around midnight. This set would begin at 8:30 p.m. and end before 10 p.m.
The Killers kicked things off with their smash hit “Mr. Brightside” from their debut album, and there wasn’t a person who didn’t know every word it seemed.
Sometimes you can forget how many hits a band has achieved, and with The Killers it was especially crazy to note how many came off their first two albums. There was hardly a lull during their set, from “Smile Like You Mean It” to the epic bridge of “Bling (Confessions of a King).”
“Higher and higher, we’re gonna take it down to the wire, we’re gonna make it, out of the fire, higher and higher,” Flowers and the thousands of attendees sang together. Flowers is so unassuming as a frontman it’s crazy to process how big of a rock star he is when with his band. For the encore, Flowers returned to the stage to cheers in a San Diego Chargers jersey with his last name on the back.
My overall expectations of KAABOO were exceeded, though they weren’t too high to begin with. It took on the feel of a Bottle Rock of southern California, as in it catered more to the high-end elder VIP clientele the same way the Napa Valley festival did back in May. The lineup was a bit all over the place, with electronic music only taking place the first two days and late at night, and very little hip-hop (Snoop Dogg and The Roots were pretty much it). Between acts like No Doubt, Sheryl Crow, Counting Crows, Snoop Dogg, 311, Train, Slightly Stoopid and Bonnie Raitt, the investment was mostly put into bands whose heydays were in line with when many of the festival’s demographic were in high school or college. The festival has confirmed it will return for a second year, announcing on its website it’ll be back on September 16-18, 2016. Local outlets estimated the festival peaked at crowds of 15,000 to 16,000.
Leading up to Brandon Flowers and his band’s main stage set was perhaps the strongest overall daily lineup of the festival. Kicking things off on the smaller Harrah’s stage were Nashville rockers The Apache Relay, who turned in a blistering set on the hottest day of the weekend.
O.A.R. was up next on the Zuma Stage, which sits on the Del Mar racetrack. This is where shows have previously taken place at the fairgrounds and it’s setup pretty nicely with the elevated stands on the same level of the high-rise stage.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue were one of the early main-stage acts, blowing people away with their work. “Dude’s got a great set of pipes!” said one festival goer nearby when frontman Troy Andrews melted everyone’s faces with a magnificent solo. Covers of Green Day’s “Brain Stew” and Kool & the Gang’s “Get Down On It.”
Los Angeles’ own Dawes had the crowd rocking out during their set at the Zuma Stage, which cast a nice piece of shade while attendees dodged the sun. Blake Mills was sitting in for a sickened member and they didn’t miss a beat. Kicking things off with the grooving “If I Wanted Someone,” Taylor Goldsmith and Co. delivered some tracks off their latest release along with more old favorites, like “Fire Away.” There were more than a few die-hards singing every word during the set.
Grace Potter wowed us earlier this year at the Fonda Theatre and on Sunday she proved herself more than capable as a main-stage festival act. Though the front portion of the crowd was made up of a lot of people just biding their time until The Killers, Potter won them over with her charisma and vocal prowess. Potter played songs off her Midnight album — like the heart-stopping “Delirious” — along with old favorites from her days with The Nocturnals, at one point ditching her top during “Hot Summer Night” late in the set.
Up next on the main stage was Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals, coming off a mesmerizing marathon set at the Greek Theatre on Friday night. Harper poked fun at the massively-sized VIP section at KAABOO, asking along the lines, “So what’s the deal with you guys over here? You all from Calabasas or something?” The crowd booed the VIP section as there was way too much space going unused.
The reggae-fueled “With My Own Two Hands” wrestled the last few people who were sitting down off their asses and onto their feet. The slower-tempo’d “Gold to Me” got a big boost from an epic Juan Nelson bass line, which had fans begging for more. The solo that came during “Forgiven” resulted in massive applause and there was massive gobs of smoke floating into the air during “Burn One Down.” For the second time in a weekend, Juan Nelson’s son joined them as a beat-boxer during “Steal My Kisses.” One of BHIC’s last sets of their tour, they closed with a rousing rendition of “Don’t Take That Attitude to Your Grave.”
Words: Mark E. Ortega
Photography: Steven Ward
Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals
Michael Franti and Spearhead
Michael Franti and Spearhead