Back in August 2010, I was able to write about my journey to Chicago, where I experienced the musical awesomeness that was Lollapalooza 2010. Despite my inability to critically assess music beyond thinking that some bands sound good in my ear and some do not, I have decided to once again write about a fantastic musical extravaganza. This time, I was able to attend the 21st Annual KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas.
Taking place on December 12, 2010, at the Gibson Amphitheater, located in Universal City, CA (next to the Waterworld: Stunt Show Spectacular or whatever that attraction is called that is better than Costner’s flop), this was night two of a two night event. The previous night featured a lineup of acts that included: The Smashing Pumpkins, Social Distortion, My Chemical Romance, Jimmy Eat World, Bad Religion, and Cake. While I enjoy a good number of those bands, night two was really the show I wanted to see. The lineup for night two featured: Phoenix, Vampire Weekend, Brandon Flowers, The Black Keys, The Temper Trap, Neon Trees, Florence + The Machine, Broken Bells, and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. This was the night that caught my eye and now I am prepared to share how much fun it was…to the best of my under qualified abilities.
For those unaware, KROQ (Kay-Rock) is a Los Angeles based radio station, which mostly airs modern rock, broadcasted all over Los Angeles and Orange County. This concert has been running since 1990, always taking place mid-December, featuring a solid lineup of popular rock and alternative music groups. Despite the non-insubstantial price of tickets for the concert, the event does sell out quickly. Night one sold out in less than 30 minutes. Night two sold out in less than 15 minutes. It was a battle for me to log in online and get through the server to purchase my own pair of tickets, although that doesn’t sound epic enough, so let’s say that I had to wrestle a grandma to get one of the last pair, that’ll do. The proceeds of the Acoustic X-Mas concerts benefit Para Los Ninos, the Al Wooten Jr. Heritage Center, and other local charities. It really is a show focused on having a great lineup, with intentions of giving and helping out others for the holidays. So enough preambles, let me get to the concert.
After fighting through traffic on the 101 freeway and within the Curious George parking lot to reach the show’s location, my friend and fellow UCSB graduate, Jessica, and I were ready to rock out. The show started at 6:00 p.m., and with 9 acts to get through, one of the coolest aspects was how the stage at Gibson Amphitheater was set up to rotate. This meant that as one group would perform in front of the audience, the proceeding group would be setting up on the opposite side. This process meant no lag time between sets, which meant “Hell Yeah!” for all of us excited to see these acts.
The first act up was Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Besides having one of the coolest band names in the business, this was a fun start up to the show. Singer Alex Ebert (who I only just recently found out is also the lead singer for indie group Ima Robot, who I really enjoy) managed to lead this 9-person ensemble well, as he made for a fun guy to see interact with the crowd. Not at all unwilling to be a part of the audience, Alex wandered into the crowd, while continuing to sing, and even gave away a tambourine to a lucky fan. As every band had only so much time to play, ES and the MZ’s (even their acronym is cool!) delivered a solid setlist, which of course consisted of their two most popular tracks, “Janglin” and “Home.” By the time the “Zeros” had finished, I am sure the rest of the audience was more than psyched to see this opening act momentum carry on throughout the night.
So next up to play was Broken Bells. A fairly new group, which has the distinction of being made up of DJ Danger Mouse and lead singer of The Shins, James Mercer, this act was another solid entry in the lineup. Focused mainly on delivering the music and less on crowd interaction, Broken Bells delivered the goods, as they performed their set, played their songs well (as one would hope, and I am a fan of their self-titled debut album), and made a pumped-up crowd pleased with a more low-key, melancholy, rock sound. Those unfamiliar by name with Broken Bells, just look up their hit single, “The High Road,” and recognition should occur fairly quickly.
Due to a schedule change, which I will get to later on, the next group up was The Temper Trap. Fortunately, this Australian, alternative foursome managed to bounce very well off the rhythm of the night so far established, following the Broken Bells set. Known well for their very popular hit song, “Sweet Disposition,” The Temper Trap made sure to alert the audience to their near obsessive amount of instrument work by lending a majority of their act to very atmospheric set of songs and sound. Things certainly got tribal, as lead singer Dougy Mandagi eventually left the mic behind and focused on banging on his one large drum during the aptly titled “Drum Song”. While enthusiastic about keeping the crowd engaged, the dedication to creating the music sans vocals, for the most part, was certainly a way to keep the audience members, who were big fans, held at bay by sounds they would consider mesmerizing.
Next up, a band that certainly commanded the night early on, based on how enthusiastic their lead singer was, Neon Trees performed a fantastic set on stage, which certainly made me a bigger fan of what they had to offer. Breaking out much bigger this year, with hits like “Animal” and “1983”, Neon Trees truly was a force to be reckoned with, as they arrived on stage, dressed festively, as they had the holiday spirit in mind. Lead singer Tyler Glenn, who knew how to where a spiked mohawk quite well and, as Jessica pointed out, had quite a large mouth, was certainly going for the gold as he belted out the group’s hits, danced along all silly-like, engaged the audience frequently, and even brought out Santa Clause to hand out presents. What more could you ask for? How about a chance to sing-a-long? Well that happened too, as Tyler gave some simple instructions and the audience readily complied. While already satisfied, the sudden amp up in faster-paced rock undoubtedly got me even more pumped up.
Following Neon Trees, arriving just in time apparently, as we were informed that traffic getting to Gibson Amphitheater from the 405 freeway was a bitch, Florence + The Machine appeared on the other side of the rotating stage and were ready to get heavy. Just as I was saying that this concert could use both: more cowbell and a manic, pixie dream girl, Acoustic X-Mas delivered on at least one point, by letting me listen to London-born lead singer Florence Welch. While I didn’t get to hear a cowbell, I was compensated by watching a fantastic set that featured incredible vocals by Welch, who was accompanied by her backing band (The Machine), which included a pretty awesome golden harp. While the whole set was a great and impressive joy to watch (“Cosmic Love” was definitely a highlight), “Florence” ending on the popular hit, “Dog Days Are Over,” was pretty cool due to the fact that their late arrival on stage left them with little time to finish; so the band wholeheartedly continued to play, even as the stage was rotating to bring in the next act.
And speaking of that next act, The Black Keys came onto stage, starting out strong with their recent hit, “Tighten Up.” The Black Keys were one of my top three reasons for going to the concert, and once again, as I have seen them a few times now, great things came from their performance. Announcing early on that they had little time and would perform as many songs as they could, the “Keys” wasted no time, as they delivered strong with the dirty, bluesy, rock and roll that was so desired by the squeaky clean audiences, politely going insane with joy. The duo, consisting of Dan Auerbach on guitar and vocals and Patrick Karney on drums, surely knew how to please their fans, as the setlist consisted of 8 songs, all performed expertly. Ending on their single, “I Got Mine,” my feelings certainly matched those sentiments.
Following The Black Keys, The Killers front man, Brandon Flowers, was next, embarking on his first Acoustic X-Mas show as a solo artist. Clearly very popular, while I may not be the biggest fan of his or The Killers, I certainly observed an artist delivering a show that was intensely satisfying for all his followers. Flowers started out with his newest single, “Crossfire” (which I got caught up in), but had some special surprises in store for the crowd later on. Flowers told the audience that he has had some time to rework some of The Killers’ songs, which lead to a slow, acoustic (fitting) performance of “When We Were Young.” I found this to be pretty cool. At the end of his set, Flowers then managed to put on a techno-remix performance of “Mr. Brightside,” which was a good way to let things finish out.
Not averse in the slightest to having fun with their own image, Vampire Weekend was next to come out onto stage, with a well placed hip-hop beat backing their entrance. Following this joyful announcement of, “Yes, we are here to have fun,” the New York originated, preppy-dressed, indie rock band started off with a fitting song for the night’s theme, “Holiday.” I could continue to list off songs, as Vampire Weekend is one of my current, favorite groups, but suffice it to say that this group knows precisely how to blast out their intricately constructed, catchy songs. Bigger singles such as “Cousins” and “A-Punk” were played and played well, only to be followed by the laid back pseudo-lecture that is “Oxford Comma.” Even after settling into some of their more island-tinged songs such as “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” Vampire Weekend decided to go out on a great upbeat note with “Walcott.” One final note, having seen this group a couple times now, I must point out that bassist Chris Baio is a fine multitasker, as he knows how to display some fancy footwork, while performing.
Closing out the night was Phoenix. Consisting of four, polite, French men, Phoenix has a knack for delivering both: an amazing performance that echoes the sound of their studio albums and an excuse to try and rave to the sounds of alternative French pop, as the intricate lighting setup of their act will certainly be hard to avoid, let alone separate yourself from, as the fresh sounds of their upbeat melodies never seem to get old. Phoenix may have been the most difficult group to attempt to photograph, but they certainly put on a damn fun show to watch. Lead singer Thomas Mars seems to have the qualities of an all around nice individual, as he warmly greets the crowd and heads into the audience to continue his vocal performance. Guitarist Christian Mazzalai seems to be having plenty of fun as well, as he toys with the audience by hitting simple chords at a time with nothing but smiles for the crowd. Even with the shortened set time, Phoenix still managed to find time for their almost completely electronic (with some instrumental help) tracks, “Love Like a Sunset, Parts I and II.” “Lisztomania” may have been played quite early to satisfy many, but Phoenix could of course not get away without playing their massive hit, “1901.” Despite claiming to end the night with either “Lasso” or “Girlfriend” (or something else I can’t remember, as I was having too much of a good time), the band of course quickly bounced back onto stage and performed their biggest single for the enjoyment of many.
Overall, the night was pretty fantabulous (yeah, 2000 words in, I’ll just start making some up). As I mentioned, this night two show of KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas sold out in less than 15 minutes, so clearly I was not the only one looking forward to what was a pretty fantastic setlist. Each group brought their unique brand of (mainly) alternative rock to the stage and performed more than adequately. It is cool to see some of your favorite bands live. It is even better when you watch them not suck on stage. That was certainly the case here. To make things even better, the rotating stage setup was great, as the show rarely slowed down. Once things got going, it was a great musical experience to witness on a strangely warm December night in Los Angeles. I hope to carry on the this rock momentum into 2011.
One final note: I managed to video record several clips of the performances I saw on my iPhone 4. Using an app, I was able to create a nice little video collage of several songs performed that night. Feel free to enjoy it in all its HD glory.
Find more pics and get more info about the event at: http://kroq.radio.com/shows/21st-annual-kroq-almost-acoustic-christmas/