KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas 2014: From Worst to Best

Festival Review

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Since we last attended a KROQ festival, things have gotten better. The 25th KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas seemed to mend every problem with this last Weenie Roast’s lineup. How strong was the bill? Strong enough to weather the loss of U2 from the poster. That’s a most impressive feat.

The festival was not without its notable moments. DJ Bean fell off the stage before the final act on Sunday, much to the horror of the audience. It would have been nice to know if he was okay before No Doubt went on, but clearly KROQ knew what was best and let the night’s headliners bring the party with opening song “Hella Good”.

It was nice to see Jimmy Kimmel come out and support his old station, as well as other classic DJs like Rodney Bingenheimer. Of the bands chosen to play — 18 in all — a number were from Southern California, including the final three of Saturday and the closer on Sunday. As DJ Stryker noted, the choices were deliberate, and dividends were paid.

Also of interest were just how many bands were there for repeat visits. Incubus and Weezer both announced it was their seventh time at the event, while thanking KROQ for their support over the years. And though many of the acts may have had their strongest years in decades past, for a 25th anniversary show, having acts from all eras of the station’s history felt appropriate. Above all, the memory from the terrible Weenie Roast was wiped clear, and for that, we are grateful.

Worst Cover Band

New Politics

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Last year, New Politics played both KROQ’s event and the KISS FM Jingle Ball pop-fest, and somehow have lost popularity in the meantime. The band tries every trick to win the approval of youngsters, including a passable cover of Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”, inexplicable non-covers of “Anaconda” and “Turn Down for What”, breakdancing, throwing instruments up in the air and catching them, and even a fucking backflip. If only someone would tell them that making decent music that people will remember from year to year is a more reliable method of success.

Worst Booking for the KROQ Brand

Vance Joy

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Vance Joy is a singer from Australia. Word is that he is opening some dates for Taylor Swift next year, and I still have no idea why he was on this bill. At best, he will be an artist that KROQ supports for a minute before realizing he is more the Matchbox 20 or Maroon 5 variety.

Band Least Likely to Be Fed After Midnight

Royal Blood

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Royal Blood will open for Foo Fighters in 2015, and they have the arena-ready rawk sound that will be demanded of them on a nightly basis — but they have yet to establish the visual force of big-stage acts. In fact, they managed to play their early Saturday set under the cover of darkness, giving none of the visual thrills that would arrive later in the evening. It was an amateur mistake from a band that needs to be past making amateur mistakes.

Most Bored Band

Fall Out Boy

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Fall Out Boy’s sixth album is due out in a month, and if its title, American Beauty/American Psycho, or single “The Kids Aren’t All Right” haven’t clued you in to the fact that they are bored and/or out of ideas, then watching their Saturday night set would. Still, new track “Centuries” is the best single they’ve released in years, and “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” will always provide a spark, so the set wasn’t a complete wash. But Fall Out Boy’s style of music demands that the band appear to be having fun, which was a stretch on this night.

The Real Opening Act

Rise Against

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Fourth on Saturday, Rise Against felt like the first act of the night that people actually cared about, mostly because the late arrivers had actually witnessed the band. Though the group’s relevance and popularity has weakened in recent years, familiar hits like “Savior” and “Prayer of the Refugee” were still enough to rouse the now packed house.

Band That Should Be Huge

Walk the Moon

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Walk the Moon’s third LP just came out, and if their early Saturday performance is an indicator, it’s loaded with potential hits that KROQ’s audience would be primed for. Unfortunately, there just weren’t that many people on-hand to witness the set, and the energy suffered a little because of the lack of an audience. Still, from here on out, the sets were some sort of satisfying, with none possessing a critical flaw.

Most Forgettable

Interpol

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Interpol’s early Sunday set wasn’t bad by any means. They played the hits (“Evil”, “PDA”, “Slow Hands”), as well as their strongest new songs. Frontman Paul Banks seemed gracious and in good spirits, while Daniel Kessler provided any needed enthusiasm. It’s a testament to the strength of the bill that Interpol fell right in the sweet spot of not offending and not wowing, allowing many to erase the memory of their presence from their mind like some sort of Eternal Sunshine brain wipe.

Worst Setlist

Smashing Pumpkins

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With just seven songs in their set, opening with three out of four from their new release, Monument to an Elegy, was a bit of an overkill. “Tonight, Tonight” appearing at song three was a reminder that Smashing Pumpkins have at least a dozen instant crowd-pleasers, but instead the band would play an insanely long version of “Silverfuck” with an instrumental section that literally went nowhere, as well as merely passable versions of “Zero” and “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”. The Chicago institution sounded pretty exceptional, even if the songs weren’t the most desirable, and Billy Corgan proved to have the on-stage charm of a Marshall stack.

Best Guests

Linkin Park

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There really wasn’t much to compete with in terms of guests, as only Weezer with Bethany Cosentino would be classified as a special guest. But Linkin Park invited up both System of a Down’s Daron Malakian and Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath to collaborate, creating the most “special” moments of the two days. Of course, these were punctuated with can’t miss hits like “In the End”, “Numb”, and “One Step Closer”, and some of the tightest production and performance syncs of the weekend. Linkin Park is gearing up for an early 2015 arena tour, and by the looks of Saturday night’s set, they are ready.

Best Man Bun

Bush

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Yeah, there was only one man bun over the weekend, but it belonged to Bush’s Gavin Rossdale, and it was glorious. With a set that leaned heavily on the old — including four songs from the band’s landmark Sixteen Stone — Rossdale’s hair provided a much-needed link to 2014. We didn’t get a duet with wife Gwen Stefani as they’ve done in the past, but we did get a solid 30 minutes of great entertainment, including knee skids and punk jumps. Well-played, Bush.

Best Sound

Alt-J

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With just 25 minutes to impress and an early time-slot, Alt-J didn’t waste any time, beginning before they were even visible to the crowd. Still, with the memory of the previous day’s populist rock, Alt-J’s sophistication was a breath of fresh air to usher in night two. Drummer Thom Green continues to impress as one of the best percussionists in contemporary rock, and the band is not without their quirks. (What was with keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton’s backpack he put on for “Left Hand Free?”). Still, though they remain hit and miss on record, as a taster course, live Alt-J more than satisfies.

Best Frontwoman

No Doubt

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No Doubt was brought in to replace U2, and all things considered, they did a stand-up job. Though KROQ AAC dropped the ball at only having a single woman-led outfit over the course of two days, it was nice to see that single act anchoring the whole damn thing. Some 20 years after breaking into the Orange County scene, the band looks un-aged, and their hits don’t come off outdated or overly nostalgic. Opening with a run of “Hella Good”, “Ex-Girlfriend”, and “Sunday Morning” and featuring slow-jams “Underneath It All”, “Simple Kind of Life”, and “Don’t Speak”, No Doubt were able to please on multiple levels. Maybe most excited was Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, who took in the set pushed to the very front of the stage.

Best Rock Stars

Imagine Dragons

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So, KROQ AAC has a stage extension catwalk-thing that Saturday’s lineup used to full effect. Sunday, though, saw the feature mostly ignored. And it would have been weird to see Modest Mouse or Interpol or Alt-J members out there. So, when Imagine Dragons took the stage, it was like another world of showmanship. Frontman Dan Reynolds didn’t stop at the catwalk, going into the audience to sing hit after hit from their breakthrough debut, Night Visions. Reynolds seemed overwhelmed by the whole experience, shouting “Merry Christmas” at the top of his lungs at one point, geeking out that his favorite band, Weezer, was set to hit the stage a moment later (he put his money where his mouth was and could be seen in the crowd for Weezer’s set). Having just headlined Jay Z’s Made in America a few months earlier and with a new album expected in 2015, Imagine Dragons could have easily pleased as the closer for this festival, but coming midway on Sunday night only highlighted how bright the future looks for the band. Haters are gonna hate, but taste aside, Imagine Dragons deliver as a live act. Period.

Best Hits Set

Weezer

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Weezer’s most recent tour is for the die-hard fans and for the fans of the new material. Weezer’s festival sets are something completely different, though, hitting on all their best known songs (with a couple new ones thrown in for good measure). We got our “Hash Pipe”, our slew of Blue Album classics, and even our “Beverly Hills”, most appropriate for the location. The band seemed hyped to be there, even taking a group bow at the end of the set.

Best Comeback

System of a Down

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System of a Down wasn’t the most energetic performance of the night. (In fact, some of the wind got zapped from their sails when the rotating stage got stuck during their opening track, “Chop Suey”). But, the LA hard rockers, who hadn’t played live together in a year, still reminded of their unique sound, anchored by frontman Serj Tankian’s speedy delivery and the band’s overall balance between the political, the goofy, and the creepy. These are tough concepts to juggle, and System does so with grace. It was nice to have them back.

Best Frontman

Incubus

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Incubus will be returning in 2015 and Saturday night was a preview of what is to come. Brandon Boyd inexplicably did not have a man bun, but his band touched on all eras of their career, including a fantastic crowd singalong moment on “Drive”, and other favorites like “Pardon Me” and “Wish You Were Here”. Boyd has tremendous energy, humbling good looks, and a stage presence that’s hard to match. If their new material is anywhere as strong as their past singles, 2015 will have us all remembering why we liked Incubus.

Biggest Surprise Highlight

Tears for Fears

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Surprise! Tears for Fears, an act that I doubt KROQ had any serious intentions of playing new songs from in 2015, was the biggest surprise of the fest. Opening with classics like “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Mad World”, and then throwing in a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” for good measure got everyone on the ’80s band’s side, creating this overwhelming atmosphere of fandom in the Forum that was missing the previous day. Tears for Fears were a surprisingly unifying act, and may have the radio station thinking twice when their promotional singles arrive for their new record.

Best Band

Modest Mouse

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Okay, am I biased? Yes. But despite the opinion that Modest Mouse were the best band on the bill and one of the best bands of all time, they also put in a remarkably tight, focused, and fun set. Bookended by non-radio cuts “Dramamine” and “A Different City”, MM managed three new songs in their set, along with casual fan favorites “Float On”, “Dashboard”, and “The World at Large”. Frontman Isaac Brock rocked hard enough to lose his beanie during the opening song, and despite being on earlier in the Sunday lineup and seeing general indifference from the audience, the Pacific Northwest band solidified themselves once again as ones to watch next year.

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