Spirits were high at the Universal Amphitheatre on Sunday and Monday when local modern rock outlet KROQ held its annual holiday soiree. A stellar lineup of the year’s alternative stars played abbreviated and, for the most part, charming sets for lucky listeners, and all for a good cause.
The bah humbugs were left outside as younger acts — from provocative singer Alanis Morissette, one of the year’s breakthrough success stories, to such talented newcomers as Toadies and Joan Osborne — and more established performers such as Lenny Kravitz and Perry Farrell’s Porno for Pyros offered little holiday material, but lots of great music.
Porno previewed its upcoming sophomore album, “Good Gods’ Urge,” with a batch of new tunes that indicate Farrell hasn’t lost any of the dazzling sense of adventure that has made him one of contemporary rock’s more magnetic figures. The inclusion of punk ambassador Mike Watt on bass sparked the newly expanded seven-piece band, whose first-night set was highlighted by a new version of Jane’s Addiction’s epic “Mountain Song.”
One of night two’s highlights was local rocker Kravitz, whose mother, actress Roxie Roker, recently died of cancer. His determined perf was capped by an extended, crowd-slaying “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” while a more sedate “Always on the Run,” with its “Mama said” refrain, was a sad inclusion.
Radiohead and Morissette expanded on past area shows, and both made cases for long-term consideration. The former made hairs stand on end with a dramatic “Fake Plastic Trees,” while the latter’s acoustic tales of liberated romantic retribution scored.
Preceding Porno was Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters, who lit a thrashy fire with an anxious supply of rapid-fire, post-Nirvana riffing. Least notable of the performers was Brit grunge-lite stars Bush, who undeservedly headlined both evenings, and Silverchair, a juvenile trio who played garage-level hero worship for 20 minutes.
Novelty sets from Presidents of the United States of America, who sang about the “Christmas Piglet”; Chicago neo-folk guru Wesley Willis, who sang of “Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonalds”; and the Rentals, the musical dud of the event, provided comic relief, while Bootie Quake were a guilty pleasure.
Money raised benefits the Los Angeles County Wide Coalition to End Homelessness, the L.A. Mission, L.A. Youth Network, South Bay Job Center and Para Los Ninos.