‘Tis the season for holiday cheer — but given the state of our country, a little resistance at the end of the year is to be expected. That was the vibe of night one of KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., where, despite the major headline being Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme kicking a photographer in the face without provocation, a large group of rock acts brought to the stage some of alternative radio’s biggest hits.
From Prophets of Rage’s set, which raised a giant middle finger to the current administration, to headliner Muse’s triumphant fight songs, there seemed to be one collective message from the bands as we head into 2018: fight back. Even still, the mood was far from somber, as confetti and streamers showered the crowd throughout the night and bands like Thirty Seconds to Mars showed their love to the audience. See highlights of the night below.
Make America Rage Again
When KROQ scheduled Prophets of Rage and Rise Against back-to-back, they had to know they were setting up a heart-pounding hour. Prophets of Rage set the tone: Chuck D and B-Real know how to hype a crowd, as old hits like “Insane in the Brain” and “Jump Around” seemed to resonate just as much as new singles like “Living on the 110.” Their performance of “Hail to the Chief” was especially bold — as they rapped lines like “All hail to the chief / who came in the name of a their / to cease peace,” Chuck D briefly did a Nazi march down the stage in a strong statement to our president and VP.
After exiting the stage with fists raised in front of a “Make America Rage Again” message, Rise Against rode that wave into their set, their seventh at an Almost Acoustic Christmas show. Tim McIlarth led the band in a few killer performances, including “Prayer of the Refuge” and “Savior,” and closed out with an apt message: “There’s nothing radical about saying f— racism in 2017. There’s nothing controversial about saying f— homophobia in 2017.”
A Change in Tone
Josh Homme was… in a mood. As Queens of the Stone Age took the stage, the frontman antagonized the crowd, and it was pretty distracting from the actual music. Among his antics: Saying “You guys here to see Muse? F— Muse,” leading the audience in a collective booing, and, after pretending to swallow a foam stick that was thrown on stage, telling a crowd member “I used to f— guys like you in prison.” He also deliberately cut his own forehead with a knife, blood rushing down his face during the second half of his set, and kicked a photographer in the head, sending her to the hospital (the photographer, Chelsea Lauren, works for Shutterstock, which has a licensing partership with Variety owner Penske Media, and spoke to Variety after the incident).
After such a hostile set, Jared Leto, leading Thirty Seconds to Mars, seemed like an alternative rock angel. Taking the stage in a flowing vest and an even more impressive beard, he insisted on showing his love for the crowd. After a long, passionate opening performance of “End of All Days,” Leto showed that, even after winning an Oscar, he’s not above getting down with his fans. He moved to the middle of the crowd — giving those in the floor seats a story to tell — for an intimate acoustic version of “The Kill.” After big, colorful performances of “This Is War” and “Walk on Water,” he pulled about two dozen fans on the stage to close out their set for a touching moment.
Muse is a small band that packs a big punch. The three band members seemed to have equal play in creating an epic show, a feast for both the eyes and ears. Lead vocalist and guitarist Matt Bellamy got close to fans and hit notes that would make Freddie Mercury proud on hits like “Supermassive Black Hole,” “Dig Down,” and “Madness” in front of trippy background visuals. Bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard even got the chance to unleash a few riffs while Bellamy was off stage, making sure the entertainment was non-stop.
That sense of resistance was clear in fiery performances of “Uprising” — where Bellamy smashed the amp with his guitar before throwing it across the stage — and “Knights of Cydonia,” but, like the songs themselves, it felt triumphant and uplifting.
Never underestimate the opening acts on shows like these; they can often be the highlights. Royal Blood opened the show in rocking fashion, making it almost a crime that they were only given a 20-minute set. Judah and the Lion ended their set by dropping their instruments and leading the crowd in a dance party during “Take It All Back,” a nice touch as it looked like the band was having the time of their lives. Cold War Kids welcomed Bishop Briggs during their time on stage, and she just about ran away with their set as she collaborated with them on “All Tied Up” and a cover of Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain.” Run the Jewels put on a high-energy show as well, with Killer Mike and El-P both delivering memorable verses.
KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas will continue on Sunday, with acts including the Killers, Weezer, and the Lumineers.