If there’s one truth about these multiartist radio festivals, it’s that they almost always sound better in theory — in advance — than they do in execution once the big night arrives. As usual, Burbank’s alternative-rock powerhouse KROQ was able to pull together a very impressive list of performers for their annual benefit extravaganza, especially considering the last-minute cancellations of popular acts like the Verve, Bjork and Jamiroquai.
But the hit-and-run nature of the bands’ brief sets, many performers’ trifling proclivity to use the “F” word (which the station didn’t bother to edit from its 5-second-delayed simulcast), and the event’s lack of any real holiday cheer, made for less-than-glad tidings.
But lots of money was raised for good causes, and at least a few of the bands — many of whom recently played local headlining shows — did use the allotted slots to make their mark.
The first night, which started at 6 p.m., took a good two hours to get off the ground. One-hit wonders like Sneaker Pimps and Chumbawamba made more of an impact on the bored kids by starting the unfortunate trend of swearing from the stage just for the sake of swearing than they did with their forgettable music. San Francisco punks Rancid, a last-minute add to the bill, played a surprisingly subdued set, while un-alternative rockers Matchbox 20 simply stunk.
It was left to Silver Lake alt-hero Beck to finally stir things up. Entering the stage under a big umbrella, the spastic singer dazzled the crowd with an array of dance moves, vocal flights, harmonica raves and other as-sorted stage tricks, leaving the packed house both entertained and impressed.
Next up was the dramatic Scott Weiland, the Stone Temple Pilots singer who gave an eccen-tric, Iggy Pop-meets-Marlene Dietrich performance that caught everyone by surprise. Heavily made up and wearing a feminine, frilly collared shirt, the L.A. singer bared his soul for a mostly unappreciative, sometimes boo-ing audience with a selection of probing songs from his upcoming solo debut. Vexed lyrics like, “Grab a scale/and guess the weight/of all the pain I’ve caused” indicate the compelling current direction of his songwriting.
Anaheim’s No Doubt, also a last-minute add to the bill, played an exciting set that included a tribute to Sublime’s late singer Brad Nowell during a boisterous cover of that band’s “D.J.s.” Jane’s Addiction closed the evening with an abbreviated version of the same set they played at Universal just days before, though it must be said that singer Perry Farrell hit the stage with a vengeance during “Ocean Size,” probably his reaction to his rambling perf on Monday night.
Night two also dragged early on, as cloying bands like Everclear and Aquabats could only whet the appetite for what was to come. Third Eye Blind played polished rock songs that finally got the crowd out of their seats, while the clownish antics of Sugar Ray singer Mark McGrath, whose pants were very ripped in the crotch, finally added some levity to what had been a pretty dull evening.
Someone must have spiked the punch that the guys in Live were drinking, because the quintet turned in their most exciting and edgy local set since they played Raji’s back in their pre-fame days. And 311, which had flown in from an East Coast tour to play the show, dropped a slamming eight-song set of rap-rock-funk-reggae, while Green Day’s typically bratty set was marked by their destruction of the decorated stage (acts played on one side of a rotating stage).
Event closer David Bowie, who dressed like a big white icicle, played a range of songs, from 1973’s “Panic in Detroit” to the recent “I’m Afraid of Americans,” during his 35-minute set, but showed little interest in the spirit of the occasion. In fact, the biggest holiday gesture by any of the performers was from one who wasn’t there. The members of Jamiroquai, troubled by their cancellation, donated 5,000 copies of their three albums to first-night attendees as they exited.
Money raised by KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas is earmarked for such charities as Para Los Ninos, L.A. Youth Network, Al Wooten Jr. Heritage Center and Homeless Health Care Los Angeles.