In the midst of uneven sets that filled the more “indie” night of KROQ’s annual Christmas extravaganza, the Killers delivered a four-song surprise set that was the highlight of the evening. Singer Brandon Flowers displayed absolute confidence and the evening’s only real display of holiday cheer while duetting with a hokey Santa Claus on their holiday song “Don’t Shoot Me Santa,” surrounded by a slew of Christmas trees and super-soaker-sporting Elves. It was the kind of special moment that these shows once reveled in, and a marker that no matter how predictable they get, in a jam-packed marathon evening the best times are often the unexpected ones.
Headliner Muse is undeniably made up of master musicians and showmen, and the best of their proggy, catchy psych-rock is the kind of classic-rock-influenced roar that appeals to the whole of KROQ’s audience, from 28-year-old hardcore fans to 40-something mothers and their 15-year old “Guitar Hero”-champ sons. But their hour-plus set’s structure left something to be desired: after coming on strong, the energy waned, and a midset confetti-balloon drop was poorly timed. The highlight was an unexpected cover of Nina Simone’s classic “Feeling Good,” the subtlety of which was overshadowed by the metalish hit “Knights of Cydonia.”
Brevity’s always a bonus at these events, and another band that could’ve used a bit was power-poppers Jimmy Eat World, whose new album “Chase This Light” eschews their formerly powerful choruses for sound-alike emo; though they played hits like “The Middle” and “Sweetness,” the set was stuffed with ballads that didn’t translate to the mass-market crowd.
Modest Mouse smartly channeled Tom Waits in their shreiky, banjo-laden set but didn’t play “Float On” — not the best move for a mid-level band working their way up these kinds of lineups. Benefiting from the short set times was the Shins, a usually lackluster live-band energized here by a half-hour set, as singer James Mercer let some passion shine into his already sunny jangle-rockers.