In an age when streaming may be slowly killing the radio star, KROQ’s Absolut Almost Acoustic Christmas proved that radio stars are alive and well. Night two of the sold-out show (which turned 30 this year) at Anaheim’s Honda Center brought out acts spanning the rock spectrum — from the genre-bending headlining duo of Twenty One Pilots to the Jack White-fronted garage rock band The Raconteurs. Beck and Cage the Elephant, meanwhile, headlined night one.
As soon as Twenty One Pilots took the stage, I stopped questioning why they had been tapped to close the annual concert, instead of second-to-last act, the more seasoned Mumford & Sons. Frontman Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun put on a spectacle, to say the least. The Ohio duo was on fire — almost literally, as they performed alongside a burning car (which has made appearances during past concerts) — as it performed one wild antic after another. Joseph stood atop the fiery car at one point. He later jumped on his piano before closing the show by walking through the crowd to the opposite side of the stadium, where he climbed a tall stage apparatus. Not to be outdone, a shirtless Dun played the drums while being held up by the crowd, at one point.
But at no time did Joseph hide behind the theatrics of it all (including yellow confetti and smoke), instead letting his vocals shine. He opened the set with “Jumpsuit,” from their latest album, “Trench,” then ran thought their biggest hits. A man of many hats (literally and figuratively) Joseph played “Heathens” and “Ride” on the piano and “The Hype” on ukulele. “Stressed Out” and “Chlorine” got the crowd especially pumped. In between gravity-defying acts and rap verses, he stopped to talk to the audience and … his family, as the show was being live-streamed. He reminded his wife to lock the doors and close the windows, and told his mom he didn’t want anything for Christmas. Dun, on the other hand, wants a Nintendo 64.
Something to Believe In
It’s only fitting that the British folk rockers opened with “Guiding Light” — serving as such for the audience. The raucous instrumentals of “Little Lion Man,” “The Cave” and “I Will Wait” had the crowd on its feet, while “Believe” left the stadium speechless and motionless (until the wailing electric guitar delivered a shock to the system). Those 50 minutes of musical bliss gave fans something to believe in, serving as a unifying force. As one lyric melted into another, the mesmerized audience clung to each word, hopeful and optimistic.
With such a wide range of acts under one roof, the concert took on a different life every time the stage turned to reveal the next band. When The 1975 took the stage, Almost Acoustic turned into an epic dance party. Lead vocalist Matthew Healy’s infectious thrusts, shakes and shimmies were hard to resist. Healy, who often cut a rug with his two back-up dancers, asked the crowd to start jumping at one point, even “if you’re here to see Mumford & Sons and don’t know who the f— we are.” The British pop rock band opened with their protest song “People” and continued the rallying cry with the vibey “Love It If We Made It” (images of wars, Weinstein and Brett Kavanaugh played on the screen). Meanwhile, the melodic, autotuned “TooTimeTooTimeTooTime” had a much lighter tone. Then “Somebody Else,” arguably their most popular song to date, transported audiences to the ’80s, but offered a reality check: “Get someone you love? Get someone you need? F— that, get money.”
Girls on Fire
Two female-fronted bands took the stage back to back, and displayed polar opposite sounds. Los Angeles locals The Interrupters brought ska punk to Anaheim, while Icelandic Of Monsters and Men delivered indie folk. Before performing their hit anthem “Take Back the Power,” Interrupters guitarist Kevin Bivona said there’s no room in society for homophobia, sexism or bigotry. He then told the crowd that those suffering from depression, anxiety, PTSD or other mental health issues are not alone, before launching into “Title Holder.” Meanwhile, frontwoman Aimee Allen commanded the whole stage, leaving no ground uncovered. Her explosive energy was on full display during “She’s Kerosene.”
Of Monsters and Men, meanwhile, let their introspective lyrics do most of the talking. Lead singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir’s angelic voice was beyond reproach as she breezed through their haunting, hypnotizing hits “Mountain Sound,” “Crystals,” “Little Talks” and “Dirty Paws.”
They’ve Got You Covered
Lovelytheband, like The Interrupters, were performing at Almost Acoustic for the second year in a row, and also touched on mental health issues. “It’s perfectly okay to not be okay,” vocalist Mitchy Collins said before performing their biggest hit, “Broken.” In honor of My Chemical Romance’s upcoming reunion, Collins also covered the band’s “Teenagers.” Another well-received cover came from The Interrupters, who shared their take on Billie Eillish’s “Bad Guy.”
Nashville, Tenn.-based The Raconteurs, meanwhile, brought their fierce energy and squealing guitar to Almost Acoustic, after recently returning from an 11-year recording hiatus. Expect to see more of newcomer Matt Maeson, who struck a chord, opening the show with emotional singles “Go Easy” and “Cringe.”