No Doubt Plays Surprise Set at Night 2 of KROQ's Almost Acoustic Christmas
Universal City, Calif,
(Sunday, Dec. 9)
Hot off a seven-night run at the same venue, Gwen Stefani and company's unannounced gig augments the benefit concert featuring The Killers, Jack White, fun., Neon Trees, M83 and others.
Midway through Neon Trees’ set during Sunday’s night two of KROQ’s 23rd annual Almost Acoustic Christmas, singer Tyler Glenn marveled, “This is the best lineup ever." While that might have been a bit of an overstatement, the multiact charity concert was, to borrow a song title from surprise special guests No Doubt, hella good.
After recently wrapping their own seven-night stand at the same venue, Gwen Stefani and company were shoehorned in between third-billed fun. and second-billed Jack White and had the crowd so jazzed that you had to wonder if anyone would have any energy left for the former White Stripes frontman and headliners The Killers. Yet both acts managed to hold their own.
White came out with guns blazing, leading his all-male combo in a squealing blast of guitar noise that began just as No Doubt left the stage -- before his introduction and the turntable stage was put in motion to reveal him and his five-piece band. It continued as he ripped into "16 Saltines" followed by "Freedom at 21," the two most-rocking songs from his Grammy-nominated solo debut, Blunderbuss. Throughout his 45-minute set, White played selections from his varied career and various projects -- including The Dead Weather’s "I Cut Like a Buffalo," The Raconteurs’ "Steady, as She Goes," his Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi collaboration "Two Against One" -- and was one of the only acts on the bill to embrace the "almost acoustic" tag, with The White Stripes’ "Hotel Yorba" and "We’re Going to be Friends." He wrapped things up with a furious version of the Stripes’ "Seven Nation Army" that had you convinced, amid a night full of posing and preening, that he’s nothing short of the real deal.
The Killers took the stage following a brief break but also managed to make quite an entrance, doing their 2005 hit "Mr. Brightside" with the lights on. The Las Vegas quartet, led by frontman Brandon Flowers, seems to still aspire for that holy crossroads where Bruce Springsteen meets U2, and on that unattainable quest they’ve managed to crank out quite a catalog of hits. That was made clear in their 45-minute set, which ran the gamut from the goofy but infectious "Human" (sample lyric, "Are we human or are we dancer?" Is Flowers singing about a reindeer?) to the current hit "Miss Atomic Bomb." Nearing the end of the set, Flowers noted that the show had run beyond its originally scheduled six hours, saying, "I know you’ve been here a long time and seen a lot of bands, but do you have one more song left in you?" The Killers answered with their 2006 modern-rock chart-topper "When You Were Young," and the crowd obliged.
Third-billed fun. is the breakthrough act of 2012, recently racking up six Grammy nominations including the big four of album, record and song of the year and best new artist, and they didn’t disappoint. The trio, augmented by three support musicians, is led by frontman Nate Ruess, who has the pinup-boy looks of Mark Wahlberg and a voice at times reminiscent of Queen’s Freddie Mercury. The band reached its full stride at the conclusion of the 30-minute set with the back-to-back blasts of their hit anthems "We Are Young" and "Some Nights," hitting an emotional chord with the mostly young crowd going through the pains and joys of growing up.
In general, these types of radio station-sponsored festivals are only as good as that station’s playlist at any given time, and for fans of KROQ, it’s been a good year. The station, which prides itself as being cutting edge (at least, as cutting edge as a major-market commercial outlet can be), has embraced two burgeoning trends at seemingly opposite ends of the musical spectrum -- electronic dance music and acoustic-based folk rock -- and both genres were represented Sunday night.
French act M83, the night’s other recent multi-Grammy nominee, fleshed out its electronic-heavy sound with guitar and bass but rocked just as hard when the band members put the guitars down and jammed on keyboards and electronic drums. And they retained their human touch with Anthony Gonzalez’s ethereal but warm vocals, a mix of traditional and electronic drums and the sax solo in signature hit "Midnight City."
Boston-based electronic prepsters Passion Pit weren’t quite as successful, but the quartet showed chutzpah in starting the set with its current hit "Take a Walk." Despite a technical hiccup that clipped their "Moth’s Wings," the band were able to maintain the momentum throughout its set.
On the acoustic side, Icelandic indie-folk act Of Monsters and Men showed that it’s primed to follow the success of Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers with a sweet mix of male and female vocals, acoustic instruments and tasteful accents of trumpet and accordion. Although its set was marred by a technical glitch that sounded like the air-traffic control room at LAX has been patched into the P.A., the band was able to win the crowd over with its hit "Little Talks."
In the more traditional alt-rock vein, Neon Trees’ ultra-commercial, new wave revivalist sound left some hipsters doubting the band’s authenticity. Unquestionably, the Provo, Utah, quartet isn’t breaking any new ground, but it’s hard to deny the catchiness of hits "Animal" and "Everybody Talks," and frontman Tyler Glenn has a voice that at times sounds like Billy Idol’s and some moves like Michael Jackson.
L.A.-based quintet Grouplove managed to be more fun than fun., thanks to the exuberance of singer-guitarist Christian Zucconi and singer-keyboardist Hannah Hooper and brilliants songs like the hit "Tongue Tied."
Openers Imagine Dragons and Alex Clare have yet to prove they’ll advance past one-hit wonder status, though the former put on an energetic set, highlighted by the hit "It’s Time." Electro-soul singer Clare wasn’t as successful, with his cover of Prince’s "When Doves Cry" coming off stilted. Although he turned things around with his monster hit and Mircosoft commercial theme "Too Close," at this point he seems likely to join Matisyahu -- the other recent Orthodox Jew pop star -- as a cult act.