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Unlike such music festivals as Coachella and Bonnaroo — or, for that matter, the traveling Warped tour — radio-station concerts are self-congratulatory, short-set samplers of current hitmakers, with actual artistry rare. KIIS-FM’s Wango Tango is no exception, though Kelly Clarkson managed to shine through a barrage of hype Saturday at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine, Calif.
Los Angeles-based KIIS no longer is the regional powerhouse it was. The annual show once filled stadiums, but recent years have found it at this smaller 15,000-capacity venue, where Clarkson proved the most compelling performer without gimmicks, costumes or stage trappings.
Although second-billed to headliners the Black Eyed Peas, Clarkson was much more satisfying than that quartet’s tepid rabble-rousing attempts. Despite her contrived beginnings on Fox’s “American Idol,” she has proved to have a rocker’s heart. It might not have been cutting-edge alternative, but rock she did, from her leadoff “Since U Been Gone” to plenty of songs of defiant empowerment including the funky sass of “Walk Away” and the new “I Do Not Hook Up.”
In contrast, the Peas’ hyperactive and generally dumb pop-rap pastiches — such as “Don’t Phunk With My Heart,” the ego-spotlight nonsense of “Fergilicious” for female singer Fergie and the new “Boom Boom Pow” — paled in the wake of Clarkson’s genuine passion, warmth and honesty. The Peas went for a party mode, but it was forced. It’s a shame because the group once had a real creative side — mastermind will.i.am behind most of it — but now it’s an all-business commodity.
The night’s other standout was pop-scene darling Lady GaGa, campy and commanding in a trimmed-down version of the show she recently gave at Los Angeles’ Wiltern. Her set included a torchy, blues-swathed version of her hit “Poker Face,” which she turned into a sing-along, and the standard electro-thump dance version of that song, plus her other club winner “Just Dance.”
The lone rock band on the bill, Oklahoma’s All-American Rejects, was about as edgy as the Jonas Brothers — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — but had no shortage of hooky tunes including the Cheap Trick-esque “Move Along” and “Give You Hell,” another of the day’s big join-ins for a mostly teen audience.
A special appearance by Jamie Foxx, doing his Ray Charles shtick and pushing his latest forgettable single, was a far cry from Wango’s days of Will Smith a decade ago, with actual fun and showstopping production numbers. Foxx doesn’t have an established music career as Smith had; he’s just trying to sell one.
A wide range of hip-hop artists filled out the rest of the bill. Flo Rida was best among them, his rapid-fire, playful delivery a throwback to Sir Mix-a-Lot and the like, combined with a forceful but gregarious personality that found him heading into the seats to mingle with the masses.
Scream-drawing Soulja Boy is pretty much a rap teen idol with little appeal in his generic numbers. Kevin Rudolf and Madcon also appeared.
After the Peas, rapper Pitbull closed the night as most were exiting the venue, his novelty nursery-rhyming nah-nah-nah bits hardly a reason to stay much longer, other than to wait out traffic.
KIIS Golden Boy of the morning and “Idol” host Ryan Seacrest was MIA, sick at home, according to fellow station DJ JoJo. (partialdiff)
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