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“This is the shortest set we’ve played in a long time,” Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill remarked Saturday night during the band’s closing set of KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas. The singer, clad in an inexplicable pink grandma cardigan, had little else to say during the 45-minute set, which featured a random smattering of the band’s hits. The Nashville rock band, fresh off the release of sixth album Mechanical Bull, seemed prepared, although perhaps not thrilled, to play the radio promo game at the annual show.
For the artists on the bill, which leaned toward the heavier end of the rock spectrum during the first of two evenings, the December radio show tour is an opportunity to bolster their spins by playing ball with both radio stations and the fans who support them. For KROQ, one of the premiere alternative stations in the country, it’s also a chance to pad a bill with a selection of artists you might not otherwise see in all one place, so efficiently. And some of these artists are more enthused by that possibility than others.
Although Kings of Leon, who expectedly closed the show with a rousing version of “Sex on Fire,” ran through a moderately dynamic set of tracks like “Use Somebody” and new singles “Supersoaker” and “Temple,” the heft of the evening came from Queens of the Stone Age. Even frontman Josh Homme refused to acknowledge that there should be anything different about this performance than a traditional QOTSA show.
“You know who we are you and you know why we came, man,” Homme told the crowd. “We came to have a good time.” He added, “Don’t try to be too cool. This is something you’re into, not something you’re better than.”
Allotted only 35 minutes, QOTSA tore the Shrine Auditorium apart, ravaging their way through “Little Sister,” “Go With the Flow” and “I Sat by the Ocean,” off their recent …Like Clockwork. “This should be called the Almost Aquatic Christmas because there’s so much booze floating around,” Homme said before closing with a propulsively in-your-face rendition of “A Song for the Dead.” “They brought us here because we’re the drunkest band on the whole lineup.”
If QOTSA offered the most aggressive performance, Grouplove gave the most compelling – perhaps surprisingly. The band, which has performed the past three years of the annual event, seemed like something out of a ’90s teen movie, a more buoyant aspect of the night’s heavy rock sensibility. Keyboardist/vocalist Hannah Hooper led the party, dressed in a skeleton jumpsuit, and found equal crowd adoration for singles like “Tongue Tied” and “Ways to Go” as for cuts off latest effort Spreading Rumours.
Cage the Elephant, who should induct their smoke machine as an official member of the band, gave the Southern rock performance Kings of Leon should have, singer Matt Shultz bounding around the stage as the band dove through “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” “Come a Little Closer” and “In One Ear.” Meanwhile Arctic Monkeys presented a typically swaggering set book-ended by new singles “Do I Wanna Know?” and “R U Mine?” Frontman Alex Turner, who used the rotating stage setup as an opportunity to vamp and pose for the crowd as the new band emerged, told the audience “We are the Arctic Monkeys, everybody – the best band out.” It’s a bold statement, to be sure.
The rest of the artists, from AFI to Vampire Weekend to New Politics and opener Foals, held their own throughout the night, each earning more cheers for their singles than any fan cuts they included. For AFI, “Miss Murder,” off 2006’s Decemberunderground, continues to generate the most excitement, although the group’s latest single “17” found its audience. Vampire Weekend, always seemingly a little bored onstage, made one of the most interesting albums of the year with Modern Vampires of the City, a collection of the songs that feels more genuine the New York group’s past efforts. The band continues to struggle with a level of pretention, one not aided by singer Ezra Koenig’s aloof persona or the ornate furniture fabric visuals projected onstage, but their latest singles “Unbelievers” and “Diane Young” resonated strongly.
The evening’s only acoustic instrument emerged during Vampire Weekend’s set, as well, a lone tribute to the show’s moniker. No holiday songs were sung, despite the theme and the Christmas trees flanking the stage, and there was very little involved in the show that could be categorized as acoustic. But worth the misnomer, certainly, to see bands of this caliber in one place, each after one another, reflecting the radio format that supports them. Next year, though, no one would likely argue if Queens of the Stone Age had two more hours’ worth of time.
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