Gwen Stefani and Jakob Dylan Surprise, Lumineers Impress at KROQ Acoustic Christmas: Concert Review

Jeff Miller
The bill wasn't all that acoustic (or Christmas-y), but the alt-radio powerhouse proved its rock resilience with a mostly-strong first night that featured Linkin Park, Garbage and Bush.

Other than Garbage singer Shirley Manson's abrasively sung “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” as the coda to one of her own band's numbers and the likable hee-haw singalongs of ascendant roots-rockers The Lumineers, there wasn't much acoustic or Christmas-y about the first night of KROQ's Almost Acoustic Christmas.

The annual two-day station-run blowout serves as both a giant party and a state-of-rock-radio union and is celebrating its 23rd year in 2012. A booking, like a station add, can be a godsend for an up-and-coming band, especially one hoping to emerge from one-hit wonderdom; likewise, legacy acts can cement their longtime fan base's loyalty by blasting them with a barrage of reminders of why they're so beloved in the first place.

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So it's a testament to the eclectic nature of the current state of radio to look at this lineup objectively, especially considering that night one has long been a parade of heavier acts to offset the more Coachella-friendly indie-type sounds that traditionally mark night two, which starts Sunday at 5 p.m. This bill, however, saved the metal-influence to the end, with early acts like the L.A.-based co-ed electro-rock sextet Youngblood Hawke (whose current hit, “We Come Running,” was a high-energy blast of “whooa-aaahs,” though the young band's enthusiasm still hasn't found a way to lock into the audience at large venues) and “Anna Sun” hitmakers Walk the Moon -- a far more polished group that explores the same time-honored, synth-drenched sounds of New Wave with killer hooks throughout.

The smaller act that likely benefited the most, however, was the aforementioned Lumineers, whose rapid rise from tiny clubs like the Hotel Cafe to larger stages like this one has been bolstered by the addictive “Ho Hey” -- not to mention a Grammy nomination. They acknowledged their odd placement on the Linkin Park-headlined bill (“We don't exactly fit into this lineup,” said singer Wesley Schultz from the stage, “but thanks for giving us an open ear”) before a set that could have been described as Mumford & Sons-esque only with a girl in the band and slightly different strumming patterns. That's not an insult -- the Lumineers' propensity for the same sort of country-tinged sounds (not to mention a similar knack for earworm melodies) could mean arenas for the Colorado-bred band.

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Elsewhere on the newcomer end of the bill were The Gaslight Anthem, who, despite an appearance from the Wallflowers' Jakob Dylan, didn't quite connect with the audience beyond their Springsteen-like single “45”; Two Door Cinema Club, still not pushing past Anglophile ears; and AWOLnation, who can't seem to decide whether they're plumbing the depths of weirdo metal or if they'd just rather write pop-radio grooves (to wit: “Kill Your Heroes”).

As for the veterans: Garbage proved they're still powerful (and Manson, now 46, no doubt gave every other cougar in L.A. county a run for their sex-kitten money), Rise Against blasted through genre-mode mosh-pit metal, and Linkin Park, at the top of the bill, were surprisingly versatile. But the moment of the night belonged to '90s hitmakers Bush, who at one point seemed like they'd have faded as grunge afterthoughts but have had a shockingly successful second run propelled by 2011's comeback single “The Sound of Winter.” It was the now frighteningly classic-rock singalong “Glycerine,” though, that elicited audience wails -- thanks to a one-off duet between Bush singer Gavin Rossdale and a surprise appearance by his wife, No Doubt's Gwen Stefani. The duo looked gorgeous, sounded great and clearly are still in love, with goofy looks (and a quick kiss!) exchanged onstage.

Rock trends may come and go (and from this night, it's not quite clear in which direction the genre is headed), but if that sweet moment is any indication, there's hope for all these kids, after all.

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