Looking around the Forum at the beginning of the annual KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas show, it’s striking just how many of the thousands of people in attendance are under 25. This isn’t unusual for an event featuring a handful of alt/punk-rock giants, but the fact that it’s a KROQ event is enough to make you wonder: Are these same people, cheering gleefully when the KROQ presenters appear onstage to announce each band, tuning into the station later?
After all, radio is dinosaur technology. Damn, back in 1980, The Buggles were singing that “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Thirty-five years later, MTV no longer poses a threat but the internet and streaming are plunging their fists in. Then again, most stations have evolved and can be listened to online and, while our own iPhone playlists are popular options, radio is still an easy reach while driving.
So maybe the attendees are big fans of KROQ (which has merch available alongside that of the bands), or maybe they’re apathetic to the medium. Who knows? One suspects that they would all be out to see these bands anyway — the lineup is the attraction. These Almost Acoustic Christmas shows have become an annual tradition, affording a yearly chuckle at the almost-ironic name, so maybe there are music fans who keep a keen eye out to see who is playing year after year, based on reputation. Or maybe it's just that headliners Blink-182 and Green Day will always draw, regardless of how the show is packaged.
KROQ brought its A-game with the frills and thrills. The Christmas theme is nice, if a tad heavy-handed. Not to play Scrooge, but the sight of the various band members framed inside tree decorations on the big screens to each side of the stage is nauseating, though strangely watchable. (Side note to Jimmy Eat World: If you’re going to pull out Wham’s “Last Christmas,” you really should learn the frickin’ words.)
Highlights of the first evening include the X Ambassadors, getting all punky-political on us, even pulling out Tom Morello for a run through their co-composition “Collider.” While singer Sam Harris tries to explain to the crowd that, despite the forthcoming presidency, nobody has anything to fear (perhaps a little naive, if well-intentioned), Morello lifts his guitar to reveal a “Not My President” sticker. If only.
The bands come and go with startling speed and efficiency. The revolving, circular stage means that the next band is always being prepared behind the performers, resulting in hardly any rest time between groups. Frankly, this spoils the audience. How are the roadies at regular venues supposed to compete with that?
Other things that catch the eye: AFI frontman Davey Havok looks and dresses nowadays like a member of the Warriors, the street gang from the movie of the same name. Kings of Leon have their moments, but if they don’t look like they care, why should we? And Blink-182 seem refreshed thanks to the addition of Alkaline Trio's Matt Skiba (did they ever discuss the idea of calling the band Blink-183?), if not at their very best — although it's hard not to be distracted by Santa in the circle pit going seven shades of apeshit.
Down in the very swanky Forum Club, where concertgoers can get free M&Ms and popcorn, people are getting their picture taken with Joe Escalante from The Vandals and Jim Lindberg from Pennywise, attending with his daughter. Also, who had the idea of serving shots of French toast? Because that's inspired.
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On Sunday, a “Who the hell is that Andrew McMahon guy who sounds so familiar” moment is replaced by a “Ahh, he was the singer in Something Corporate” moment after a quick Google search. McMahon deserves some sort of award for having the best set (by a wide margin) out of the lesser-known, early artists on the bill. Dude comes across like a punk-rock Ben Folds, and that’s exactly as gloriously uncool as it sounds.
Weezer threaten to steal the whole two-day event with a greatest-hits set, before Green Day step up and top them. Both are magnificent, if entirely predictable with the set lists. Nobody here wants an awkward “deep cuts” set anyway. Between those two, Beck is a bit of a downer, but people like singing along to “Loser” and “Devil’s Haircut.”
And then it's over. The KROQ crew had their collective moment in the sun, taking the rare opportunity to let their faces be seen, before going back to their day jobs. The concert attendees saw a couple nights of great music and raised money for a couple of worthy causes (Para Los Niños and the Al Wooten Jr. Heritage Center) in the process.
After more than two decades putting on these events, KROQ, like other stations hosting events, knows what it’s doing. And if young fans are growing up associating their favorite bands with a radio station on some level, that’s a victory in itself.