By Siran Babayan
(All photos by Timothy Norris. Click images for entire KROQ slideshow.)
In my worst nightmare, the Cure would be upstaged by Kanye West. Yes, the two would share a bill; West making a surprise appearance and leaving the crowd in a frenzy, the Cure headlining the show and making the crowd want to leave. Couldn't possibly happen, you say? Oh, but it did.
Ah, KROQ. One of the nation's biggest tastemakers never cease to frustrate with the crappy new bands they play, crappy old bands they continue to support, great new bands they rarely play, and great old bands they've completely forgotten. Not sure where the Cure would fall, but bitching about bad radio is like bitching about bad TV; tune in or tune out. Besides, when Robert Smith and company are somewhere in the vicinity, you don't ask why, but rather how to avoid paying for parking to see them.
A solo Scott Weiland (reunited Stone Temple Pilots played the previous night) took the stage for one of the evening's earliest and most bizarre and out-of-place performances. Wearing a white, wide-brim hat and shades, smoking, and doing his snake-dance, Weiland sounded like a slowly dying, lounge version of Bowie. He unveiled two songs off his current solo album, including “Paralysis,” co-written by No Doubt's Adrian Young, who also sat in on drums. And as an opener, Weiland worked in a completely unrecognizable version of “Reel Around the Fountain,” the most ghastly Smiths cover since t.A.T.u's “How Soon Is Now.”
It took Franz Ferdinand from cold Glasgow to kick the heat in with hot-shit, high-energy gems like “This Fire,” “Take Me Out” and “The Dark of the Matinee” (anywhere smooth singer Alex Kapranos wants it). Nearly five years after helping to usher in the dance-rock craze with their 2004 debut, Franz are still suave, sophisticated and way too damn humble to be real rock stars. Staying on the polite path, Death Cab for Cutie mixed old and new, including “Cath,” “Soul Meets Body” and “I Will Possess Your Heart,” which, alongside the Cure's “Push,” has got to have the longest intro in pop song history. If Kapranos and Death Cab frontman Ben Gibbard ever want to ditch the niceties, though, they needn't look further than the show's surprise guest.
After Public Enemy, Living Colour, Gnarls Barkley and Bloc Party, KROQ, the bastion of white alt-rock, has discovered yet another black artist. Unfortunately, it was Kanye West (he's never even been played on the station), a man who in his young career has mythologized himself more times than Gene Simmons; just because he posed as Jesus on Rolling Stone doesn't mean he actually founded Christmas. To be fair, there were no hold-ups or stage tantrums this time. West cruised through “Heartless,” “Stronger,” “Love Lockdown” and “Homecoming” to the crowd's deafening roar while backed by a full band, dressed in Daft Punk-style gear, that even included taiko drummers. This was West's stab at no B.S., which still meant dropping the words Pinocchio, Gucci and Louis Vuitton in the same song. At least we didn't have to wait until 2 a.m. to hear it.
As for the Cure, this wasn't their night. Oh, that hurt, only because their surprise gig at the Troubadour on Saturday really was one for the record books. Nearly three hours – that's 30 minutes in Cure time – of swapping stories, hand-made fan posters, rose bouquets and clapping in unison to the final bass line of that evergreen “A Forest,” not to mention walking away with a new batch of discoveries; how the designs (flowers, snakes and stars) on Porl Thompson's guitar match his tattoos; how foxier-than-ever bassist Simon Gallup is almost always hunched over and looks better in tights than most women; and how standing a few feet away from the stage still won't help you understand Smith's between-song gibberish.
On Sunday, however, the Cure made the crucial mistake of opening with a mostly subdued string of songs (“Pictures of You,” “Love Song” and “Lullaby”), leaving the more upbeat, rockin' and bass-heavy hitters (“Boys Don't Cry,” “Jumping Someone Else's Train” and “Grinding Halt”) for the end. By then, midnight was approaching and the house was thinning. This is a band that formed at the birth of punk. They're oblivious to time and trends, and have influenced more artists than even Smith and his head, ravaged by decades of hair spray, can retain. So watching a crowd leave while both Smith and Thompson shred through and tear a classic like “Killing an Arab” a new one, it just… it hurts, ok.
All that left the Killers to be the show-stealers. Standing on a rotating stage with lit palm tree props, singer Brandon Flowers had both the style (shoulder pads covered in feathers?) and commanding vocal chops (blue collar Springsteen meets new wave) to get the entire audience to waive their neon red-and-green bracelets, making the Gibson look like a starry sea of Christmas lights. Flowers soared through radio hits “Somebody Told Me,” “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,” “Human,” “Read My Mind” and even the Joy Division cover “Shadowplay” (not exactly joyous, but if it educates the kids). Lyrics like “I got soul, but I'm not a soldier” on the faux-gospel “All These Things That I've Done” might sound a little schmaltsey, but this is a song so uplifting and, well, joyous, that it can be right up there with “We Will Rock You” as one of the great celebratory sports anthems.