Live review: KROQ's Almost Acoustic Christmas, Night 2 [Updated]
Ignoring the physics of his own rigid mohawk for a moment, Tyler Glenn of the Neon Trees dispensed with some advice for the crowd at night number two of the KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas show. “I know it’s hipster night,” he said, “but we can still let our hair down.”
It was mostly a formal request, an obligatory nod to the hipster concertgoer’s reputation for standing with arms folded. The reality of the Gibson Amphitheatre on Sunday night was more like friendly, though certainly not lavish, enthusiasm for all the acts that constituted the second evening of the annual fete.
Whereas Saturday was heavy on bombastic goth (My Chemical Romance), ’90s nostalgia (Smashing Pumpkins) and old-school punk (Social Distortion), Sunday night was stocked with acts that have inspired the award-doling blognoscenti.
Many of the evening’s opening performers have only one album out — Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Broken Bells, Temper Trap and Neon Trees — but they’ve captured the fleeting attentions of those who tweet and tumble.
Once Florence + the Machine came on stage, the evening felt more official, less a neon-lit bauble to be discarded after the season. In a flowing white dress, Florence Welch looked like the archangel of KROQ, floating around a stage outfitted with fake palm trees and fake snow. Her voice, though, was all warning goddess; Welch’s bejeweled fingers were curled around the flower-strewn microphone, but they could’ve just as easily pointed out sinners in her midst.
At times her stormy alto was riveting, but in other moments, it felt overused and falsely pushed to the brink without the rest of the instrumentation following suit. Some of the music’s less flashy dynamics, especially the harp, were lost in the drumming assault, which relied too frequently on marching band rhythms.
After their set ended, the stage revolved to show the Black Keys, who looked startled by the carousel mechanics. The Ohio duo released one of the best albums of the year with “Brothers,” but unlike their stop at the Hollywood Palladium a few months ago, they didn’t allow themselves much time to luxuriate in their textural blues.
At one point, vocalist and guitarist Dan Auerbach mentioned their brief set time — some 30 minutes — and said they wanted to play as many songs as possible. But the better strategy would’ve been to play less. They could have showcased more of Auerbach’s wonderful tonal exploration and Carney’s possessed percussion.
Brandon Flowers’ music is a little schizophrenic, similar to the presentation of himself and his band, who look a little like a younger E Street crew after a debauched night in Jersey City. On one hand, Flowers cuts the figure of a troubadour in a vest and chambray shirt. On the other, there’s a sleazy stud belt slung on his hips, a reminder of his other gig as frontman for the Killers, the Las Vegas band that meshed slithery new wave with classic rock songwriting.
As reflected in the Killers’ second album, “Sam’s Town,” Flowers is pining for Springsteen’s rustic style. It’s an exciting possibility, but right now, the transition is equally fascinating and awkward.
With lyrics that nip at graphic design terminology and artists they might’ve discovered in Sculpture 101 at Columbia University, Vampire Weekend is still as precocious as when the band dropped on the scene in 2008 with its popped collar take on Paul Simon’s “Graceland.”
At the Gibson, it was easy to see why Vampire Weekend was invited back from last year. The cheery tones of “Holiday” and grammar thumb-off “Oxford Comma” played like Christmas carols for kids at Crossroads, executed with pinprick perfection.
The evening’s headliners, Phoenix, started several years ago as disciples of Air, then the biggest export from France. But a couple of albums ago, the band transposed those atmospherics to romantic synth-pop songs that explore melody with a prog band’s relentless sense of momentum.
For “Girlfriend,” singer Thomas Mars led his fellow stylists through an especially muscular version, his voice an unfailing anchor. It was a Christmas cocktail for the KROQ crowd — music that can fizz like champagne but with whiskey’s lingering kick.
-- Margaret Wappler
UPDATED: An earlier version of this post misidentified Florence Welch as Florence Walsh.
Top photo: Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine at KROQ's Almost Acoustic Christmas. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times.
Bottom photo: The Black Keys' drummer Patrick Carney performing at Gibson Amphitheatre on Sunday night. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times.