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Live review: KROQ's Weenie Roast stays true to itself and its acts

June 5, 2011 |  9:44 pm

KROQ-FM (106.7) isn't known for curveballs in its well-cemented playlist of angsty '90s survivors and modern takes on SoCal punk. Even at Weenie Roast, its annual summer-heralding showcase of the station's mainstays and scrappier newcomers, a "surprise" unbilled performer is its own tradition.

So when the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre's stage rotated on Saturday night to reveal an unadvertised Dave Grohl and his moppety band of Foo Fighters, no one seemed entirely shocked. But the Foos' sincere and swaggering set was kind of revelatory in its own way: Being a genuine rock star among today's pop synthetics is a tough slog.

After a day of eccentric newcomers and some dragging main-stage fare, when Grohl cheekily admitted midset that "They're all hits. We've got too many hits," the truth of that wisecrack was its own pleasant surprise.

To its credit, KROQ does an admirable job of championing L.A. locals and ushering them from indie bustle to the arena circuit. Acts such as the suspiciously underrated O.C. anthem-slingers Young the Giant and the quirked-up synth pop of Foster the People definitely benefit from a showcase like this.

Silver Lake's Airborne Toxic Event is a living example of the career arc KROQ can offer an artist -- which is what Airborne's bleary, sometimes furious racket deserved. Singles such as "Changing" and "Sometime Around Midnight" scuff up the station's formulas just enough to intrigue and seemed even more adventurous juxtaposed against the local quartet Neon Trees. The latter's proficient neo-Sunset-Strip hommage seemed calibrated to annoy any wandering Echo Parkers who thought they time-warped into a Coachella side stage.

The early main stage belonged to KROQ's idiosyncratic devotion to skate punk, and sets by genial dad-core acts Face to Face and Bad Religion were perfectly beery and as reliable as L.A.'s sunshine. As Bad Religion's Greg Graffin noted, "We've become something of the house band at Weenie Roast," and anyone who can do that while slinging polysyllabic treatises on evolutionary biology deserves the job.

Rise Against carries the genre's flame for today's kids, and its singer Tim McIlrath brought a bit of Journey's lighters-up vocals to its orthodox, unexpectedly hit-making tumult.

The Strokes seemed bemused by their dual roles as hipster classic rock band and the coolest kids on mainstream rock radio. Singer Julian Casablancas' fluorescent green high-tops stole the show, but new slinky jams like "Under Cover of Darkness" and favorites like "Hard to Explain" could make even Hermosa Beach surfer bros feel a Lower East Side ennui.

Two adjacent sets underscored the promise and peril of KROQ's influence.

Florida emo-metallers A Day to Remember lived up to every ghastly thing that comes to mind when one imagines a Florida-based emo-metal band.

But Kentucky's Cage the Elephant had the set of the day, its music rooted in the garage revival of today's underground but brimming with hooks and played with the savagery of the best '70s stoner acts. The wiry Matt Shultz is possibly the best new frontman in rock -- crowd-surfing at an amphitheater is a tough trick, and when his set ended he stood alone onstage, taking in the enormity of the crowd (and perhaps his band's potential).

Rap-rock survivor Linkin Park is an old hand at headlining Weenie Roast, and the band has kept its huge, enthusiastic audience after an admirable, more or less successful transition into late U2-style earnestness.

But Foo Fighters' unbilled turn highlighted what KROQ still does well and maybe uniquely well among mainstream radio: It gives rock bands a chance at a long career despite a label climate that rewards neither rock bands nor long careers. As Grohl said, that many hits don't happen by accident.


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-- August Brown

Photos: Mikel Jollett with the band Airborne Toxic Event moves off the stage and into the crowd (top); Airborne Toxic Event's Anna Bulbrook performs (middle); and Mark Foster (left) raises his voice with the band Foster The People (bottom). Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times.