Live review: KROQ's Weenie Roast y Fiesta
What exactly does a rock band need -- and in what quantity -- to distinguish itself in today's exuberantly eclectic pop landscape?
Along with branded beach balls and remembrances of Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, that question seemed to fill the air Saturday at Irvine's Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, where KROQ-FM (106.7) presented its annual Weenie Roast y Fiesta. The daylong concert -- headlined by Coldplay, with performances by Incubus, the Offspring and an unannounced Soundgarden, among others -- offered several successful takes on defining a pop aesthetic, but little consensus on the matter.
Still, the Weenie Roast's variety suggested something more promising: that in "a Black Eyed Peas world," as one KROQ DJ put it, rockers are thinking hard about how to specialize their music. A big crowd response, when it occurred, seemed almost secondary to the effort involved.
The sole international act on a main stage dominated by Southern Californians, Coldplay matched that geographical distinction with a show far more elaborate than any other band's. Last week, the English group played a sold-out three-night stand at the Hollywood Bowl, and to Irvine it brought a slightly pared version of that high-tech production, complete with lasers, pyrotechnics and heart-shaped confetti. And that was all during the first two songs.
"You use your heart as a weapon, and it hurts like heaven," frontman Chris Martin sang in "Hurts Like Heaven" from last year's "Mylo Xyloto"; other songs pondered faith, war and the power of music itself over arrangements that embellished rock guitars with sampled strings and rave-style synths.
Martin and his bandmates knew Weenie Roast's pumped-up audience differed somewhat from their own, so they skipped a handful of folky numbers and "Princess of China," an R&B-accented collaboration with Rihanna. But Coldplay didn't disavow its essential tenderness: Near the end of the band's hourlong set, Martin paid tribute to Yauch, who died Friday, with a hushed piano-ballad rendition of the Beastie Boys' "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)."
Incubus was similarly expansive, delivering philosophical hard-rock songs whose dense, multipartite structures kept revealing fresh details: a funk-derived bass line, for instance, or harsh electronic squiggles by the band's DJ, Chris Kilmore. Yet singer Brandon Boyd's spiritual-dude vibe almost reached the level of self-parody, as when he tied his long hair in a bun and picked up a pair of mallets for an aimless drum solo.
Tom DeLonge of Blink-182 faced the same threat with his histrionic emo-punk project, Angels & Airwaves. And though Silversun Pickups exuded an appealingly low-key attitude, the group's music seemed overwhelmed by Brian Aubert's neo-shoegaze guitar.
Two veterans of West Coast punk -- Pennywise and the Offspring -- fared better with a less-is-more approach, blazing through speedy, tightly constructed songs about phony authority and suburban ennui. "You want a slow one?" Pennywise guitarist Fletcher Dragge asked at one point. Then he answered himself in a fashion that can't be quoted here before offering a breakneck take on "Fight for Your Right," one tougher but no less affectionate than Coldplay's.
As Weenie Roast's surprise guests, Soundgarden had perhaps the evening's easiest job: Simply showing up onstage Saturday was enough to warrant huge cheers. Yet these reunited grunge survivors played with a lumbering intensity that demonstrated the continued usefulness of rock's component parts.
In "Spoonman," guitarist Kim Thayil and bassist Ben Shepherd intertwined menacing lead lines, while drummer Matt Cameron drove "Jesus Christ Pose" with a muscular precision. And singer Chris Cornell flexed his still-impressive yowl throughout the band's set, most memorably in "Slaves & Bulldozers," in which he incorporated a few lines from "In My Time of Dying," the gospel traditional once covered by Soundgarden's forebears in Led Zeppelin.
Like a negative image of Coldplay's Day-Glo pop, Soundgarden's heavy, blues-based semi-metal had a solid sense of itself and its strength. It didn't do anything more than it needed to, and that was plenty.
Photo: Chris Martin and Jonny Buckland of Coldplay perform at KROQ's Weenie Roast show at Irvine's Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. Credit: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times.