The holiday season is a time for traditions. Be it the dog-chewed Frosty the Snowman ornament or a rarely used broccoli casserole recipe, customs often waft between nostalgic comfort and forced ritual. Saturday night at the Gibson Amphitheatre was no different, as the Universal CityWalk venue bore witness to the six-hour rock ’n’ roll hand-me-down that is the radio station festival.
Now in year 21, the holiday gathering that is the Almost Acoustic Christmas, presented annually by KROQ-FM, is carefully divided into formats. To seemingly guarantee as little challenge as possible to the audience, Sunday night boasted a lineup for the hip, featuring the likes of Parisian pop breakouts Phoenix and the soulful eccentricity of Florence + the Machine, and Saturday’s roster may as well have been curated by the Ghost of Christmas Past, with the current incarnation of the Smashing Pumpkins and the likes of Social Distortion and Bad Religion on the bill.
It’s an almost stubborn denial of the free-for-all genre mash-up that is the modern era. Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance, one of the rare bands that can meld rock theatrics with humor and hooks, poked fun at the perfunctory feel of the evening. “How many of you ... bought a ticket tonight?” he asked the crowd midset. Met with tepid applause, Way deadpanned, “That’s like 20% of the audience.”
Even when a dash of musical diversity was mixed in, it was done so with a nod to yesteryear. The beach-volleyball reggae-rock of Huntington Beach’s Dirty Heads was little more than pandering, a set marked by a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” that bordered on novelty, and lyrical references to heroes Sublime.
But when there’s aural pain, it doesn’t last long. The Acoustic Christmas is nothing if not an efficiently run affair, as artists perform and load-up simultaneously on a rotating stage, one cozily outfitted with pinwheels, fake snow and holiday nights. The effect is like watching a band perform in a life-size Christmas window at Macy’s.