The Pop & Hiss field guide to the 2008 radio festival season
The radio station-sponsored music festival is typically a pretty gruesome beast, where joyless artists rip through that season's chart chattel to make nice for a few extra spins, and the teenage fans simply have their drive-time soundtracks played back to them. For better or worse, the giant L.A. radio market allows mass-market stations to land the better part of their play lists at their annual hootenannies every winter.
It looks like I'll be trekking down to Anaheim to review the KIIS 102.7 blowout on Saturday, so for any devoted terrestrial radio fans out there who want to cram a year's worth of concert-going in one swoop, here is your Pop & Hiss field guide to this year's crop of Southern California radio station round-table shows. True to the shows' intended audience, we'll be grading them on the scale of "Is It Worth Missing a Repeat Screening of 'Twilight'? " to give you, the consumer, all the information you need.
KIIS 102.7 Jingle Ball
The Seacrest fiefdom's state of the union address is the big fish in this pond, with enough teen pop boldface names to maybe, for a brief, exhilarating moment, make the kids accidentally spend money on music. Grading on a curve here, I'm most looking forward to Chris Brown, probably the best dancer in pop music today; the steadily-creeping-up-my-year-end-singles-list eclectic newcomer Estelle; and the completely inexplicable presence of David Banner, who once wrote a song about the CIA being a racist front organization. Katy Perry might also sneak in there because "Hot N Cold" is turning out to be a marvelous little emo-disco cheese wedge. I still refuse to believe that Jesse McCartney has ever even seen the inside of a G5, much less owns one, and I've made my opinion on PCD pretty clear before.
Worth Missing "Twilight?": A qualified yes. Never underestimate the kids' adoration of Brown, but there's a lot of dreck to get through before his impeccable orthodontics can dazzle you.
KROQ 106.7 Almost Acoustic Christmas
The Bastille of the airwaves for non-Nickelback guitar bands has lately been making some unusual concessions to indie rockers who would probably sooner rock RVCA board shorts than be caught listening to KROQ. Fortunately, the weekend-long slurry is evenly divided between one night worth a look and one night you should spend at home instead. I'm more partial to the goofy old-guy core of the Offspring and AFI's insane goth operas than I probably should be, but the rest of Saturday's lineup makes a good case for why no one cares about rock music anymore. I can't even bring myself to type the full spellings of HLLYWD UNDD and SLGHTLY STPD, and to make matters worse, they're accompanied by Staind and Three Days Grace on one bill? It's as if that mock Coachella flier has come to life and birthed a litter of Juggalos.
The second day redeems itself with chip-shot sensitive dude standbys the Cure and Death Cab for Cutie, and having recently spent some time with the Killers, I believe their live set is tighter than ever. Hopefully, Paramore will get off the train of Evanescence-leaning earnestness and remember they used to be something approximating a teen punk band. I hope Franz Ferdinand has returned to being awesome, because they totally were way back when. Rousing "meh's" to Snow Patrol and Vampire Weekend.
Worth Missing "Twilight?": Sunday, yes, even if there's far too much Scott Weiland on the weekend bill. Saturday though, bring a stake for your own heart.
Power 106 Cali Christmas
Occasionally, Power 106 has to redouble and remind people that it's a rap station in theory and not just a repository for T-Pain and Akon's auto-tuned voice mails. So they're stacking a top-heavy bill with Kanye West, T.I. and Busta Rhymes along with... um, LMFAO and someone from 112. I, for one, am firmly in the camp that Kanye's megalomania is half of what makes him a fascinating artist. He got Top 40 hip-hop kids interested in avant-garde architecture; the guy is allowed to make an indulgent breakup album and surround himself with bored naked women in a warehouse if he likes, and he's one of the only MCs alive who can command a stage without a hypeman, backing band or gunshot noises. T.I. is coming off an unexpectedly huge chart run lately, and I'm sure that when it comes time for "Whatever You Like," the place will simply explode, but let's hope his live set proves more effective than his political stumping. Busta's back to being a total freakfest, which is exactly what he should be doing instead of fighting people. I kind of want to strangle whoever decided this rash of electro-rap white kids is the future of genre crossovers, so no dice on the downballot acts, I'm afraid.
Worth Missing "Twilight?" Nah. Kanye will be out on his own soon, and to paraphrase T-NC, the rest of the lineup has a faint tang of the weaksauce.
Indie 103.1 Wreck the Halls
Though one would think that the market for curated blog-rock festivals is pretty well covered, Indie dips its toe in the pool here. The Pretenders headline, which is a hugely curious choice for a youth-skewing indie station's festival, but the newly countrified Chrissie Hynde seems to have lost nary an inch in teaching the kids how to stay rad well into your 50s (!). Bloc Party's new album, "Intimacy," is a pretty ambitious third record, but it's occasionally a rambling thicket of electro noodling. I'm curious to see how it plays live and whether it's achieved any sort of "Silent Alarm"-era saturation yet. CSS made the most unfortunate decision to become a serious, earnest rock band on "Donkey," but fortunately their leotard ensemble remains formidable. Black Kids really surprised me at the Mayan a few months back and they seem to have pulled together a pretty jubilant live set (and a mean Magnetic Fields cover to boot).
Worth missing "Twilight?" Not this time. Better to see each of these bands individually than get placeholder sets from each in one sitting. They'll all be back soon.
-- August Brown
Photo of Katy Perry by Mike Marsland/Getty Images