By Scott T. Sterling
The 24th Annual KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas show went off with a decisive bang this weekend, bringing together a cavalcade of rock’s biggest stars of 2013 into a celebratory two-night stand (Dec. 7-8) at the historic Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles (KROQ is a Radio.com station).
Arcade Fire, Queens of the Stone Age, Phoenix and the new GRAMMY star of the weekend, Lorde led the line-up of acts who came to deliver high-energy sets packed with the hits that rocked the radio over the course of the year.
Photo Gallery: KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas 2013
Having 24 years of experience in rolling out the show, the KROQ Christmas charity benefit party was thick with highlights (even Miley Cyrus had to check out the scene), which are boiled down here into the top 12 moments that made the weekend rule.
12. Grouplove’s new twist on the ‘90s alt-rock nation for a new generation
These hometown heroes Grouplove have already become rock radio stapes, thanks to an impressive string of well-crafted singles (including “Ways to Go” and breakout single “Tongue Tied”) packed with sticky melodies that will still sparkle when spun twenty years from now. Delivering the tunes with an uplifting, feel-good energy (led by the dual lead singer attack of Christian Zucconi and Hannah Hooper) should also guarantee the band healthy concert returns well into their promising future.
11. Cage The Elephant’s modern garage rock revivalism
Thanks in large part to the outsized stage persona of frontman Matthew Shultz, Cage the Elephant’s live show crackles with the influence of mid-‘60s Rolling Stones when they were still riding American blues to make their bad-boy rock & roll. Then the group turns around and drops songs like “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” which finds common ground between early Beck and Jack White.
10. AFI’s forever young goth-rock anthems
For a large cross-section of the audience that grew up listening to KROQ, frontman Davey Havok and AFI’s goth-rock thunder was the soundtrack to junior high, given the epic sing-alongs to songs like 2003 single, “Girl’s Not Grey.” But it wasn’t all nostalgia, with new tracks such as “17 Crimes” from 2013 full-length Burials keeping the crowd on their feet and screaming.
9. Capital Cities’ EDM Party USA
From the band’s matching satin jackets to its seemingly endless supply of cool new wave-referencing hits that somehow call recall big ‘80s favorite ranging from Naked Eyes to Kajagoogoo to Haircut 100, the performance was all upbeat and fun, with a special assist going to the group’s nimble-footed and crowd-hyping trumpet player. But Capital Cities ended the show with a full-on EDM remix version of breakout single “Safe and Sound” that had the entire auditorium on its feet and waving whatever piece of clothing was handy in the air like a helicopter.
8. The Neighbourhood’s new look at rap-rock, now featuring Riff Raff
Ever since the release of the single “Sweater Weather” earlier this year, The Neighbourhood frontman Jesse Rutherford and his band (whose all black & white aesthetic now includes Rutherford’s duo-tone hair) have carefully crafted a thoroughly modern take on alt-rock, with a heavy influence from hip-hop and urban culture. Given the high-pitched screams that greeted the band’s performance, it’s definitely working. They chose the KROQ show to announce that larger-than-life “neon” rapper Riff Raff has joined the band, which should make for an interesting union, to say the least.
7. Vampire Weekend’s Instant Nostalgia
There’s something wistfully reminiscent about the music of Vampire Weekend, with the band’s barrage of literary and often arcane references and bouncy, Afro-pop-inspired beats seeming to recall familiar good times gone by even when brand new. Ably cruising through newer singles like “Diane Young” (from Modern Vampires in the City, which is showing up on many year-end best-of album lists) against older numbers like the crowd-pleasing “Oxford Comma,” Ezra Koenig and company showed why they’ve moved to the head of the rock music class since hitting the scene with their self-titled album in 2008.
6. The Arctic Monkeys turn up the groove machine
With AM, their fifth studio album, Sheffield, UK’s Arctic Monkeys have found a new groove, conjuring up big, stomping rhythms like the single “Do I Wanna Know?” Cranking up the danceable energy to heavy metal decibels, their borderline punishing beats and frontman Alex Turner’s sharp-dressed profile and flair for the dramatic kept the crowd screaming for more. “Cool Britainnia” is back and bolder than ever.
5. Queens of the Stone Age crank arena-rock up to 11
Josh Homme and Queens of the Stone Age marched confidently on a tightrope between defiant stoner-rock champions and more highbrow critical darlings with the release of their latest chart-topping album, the ambitious Like Clockwork… At the KROQ show, the band showed off both power and precision, blasting out a high-octane mix of older fan favorites like opener “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” with new hits such as “I Sat By the Ocean,” QOTSA (who Homme called “the drunkest band on the bill”) brought the loudest and most pleasingly brutal set of the weekend.
4. Lorde’s minimal alt-rock magic
There was a special energy around Lorde’s Sunday night performance, with the young New Zealand artist securing four GRAMMY nominations earlier in the weekend. Excited screams greeted her arrival as she roamed the stage while crooning hits including “Team” and of course, “Royals,” which elicited one of the weekend’s biggest crowd singalongs. Her set also included an inspired cover version of Kanye West’s “Hold My Liquor,” from his Yeezus album.
3. Phoenix gets up close and personal with their big rock whimsy
The quirky French band that could has definitely done it, with the Phoenix‘s last two albums infiltrating the American mainstream to the point that 2009 single “1901” was the soundtrack for a Cadillac commercial. Rolling out the hits including “Lisztomania” and “Entertainment” for an audience eager to jump along, Phoenix continued the new tradition of frontman Thomas Mars venturing deep into the crowd. Climbing over the Shrine’s theater seats to get back to the stage, Mars left an impression (and countless up close and personal cellphone pictures) in his wake.
2. Remembering the ‘80s with Tears for Fears’ surprise performance
At the end of Portugal. the Man’s rousing show, they brought out a very special guest: Curt Smith, best known as one-half of big ‘80s hit-makers Tears for Fears. For the sizable contingent of fans in attendance who’ve been listening to KROQ since the new wave era, the moment was a delightful flashback as Smith’s voice hasn’t aged a bit and the band deftly reproduced the instantly recognizable tune.
1. Arcade Fire’s Haitian celebration with the performance of “Afterlife”
Much ado has been made about Arcade Fire’s foray into danceable rhythms on new album Reflektor, given the grand-slam hit single title track and confetti-strewn celebration of “Here Comes the Night Time.” But there’s something special woven deep into the grooves of current single “Afterlife,” with the hypnotic rhythms and melancholy melody coming together into a glorious explosion of genuine dance mania that reached to the furthest reaches of the Shrine Auditorium for one the weekend’s most euphoric moments (although the entire show really was truly inspired). If that track doesn’t make you want to at least don a pair of bunny ears or fancy shoes for a night out, you might want to check your pulse.