Echoes of Christmases Past Blend With Present
LA Times   
Dec 13 '99
(KROQ's Almost Acoustic Christmas concert - Dec 11 '99)

by Steve Hochman

At KROQ's eclectic Almost Acoustic holiday show at Pond, emotionally rewarding performances by Fiona Apple, Oasis share bill with antic Blink-182, Rob Zombie.

OK, we've gotten used to the KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas shows being not even almost acoustic. Of the acts at the 10th annual edition Saturday at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, only the somber, serious Tori Amos' solo piano set qualified. 

And we've learned not to expect a lot of explicit seasonal spirit. Indeed, on this night only class clowns Blink-182, of all people, featured an actual Christmas song, getting the crowd to sing "Silent Night" with the lights all turned off in a rare seemingly sincere moment for the trio.

But a KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas that seemed light on the KROQ? 

Well, if KROQ-FM (106.7) is the station of the moment, the 11 acts on the bill were not really a reflection of what the outlet is playing right now. With its airwaves dominated by the aggressive hip-hop/hard-rock fusion of such current testosterone stars as Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock, who would have expected this show to have that realm--represented by 311 with its rock, rap and reggae mix--outnumbered by Brit-rockers (Oasis and Bush) two to one, and by female acts (Amos, Fiona Apple and frothy ska locals Save Ferris) three to one? 

The fact was that--with Beck's postmodern soul revue also a standout--the richest and most emotionally rewarding music of the night came from those areas, with Oasis making a dynamic return and Fiona Apple and Amos reaching deep within themselves. 

Oasis' appearance was particularly heartening, and even heartwarming. Seemingly on the verge of self-destruction and having diminished in popularity even at home in England with its last album, "Be Here Now," the most successful Brit-rock act since the Beatles, also recently suffered two member defections on the eve of the February release of its fourth album. So seeing the Gallagher brothers on stage looking hale and hearty was a great sign. 

And though they played only familiar songs, there was a new energy and punch to the live presentation, notably in the forceful bass of new member Andy Bell, with the opening song "Make It Happen" having an almost T.Rex-like kick. Singer Liam Gallagher still wanders to the stage's side or sits looking bored when he's not performing, but it didn't seem the divisive stunt it once did. 

Apple never looked bored in her set, which was marked by abandoned, hair-flinging dancing that added to the sultry confessions of her pop-noir. Notorious for getting flustered easily (a radio station concert appearance last week fell apart due to a few technical difficulties), Apple on Saturday seemed determined to get through anything. With her second album, "When the Pawn . . . ," just released, she's maturing into a distinctively winning performer, with this brief appearance a promising foretaste of her own full shows to come. 

* * *

Amos has never been shy. Following a solid set of neo-power pop by former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl's Foo Fighters, the singer kicked her segment off--pointedly, perhaps?--with her languid version of Nirvana's essential "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Her own material, notably the woman-awakening ballad "Silent All These Years," remains powerful and personal, transcending the quirky mannerisms of her breathy delivery and the art-consciousness of her classical-romantic constructions. 

These artists weren't the most enthusiastically embraced performers of the night--that honor went to goofy punk-punsters Blink and fright-nightmarish Rob Zombie. (In soot-smudged Santa suits, he and his band created the disconcerting image of Charles Manson disguised as St. Nick). 

Blink and Zombie certainly earned the audience's devotion. They're supreme entertainers with their loose wit and intense showmanship, respectively--variations on a mix best termed smart-stupid. And they are clearly acts of the moment for the KROQ audience. 

But KROQ management is just plain smart. Aware that moments pass and trends will change, they don't want to paint themselves in a corner, so rather than repeating the U.S. guy-rock tone of last summer's Weenie Roast festival, they broadened the horizons for the winter event. 

They didn't exactly go out on a limb with unknowns. If not all the acts on the bill are current KROQ faves, they have been in the past. Only evening opener Powerman 5000, fronted by Zombie's younger brother Spider One and offering B-movie sci-fi themes rather than Zombie's B-movie horror spectacles, is a relatively new presence on the station. 

Still, even if the acts came largely from the recent past, the message was one for the near future, a signal to fans who may not be totally devoted to the current sounds that they're still welcome at the KROQ hearth. 

Now that's Christmas spirit.