Arcade Fire [photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images]
It's that most wonderful time of the year: holiday radio concert time! Yes, 'tis the season for all the hottest alt-rock bands in the land to work the radio-gig circuit, and this past weekend they made the pilgrimage to Los Angeles to play KROQ's Almost Acoustic Christmas at the newly renovated Shrine Auditorium.
The two-night stand was in fact not acoustic at all — the station's annual Xmas show went electric years ago, although it started off as a humble, unplugged event back in 1989. But that was just fine, considering that the big headliners were typically cranked-to-11 bands like Kings of Leon, Phoenix, Fitz & the Tantrums, and Lorde.
Here are the merriest moments from the 24th annual KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas:
13. New Politics' singer danced like he'd just guzzled 10 egg nogs.
Danish new wavers New Politics are one of those rare bands that can play top 40 station KIIS FM's Jingle Ball on a bill with Miley Cyrus (which they did this past Friday), then the very next night rock out at KROQ with Foals and Grouplove. Their secret? The universally crowd-pleasing dancing of rubber-limbed frontman David Boyd, who seems to have picked up his moves from classic R.E.M. videos, Sinead O'Connor's "The Emperor's New Clothes," and Yoko Ono. I just wish someone had caught on video the eye-popping moment when David actually ran up the completely vertical side of an amp and then did a backflip. Yes, that actually happened. A Christmas miracle!
12. AFI brought back ghosts of Christmas past.
Every spectator in the KROQ crowd seemed to be reliving those carefree days of emo youth when AFI, who recently released their first album in four years, took the stage. Worshipful fans in the aptly named Shrine practically sobbed as frontman Davey Havok (still every inch the red-Hot Topic rock star) belted very Christmas-worthy song selections like "Silver and Cold" and "Love Like Winter." But I'll always have an especially nostalgic spot in my heart for the sparkliest and glammiest of all AFI anthems, "Miss Murder."
11. Vampire Weekend played their unintentional, accident holiday hit.
"Holiday" was never meant to be a Christmas song; it was supposed to be the summer soundtrack for the indie Ivy Leaguers' vacations on Martha's Vineyard, or wherever Vampire Weekend spend their between-semester downtime. But when the jaunty tune was featured in Christmas commercials for Tommy Hilfiger and Honda, it became an unofficial Christmas classic. The fact that Ezra Koenig and company performed it this time in front of a brocade needlepoint background somehow made it even more preppily festive.
10. Phoenix joined the crowd.
Plenty of frontmen hopped in the audience during the KROQ weekend, but none of them committed the way Thomas Mars did. He practically made it all the way to the last row and back to the stage by the time Phoenix's fittingly titled finale "Entertainment" was over.
9. Grouplove donned their gay apparel.
Hannah Cooper's skeleton-at-the-roller-disco onesie and Christian Zucconi's Kurt-Cobain-on-the-cover-of-Sassy punk-boho chic was the perfect attire for holiday party-starting. And Grouplove's joyously boisterous set actually made me feel like 2013 had skipped right past Christmas and it was already New Year's Eve. (Side note: Seriously, where can I buy that skeleton unitard, and can I get expedited shipping in time for the 31st?)
8. There went the Neighbourhood.
When novelty rapper Riff Raff, also known as Jody Highroller, randomly ran onstage to spit some rhymes on the Neighbourhood's "Sweater Weather," and he was announced as their new band member, it seemed like a joke. But according to an interview that the Neighbourhood did with KROQ, it's a done deal and they're currently collaborating on music for "strip clubs in space." OK, then.
7. Capital Cities played that OTHER "Sweater" song.
Cap Cities' set was especially festive, especially when they did an extend-o-mix version of a song that truly brings joy to the world, "Safe and Sound." But they perhaps got the best response when they played a few bars of "Undone (The Sweater Song)" by KROQ heroes Weezer. Their genius cover of the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" was another treat. These guys are a hoot; I have to invite them to my next Christmas party.
6. QOTSA performed the feelgood hit of the winter.
What ho-hum Christmas carol could bring as many tidings of comfort and joy as Queens of the Stone Age's chantalong chorus of "nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, Ecstasy, and alcohol…c-c-c-c-co-caine," from "Feelgood Hit of the Summer"? Laughed formidable frontman Josh Homme, "We've already been banned on the radio just now."
5. Foals' "Inhaler" took fans' breath away.
Foals are pretty much the best band on the planet. The fact that they played first, to a more than half-empty room, was a rock 'n' roll tragedy. But Christmas came early for those who got to the show early (6 p.m. on the dot!), especially when the Oxford math-rockers jammed on the hard-charging, breathlessly epic "Inhaler." Foals should be headlining the KROQ Xmas show in 2014.
4. Portugal. The Man and ruled the world — with help from Curt Smith.
Curt, singer for classic KROQ veterans Tears for Fears, made a surprise cameo with the Portland indie-rockers. Needless it say, it ruled.
3. The Arctic Monkeys put the X in Xmas.
Sorry, Adam Levine, you're not really the Sexiest Man Alive. That title rightfully belongs to Sheffield's finest, Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner, the most compelling lead singer and lyricist working the alt-rock circuit today. When KROQ's revolving stage flipped to reveal Alex and his fellow Monkeys playing their darkly yearning lust song "Do I Wanna Know?," it was clear that a real rock star had arrived. Thirty minutes of brooding Britrock perfection ensued.
2. The Arctic Monkeys' Matt Helders was the best little drummer boy ever.
Seriously, I'm still convinced that this guy is a machine, some sort of evil drumming robot from Planet Metronome. Thank gawd this show wasn't really almost-acoustic. Forcing a drum-crushing beast like this to play with brushes would've have been a damn shame.
1. Arcade Fire made the best KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas entrance ever.
Pulling the same prank that they did at their Brooklyn record release show in October, Sunday headliners Arcade Fire had a papier-mâché-headed band called "The Reflektors" open for them, before Win Butler and company interrupted the proceedings and shooed them away. To be honest, I was kind of enjoying the Reflektors' lite reggae jamz and wouldn't have minded if they'd stuck around longer, but Arcade Fire truly ended KROQ's party in style.
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