Dashboard Confessional and Jack Johnson played acoustic, and Beck and Coldplay celebrated Christmas, but otherwise KROQ-FM’s annual Almost Acoustic Christmas was a two-day, 20-act festival all about rocking.
And the sold-out event was certainly crammed with rock and roll moments, particularly the announced live debut of Audioslave (they played a secret club show the night before), and an amusing rendition of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” orchestrated by Beck and the Flaming Lips and featuring Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba, Johnson and a horribly off-key Juliette Lewis. (Click here for photos from the show.)
Audioslave were the talk of Saturday’s show and more than lived up to the hype with a set featuring the most ferocious songs on their self-titled debut, including the single “Cochise” and the one-two punch of “Set It Off” and “Gasoline”
The band was as tight and energetic as it was in the Rage Against the Machine heyday, especially guitarist Tom Morello, who leaped as he hit his monstrous riffs. And Chris Cornell was not only the most spot-on singer of the night, he handled his new frontman role so gracefully it was as if he had been heading Audioslave for decades.
There were a few moments when Cornell swung his arms like an air guitar pro, but he mostly entertained himself during musical interludes by watching the rest of the band, even patting Morello on the head a few times.
As brutal as the music was, Audioslave and most of the crowd smiled throughout the show, just happy to see the supergroup come this far. Cornell seized the sentimental moment by announcing, “These guys saved my life this year,” which he explained offstage was to thank the band for being his friends even though he “dragged them through a trail of sh-.”
The ex-Soundgarden singer wasn’t the only mid-’90s alt-rock icon to perform Saturday, as Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan also showed off his new project, Zwan. While not as aggressive as Audioslave, Zwan showed the same sort of ’70s rock influence.
Corgan said little during the set, but introduced “And So I Died of a Broken Heart” as being “from our new record… our only record,” which made him chuckle. While Zwan’s three guitars were a force to be reckoned with on some of the heavier numbers, the group also displayed a mellow side, with bassist Paz Lenchantin even picking up a violin for one song.
Other highlights of Saturday’s show included Queens of the Stone Age’s 40-minute set, featuring songs like “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret” and the Songs for the Deaf single “No One Knows.”
Flamboyant singer Bert McCracken of the Used recalled Kurt Cobain or even Jim Morrison as he leaped off amplifiers and slammed his microphone into the ground. “Merry Christmas,” he said joyfully, before changing moods with, “I’m gonna depress the f– out of you now.” Their “Christmas song,” “Alone This Holiday,” followed.
Before their finale, a crowd member doused McCracken with a cup of beer, which prompted the singer to point the man out and… thank him for giving him a good idea. McCracken then asked everyone to throw their drinks at him, which made for a spectacular visual, especially the cups from the far back that only made it about halfway to the stage.
Audioslave, Zwan, Queens, the Used and the Southern hard rock of Trust Company aside, Saturday was a showcase of the usual rap-metal (P.O.D., Disturbed, Taproot) and pop-punk (Sum 41, New Found Glory).
Sunday was more a showcase of the way rock radio expanded in 2002, from the sophisticated hip-hop of Jurassic 5 to the chilled surfing soundtrack of Jack Johnson.
Beck and the Flaming Lips followed by Coldplay provided a few hours of envelope-pushing – so much that when headliners Creed took the stage afterward, they were met with boos and half the venue clearing out.
In all fairness, Creed would have likely been a hit on Saturday’s bill, but singer Scott Stapp didn’t score sympathy points when he stormed offstage during the first song because his mic wasn’t working. He returned, but the set felt off.
The Vines also might have been a bit too heavy for Sunday’s crowd, which preferred their slowed-down cover of Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” over the raucous hit “Get Free.”
Johnson’s and Dashboard’s laid-back sets were met with widespread applause, especially when Johnson brought out Ben Harper to play slide guitar on “Flake.”
In his 40-minute set, Beck played songs from his sober new Sea Change along with some of the party anthems that broke him, like “Loser” and “Where It’s At,” both of which were given a disco makeover by the Lips.
Beck and Wayne Coyne (via megaphone) crooned “White Christmas” before the Band Aid tribute. During both holiday numbers, the “animals” from the Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize?” video painted the stage with bags of fake snow and provided a sort of Island of Misfit Rockers vibe.
Coldplay’s set, which featured variations of “Yellow,” “Trouble” and other favorites, was also punctuated with a holiday classic, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” performed by Martin solo on a piano.
And a merry time it was.