KROQ Absolut Almost Acoustic Xmas 2018
At its 29th annual holiday charity bash, KROQ pulled off a perfect balance of old and new that united a diverse crowd of fans
LA rock and alternative radio titan KROQ kicked off its holiday happenings last weekend with Absolut Almost Acoustic Christmas at The Forum in Inglewood, helmed by a one-two punch of headliners — Smashing Pumpkins on Saturday and Florence + the Machine on Sunday. Thirty Seconds to Mars, Third Eye Blind, Bad Religion, AFI and other KROQ staples were joined by electrifying up-and-comers such as Greta Van Fleet and pulsing electropop from Chvrches to Billie Eilish.
Keeping with the event’s typical format, Night One skewed toward rock, with the Pumpkins led by Billy Corgan, clad in a flowing white and gold robe ensemble, and the reunited lineup of original members James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin. Playing through a catalog of KROQ staples such as ‘Bullet with Butterfly Wings’ and ‘Today,’ the headliners paired their hits with songs from their newest record, Shiny and Oh So Bright Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.
The set’s most impactful moment came when Corgan brought out David Bowie collaborator and pianist Mike Garson. Garson recently lost his home in the Woolsey Fire, giving a new dimension to the Pumpkin’s classic, ‘Disarm,’ as well as to the show’s charitable component. Almost Acoustic Christmas, in its 29th year now, is a charity show whose proceeds benefit Para Los Niños and the Al Wooten Jr. Heritage Center, but this year the station added the Red Cross as a beneficiary, as well, in light of the devastating California wildfires.
On the opposite side of the spectrum from the Smashing Pumpkins, LA’s own Badflower opened the night with some amazement that they’d made the bill at all, joking that they “can’t even get 10 friends to come see us at the Viper Room.” After a solid performance on Saturday, their luck may be changing on that front.
In a weekend full of expressive singers — it’s always a joy to watch AFI’s Davey Havok, in particular — the award for scene-stealing performance has to go to Greta Van Fleet, fresh off four Grammy nominations for their Zeppelin-inspired brand of rowdy, riffy rock ‘n’ roll, made possible in part by singer Josh Kizka’s powerhouse vocals. A study in the intersection of youthful vibrance and classic style, the Greta guys are deft musicians with melodic songs we woke up belting the next morning. Brimming with charisma to match their musical prowess — to see them meet fans backstage or out on the floor was to have your heart warmed by their generosity — they’re poised to be rock’s next golden gods.
Anyone who has to perform after Greta Van Fleet drew the short straw, but Third Eye Blind displayed the timeless durability of their ’90s earworms like ‘Graduate’ and ‘Semi-Charmed Life,’ which found frontman Stephan Jenkins folding his arms in silence to witness an elated Forum audience chorusing in unison. Jared Leto, clad in a fur cape of regal proportions and draped in bravado to match, led Thirty Second to Mars through arena rock anthems such as ‘The Kill’ and ‘Kings and Queens,’ a title fitting for a band whose sound ruled much of the early Aughts.
Night Two belonged firmly to the women on the bill, starting with Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry, who led the Scottish synth-pop band with a dynamic stage presence, just enough attitude and a voice so steadfast you can hardly believe it comes from a person of such a slight frame.
Billie Eilish brought a magnetism and a confidence we wish we could’ve had at 16 years old — the backpack she wore into the backstage press room was a coy reminder that she’s a pop phenomenon who’s still in high school — but little else about her would suggest she’s new to the game. Night Two tends to highlight KROQ’s favorite pop and alternative acts, as opposed to Night One’s harder edge, but there was plenty for that crowd to enjoy from Eilish, who was likely a brand new face to some.
But the gentlemen held their own, as well, particularly Young the Giant and Bastille, clearly crowd favorites. Both threw themselves into high-energy performances, maximizing a short set with as many songs as possible, and both frontmen — Sameer Gadhia for Young the Giant and Dan Smith for Bastille — brought soaring vocals and an infectious commitment to a good dance move.
“These shows are also really exciting for us as music fans,” Bastille drummer Chris “Woody” Wood told us backstage. “[We get] to play our little gig and then just watch people like Florence, Death Cab, Chvrches and Billie Eilish — all of these people, some of whom we’ve seen, some of whom we haven’t had the chance to see because we’ve been off on the road. It’s fucking awesome to get to just check everyone out in proper, close confines. It’s brilliant.”
The most poignant moment of the night belonged to Mike Shinoda, who played Almost Acoustic Christmas several times with Linkin Park, a band that called LA home. Shinoda performed the their hit ‘In the End’ alone at the piano in tribute to the late Chester Bennington, inviting the crowd to sing Bennington’s part.
“I wanted to share with you that it was one of my goals on this tour to come out in person and say thank you to all of you guys who have been so supportive of me and the guys in Linkin Park. And to remind you, like we say online all the time — and it’s nice to take it from online and bring it into real life — we say, ‘Make Chester Proud.’ I don’t want that to just be some online hashtag, some bullshit that people tweet but they don’t mean,” he said, his voice all warmth and no spite. A man who doesn't hesitate to smile, Shinoda was visibly moved during the set.
Death Cab for Cutie was musically tight but engaged the crowd far less. While they treated fans to hits including ‘Soul Meets Body,’ their relatively ho-hum set was a speed bump in an otherwise energetic Night Two. The task of rebuilding momentum fell to Florence + the Machine, whose devotion to leaving everything on the stage made quick work of that task, infusing their headline slot with her trademark mix of boundless enthusiasm tempered by ethereal elegance.
Ballet slippers adorning her feet, Florence breathed new life into the crowd by twirling through hits such as ‘Hunger,’ ‘What Kind of Man,’ ‘Patricia’ (an ode to Patti Smith) and, of course, ‘Dog Days Are Over,’ in which Florence, like Shinoda before her, encouraged the crowd to put away their phones, embrace each other and jump along with her to a raucous final chorus. Even Greta Van Fleet — off the clock after performing the previous night — bolted down the arena steps to the floor, where we quite literally bumped into them dancing to show-closer ‘Shake It Out,’ a jubilant end to the weekend and fitting finale to 2018.
By Sonya Singh & Puneet Singh
KROQ Absolut Almost Acoustic Christmas 2018
If you’ve made it this far into the rollercoaster that was 2018, you’ve seen a lot of things, and you’ve heard even more. You’ve likely heard ‘Happier,’ the collaboration between British indie-pop rockers Bastille and producer and DJ Marshmello that’s racked up more than 370 million streams on Spotify. Bastille has had quite a year, culminating in last week’s release of their latest mixtape full of collaborations, Other People’s Heartache (Pt. 4).
The band — Dan Smith, Will Farquarson, Kyle Simmons and Chris “Woody” Wood — chatted with us backstage about whether they’re on the naughty or nice list this Christmas, about getting out of their comfort zone on their mixtapes and about their favorite records this year.
Are we on the naughty list or nice list this year?
Dan Smith: Perpetually the naughty list.
Kyle Simmons: Well, I was going to say nice. I’m reaching for the stars here, man!
Tell us about the new mixtape.
Dan Smith: It’s the fourth one in our ridiculous, tongue-in-cheek, fun, experimental mixtape series and we’re really excited to have it out. It’s something we’ve been working on alongside our albums, various other projects and touring, and it’s just really nice to collaborate with new artists that we’re excited about and old artists we admire, to play around with songs that we love and remember affectionately, fuck around with production and breathe life into songs of ours we haven’t thought about in a minute. It’s been really fun to do stuff that hopefully people won’t expect and make this weird soundtrack or playlist to a nonexistent film.
It’s a freeing thing. Outside of your studio albums, you get to jump in and do something completely different.
Dan Smith: Exactly. ‘Happier,’ a song we released this year with Marshmello, comes from the same world and the same idea of stepping away a bit from the rules we set for ourselves when it comes to Bastille studio albums, where it’s about us working on it. It’s a more inward-looking process of doing it ourselves, and mixtapes are the exact opposite. There are no rules at all. It’s about trying new things and pushing ourselves into places that make us feel a bit uncomfortable, as well, which is, I’m sure, probably healthy.
Kyle Simmons: Definitely gives us an excuse to hang out with Craig David some more.
We see you here every year. What has the support of KROQ meant to you?
Chris “Woody” Wood: It’s been amazing for us. We feel very fortunate. It’s a worldwide name in radio. For them to even care about us is just amazing. We feel very, very fortunate.
Kyle Simmons: And like you said, we see you every year here. We keep getting the invite and obviously every time we’re gonna go “Yeah, we’d love to come and play a KROQ show.”
Yeah, you’re not exactly locals so it’s a big deal to come all the way to LA.
All: Yeah, totally!
Woody: These shows are also really exciting for us as music fans; [we get] to get to play our little gig and then just watch people like Florence, Death Cab, Chvrches and Billie Eilish — all of these people, some of whom we’ve seen, some of whom we haven’t had the chance to see because we’ve been off on the road. It’s fucking awesome to get to just check everyone out in proper, close confines. It’s brilliant.
Speaking of artists you admire, what’s an album you hope Santa brings you this year that you don’t have as of yet.
Dan Smith: Oooooooh.
Kyle Simmons: I mean, if I didn’t have it, then the new Anderson .Paak.
Woody: I don’t have that on vinyl yet, do you?
Kyle Simmons: No.
Woody: Well, let’s buy it for each other!
Kyle Simmons: Do you fancy buying me a record player?
Woody: Uhhh, Santa!
Kyle Simmons: That [Anderson .Paak] album, I’ve already listened to it almost to death, if that’s even possible, and it’s just unbelievable. We watched his SNL performance on the tour bus and, oh my God, it was amazing.
Dan Smith: We were completely transfixed because he’s insanely talented playing the drums and singing. We got to see him in London at Brixton Academy and Dr. Dre did a surprise opening set, just the best of 2001, and my tiny little brain exploded in a million pieces.
Will Farquarson: How about the new Christine and the Queens album? I have it, because everything is on the internet for free [laughs]. I have no way of playing an album if I were to buy one.
Woody: I want the alleged, missing second Jeff Buckley album that disappeared in a lake. If I had it, I’d sell it for a load of money.
Dan Smith: Woody, always trying to make a quick buck!
By Sonya Singh & Puneet Singh