It was that most wonderful time of the year for KROQ Absolut Almost Acoustic Christmas this past weekend, when the L.A. radio station and its roster of bands put on a weekend shindig that benefited charities. This year it was Smashing Pumpkins headlining Saturday night’s mostly rock affair, at the Forum, while Florence + The Machine closed out a more diverse, indie–skewing night on Sunday.
What a difference a year makes: There was a strong political bent in 2017 with bands such as Rage Against the Machine and Run the Jewels advocating for activism. This year everyone just needed a good time—not that people were less energized but merely needed somewhere to go sing their favorite songs and forget about the news headlines for a bit.
We had to take a leaf out of Florence Welch’s book: Throughout her tour this year, she recommended taking all the bad stuff we’ve been holding on to and just letting it go, hurling it out to space on her cue for “Dog Days Are Over.” She did this again here, and with the same uplifting results.
Night one saw even Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan in fine spirits. And with good reason. James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin have rejoined the band, fans have given the new Smashing Pumpkins album their seal of approval and Corgan is a father again with the recent birth of his second son. In his Pharaoh-like festive gold and red robes he performed a mix of new material as well as several of the band’s most beloved ‘90s hits. From “1979” to “Today” and “Tonight Tonight,” plus a cover of Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down.” In a surprising turn guitarist Iha took the vocals for a wonderful rendition of “Friday I’m In Love” by The Cure.
Another highlight of the night was newly Grammy-nominated act Greta Van Fleet. To many, they sound too much like Led Zeppelin-wannabes, but the crowd at The Forum didn’t care; that might have been the exact reason why they were there, yelling for the band and singing along to Josh Kiszka’s sky-high vocals on “The Cold Wind” and “Edge Of Darkness.”
Newcomers The Interrupters, whose track “She’s Kerosene” has been on heavy rotation, are just the sort of local, ska-influenced band that gels well with KROQ listeners and with frontwoman Aimee Allen, did not disappoint. The old guard of Bad Religion, Third Eye Blind and AFI were also on hand to provide rock fans with their favorite sets.
Night two was a gift for lovers of indie rock: CHVRCHES, Bastille, Billie Eilish, Young the Giant and Death Cab for Cutie. Yet, unlike Saturday, tickets weren’t sold out. Still, the bands gave us stellar sets.
Young Billie Eilish, with her brother Finneas O’Connell on keys, were one of the night’s highlights and drew the loudest screams from the floor. Eilish held the Forum in the palm of her 16-year-old hands and adeptly took her fans from bangers like "you should see me in a crown" to the more somber "Ocean Eyes" without skipping a beat.
Young the Giant’s frontman Sameer Gadhia’s energy and powerful vocals on hits such as “My Body” and “Cough Syrup” were infectious and commanding. Mike Shinoda’s set was full of heart, taking the time to thank the audience for giving him a chance to play his new songs in light of Chester Bennington’s death last year. He brought out K.Flay for “Make It Up As I Go” and Grandson for “Running From My Shadow.”
Ultimately, however, KROQ’s Christmas show this year belonged to Florence + The Machine. Kudos to KROQ for a strong female headliner and a lineup featuring more women than in previous years. Welch’s crown was completely deserved. Her set was masterful and the right alchemy of femininity—as she rocked a gossamer frock and ballet slippers—and power, in her dramatic vocals, at once galeforce and whisper-thin. Newer tracks “Big God” and “Hunger” from High As Hope were the towering standouts.