IRVINE — When a day in the musical life yields three very strong impressions, count it a good one.
With Hole, Rage Against the Machine and Elastica impressing the most, and a handful of others on the 13-band bill coming through with passable-to-good performances, the third annual KROQ "Weenie Roast" modern-rock fest on Saturday at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre offered what its predecessors had not: more hot than dog.
The psychodrama that attends each public day in the life of Courtney Love guaranteed that 15,000 fans would be looking to Hole's prime-time slot with the fascinated expectation that something unexpected might happen--especially after Love's latest tribulation, a brief hospitalization a week ago for a reported overdose of prescription drugs.
Consequently, it was a relief that the show was free from signs of physical or emotional debility. Love looked good, sounded strong and performed confidently.
In her singing and spoken asides, Love didn't, or couldn't, hide the combustive mixture of grief, anger and insecurity that fate has assigned her. But she also conducted the show with aplomb, and a salty, playful side came out in her banter with the audience ("I'm very weak, but I could still kick your ass," she wryly cautioned somebody in the front rows, her only reference to the drug overdose).
Love's sidekicks came through with supportive warmth as well as the hard kick their beefed-up garage rock required.
Rage Against the Machine's first big-venue performance after a long layoff showed that the Los Angeles band has lost not an ounce of its motivating ire. Rage picked up where it left off during its rise to prominence in 1992-93: spouting highly debatable, far-left soapbox rhetoric, but elevating the preaching through intense, abandoned performance.
Wiry singer Zack de la Rocha, his dreadlocks shorn to tight curls, was a stomping, twisting dervish who didn't so much sing and rap about his antagonists (i.e., any powers that be) as enact a shadow-boxing joust with them. The playing sizzled, courtesy of a honed and muscular bass-and-drums team equally at home with funk rhythms and Black Sabbath riffs, and a groundbreaking guitarist, Tom Morello, whose array of sound colors was as fresh as the Che Guevara banner covering his amplifier was old hat.
The rapturously received set included a few new songs along with numbers from the band's 1992 debut album (a follow-up release is expected next year). There were no apparent new departures of style or content.
Elastica's exuberant set reminded us that rock is also about fun, and these days, given the predominant bleakness and ire in rock, fun is a musical force more subversive of the prevailing order than Hole's psychodrama or Rage's rage.
The rookie English band showed no youthful jitters in the big amphitheater. Sharp harmonies, catchy tunes and the hearty, amiable, no-need-to-attitudinize stance of singer Justine Frischmann were among its charms. Elastica had an edge, though. Donna Matthews' scraping, sardonic lead guitar fills were apt companions to the cheekily dismissive content of many of the songs.
Elastica acknowledges its considerable debt to new wave rock of the '70s. As it performed an unreleased song called "Rock 'n' Roll Is Dead," it seemed to suggest that new styles may be beyond reach at this late date, more than 40 years into rock's development. But if Elastica can succeed while playing for the fun of it, at least rock in its dotage may get to enjoy the pleasures of a second childhood before it succumbs. Solid sets by some of the day's older, or more pop-leaning acts, including Matthew Sweet, Throwing Muses and Soul Asylum, were not so well-rewarded. White Zombie's rabble-rousing cartoon metal and Rancid's spirited Clash re-creation won favor, more or less deservedly. The Ramones had a murky outing, Sublime a lethargic one and the three rookie bands, Better Than Ezra, Bush and Sponge, held interest only when playing their hits.