IRVINE — What were the three most-important things about KROQ's benefitKarma concert Saturday night at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre? The admission price (free), the social scene (plenty of concession booths and beer) and, oh yeah, the bands (Jennifer Trynin, the Goo Goo Dolls, Filter and Candlebox).
The mostly teen and college-age crowd danced to ancient '80s tunes at the KROQ party wagon, cruised the expansive grounds and ate sticky fairground's food while a lineup of supposedly alternative bands played to a half-filled house.
Who can really blame the wandering crowd, though? Most of the lineup wasn't exactly what you'd call dynamic, or even slightly interesting. Surprisingly it was headliner Candlebox, the Seattle quintet that has caught the most flak for copycatting (their guiding light: Pearl Jam), who stood out as the most individual and believable band of the four-hour show. The other bands playing the KROQ/Budweiser-sponsored event proved to be cookie-cutter alternative acts with barely a nod toward originality.
An over-saturation of bands such as these is why some listeners are starting to burn out on the genre. While "alternative" started out as more of an aesthetic than a style, its original ideal--to make music that differed from corporate and mainstream rock--was lost long ago. It has become the very thing it loathed, much as psychedelic music did in the early '70s, when it was co-opted by AM radio and packaged into bite-size, "Feeling Groovy" hits.
There was the Clash, then the Alarm. There was Guns 'N Roses, then Skid Row. There was Nirvana, then Trynin, the Goo Goo Dolls, Filter, et al.
Candlebox stood out simply because it seemed comfortable in its own skin, and never really adopted a ready-made persona like the rest of the evening's bands (insta-Husker Du or Black Flag anyone?) The band played a charismatic but basic blend of heady guitar rock with little pretensions or tortured poses.
The Pearl Jam comparisons the band suffered on the release of its debut were warranted, but Candlebox has recently found its own feet. It still draws from '70s-inspired rock, as does Pearl Jam, but unlike its mentors, Candlebox avoids taking on a pained mantle of self-importance.
The band played songs off its upcoming album that felt less inhibited by the dark dictates of Seattle that it once followed. It openly played expressive melodies rooted in arena rock, and singer Kevin Martin let his gruffly sweet vocals soar. The group seemed content to entertain and have a good time, and emerged as the only performers of the evening with any cohesive songs or sonic ideas.
Filter, on the other hand, proved the biggest disappointment, maybe because it is burdened with the biggest expectations. KROQ deejay Jed the Fish introduced the Cleveland quintet as "one of the few bands out there that have a unique sound today." If you've never heard Black Sabbath, Pantera, Nine Inch Nails, Helmet, Sonic Youth. . . .
In its first L.A.-area appearance since its hit debut album, "Short Bus," Filter was loud, screaming, abrasive and boring. Singer Richard Patrick screamed a la Trent Reznor, but came off more grating than convincing.
Openers Trynin and the Goo Goo Dolls played the expected doses of tame, anonymous pop. New York trio the Goo Goo Dolls, playing something between Soul Asylum, Husker Du and the Gin Blossoms, did accentuate its sound with plenty of hair-flipping, though.
The saving grace Saturday was the party-like atmosphere the concert-goers created, and the basic good intentions behind the show. About 18,000 tickets were given away by the Pasadena-based radio station; in turn, fans were encouraged to donate to any of three designated charities (Covenant House, the Suicide Prevention Hotline and the Surfrider Foundation) the day of the concert.
A free concert with a charitable twist is a great idea, but if Karma has anything to do with the musical side of this event, three of the acts will come back in their next life as trailblazing artists trapped in the frustratingly dull world of corporate-sponsored rock.