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POP MUSIC REVIEW : 'Almost Acoustic': Wrapped Up in Short, Loud Sets

December 20, 1995|RICHARD CROMELIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Now that its sixth annual edition is in the books, it's time to change the wattage or change the name of the KROQ "Almost Acoustic Christmas" concerts.

With all but one of the 13 acts at Monday's Universal Amphitheatre show playing in their usual electric format, even the "almost" in the title became all but inoperative, leaving the annual charity bash in danger of becoming a faceless parade of bands playing a fraction of their usual sets. It's like an all-star game: All the big names are there, but no one gets many minutes.

As it is, this year's two-night package was more impressive as a feat of talent-booking ability, stage-crew efficiency and audience endurance than as a springboard for unique musical moments.

The value of living up to the implied premise goes beyond matters of volume and texture--it reflects and encourages attention and alertness in both artist and audience. Case in point: Alanis Morissette, whose enterprising acoustic recasting of her music made her the most distinctive performer on both Sunday's and Monday's marathon shows.

The rest of Monday's lineup captured the conservative mood of this year in rock, with almost everyone seeking direction in the past rather than originating new paths: Silverchair looks to Nirvana, the Goo Goo Dolls to the Replacements and Husker Du, Lenny Kravitz to '70s funk and Sly & the Family Stone, the Rentals to new wave and ELO, Oasis to most every British band that ever existed.

Given that all the acts had less than half their usual time to build up steam, Australian schoolboy trio Silverchair managed to mount perhaps the most powerful attack, with singer-guitarist Daniel Johns spearheading a wailing, churning, grunge-metal sound. The angst didn't ring entirely true, but this is a band with room to grow.

A band that needs to find some traction is Oasis. The current British-rock kingpins have been unable to put together a proper U.S. tour timed to their current album--"(What's the Story) Morning Glory?"--and they sputtered in this showcase.

Their meticulous, guitar-textured pop-rock can be engaging, if not especially passionate, but singer Liam Gallagher cut the urgency with his distracted manner. He spent a lot of time staring arrogantly into the crowd during long instrumentals, but there was no context for his haughtiness, so he just seemed silly and indulgent.

Oasis' less-heralded countrymen, Radiohead, combined aggressive playing, compelling vocals, restless invention and pointed attitude into the show's most complete package. Singer Thom Yorke was convincing in both his scornful and angelic modes, they played the evening's only Carly Simon song ("Nobody Does It Better") and they have one of the all-time top KROQ anthems in "Creep."

The concert also included first-night returnees Garbage, Joan Osborne and Bush, as well as Tripping Daisy, disco joke band Booty Quake and street artist cult-hero Wesley Willis, who fared better than he did on opening night.

The audience wasn't exactly with Willis all the way as he sat at his Casio and played his "Rock 'n' Roll McDonald's," reading the words from a sheet he held close to his face, but the crowd seemed either puzzled or intimidated enough by his compulsive chatter not to badger him this time.

Finally, the Christmas spirit takes hold.

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