"Hits radio"--what used to be known as Top 40--is a lot like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates. On this democratic, stylistically all-embracing format, you never know quite what you'll get.
It might be a kid-pop band capable of some legitimate peach-fuzz soul: such as Hanson, objects of extreme puppy love as the crowd favorite at the Rick Dees KIISMas Party, thrown Wednesday at Knott's Berry Farm for 10,000 listeners of KIIS-FM (102.7) who scored tickets through the radio station.
Or it might be a rousing band of British political rabble-rousers, like Chumbawamba, an ensemble of self-proclaimed anarchists. More likely, given the insubstantial or formulaic nature of most singles acts, it will be a bunch of empty calories. Such was the case with Savage Garden, Aqua and Allure, the other hit acts on the bill.
Hanson's three-song acoustic performance--its first and only scheduled live appearance in the Southland--was folksy and energetic, although the squeals it drew were a bit more muted than they likely would have been with the big production of the group's hit album, "Middle of Nowhere."
Taylor Hanson shook a tambourine with the fervor of a choirboy in a Southern gospel church, and sang with husky ardor. Despite the group's penchant for copying the Jackson 5, Taylor had more affinity for gritty Memphis soul than the sleeker Motown variety. The harmonies were fine, and the brothers seemed to have a troupers' ethic, though they have yet to play a formal tour of full-length shows. Kid-pop always puts cuteness and marketing before musical acumen, but Hanson's solid foundation of soul and heartland rock is far more nourishing than the formulas pumped by the last big puppy-love bonanza band, New Kids on the Block.
Savage Garden and its singer, Darren Hayes, proved to be pretenders to the Australian pop-rock sex-symbol throne left vacant with the recent death of INXS' Michael Hutchence. Hayes' voice sounded thin, and his preening and prancing in shiny black leather was pro forma, not feral. Allure's pop-soul was nothing distinctive, although the four young Mariah Carey proteges from New York sang capably and mustered a nice, hymnal closing ballad, "All Cried Out."
The Danish synth-pop band Aqua came off like a lobotomized B-52's or Sugarcubes. But in a quick, three-song snippet ending with the novelty item "Barbie Girl," Aqua got the KIISMas Party off to a suitably bouncy beginning. Chumbawamba, which was reviewed here recently, closed the show with the evening's longest set, at 30 minutes.