There can be no joy in modern-rockville when the mighty KROQ has struck out, and that was the sorry outcome of the sixth annual Weenie Roast & Fiesta (or was that "Siesta"?) Saturday at Irvine Meadows.
Previous editions of this daylong festival were so strong that they could be taken as a fair indicator of modern rock's general health. The main-stage bill of 12 bands in eight hours equaled past Weenie Roasts in spanning the stylistic breadth of this ever-more-diffuse genre, but the day lacked the creative leaders and exciting up-and-comers who customarily highlight the series (the Weenie Roast alumni include Hole, Elastica, Rage Against the Machine, Garbage, No Doubt, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Oasis, Foo Fighters, the Offspring, Radiohead, Stone Temple Pilots and Beck).
One wouldn't want to generalize about the state of modern rock based on the unspectacular Weenie class of '98. Green Day and Prodigy were the main attractions on a bill way overstocked with inconsequential newcomers (Save Ferris, Marcy Playground, Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Creed, Blink 182, Third Eye Blind). Also on hand were several acts that are worthwhile or promising but proved to be not all that exciting (Everclear, Wallflowers, Fastball). Occupying the festival's heritage slot was Madness; the stylish English ska-rock progenitor put in a likable but not very sharp or commanding appearance.
Like last year, KROQ ferreted out just one female musician (Save Ferris' singer, Monique Powell; in 1997 it was a member of Squirrel Nut Zippers). Evidently, station honchos couldn't raid Lilith Fair's roster, nab Smashing Pumpkins or Garbage, or coax Hole, Elastica and Liz Phair to give previews of much-anticipated albums. It doesn't help that KROQ missed the boat on the past year's top female modern-rock band, Sleater-Kinney, a more vital act than anything on this year's bill.
Amid pervasive doldrums (this Weenie Roast literally stank--a rotten odor settled over the orchestra for parts of the afternoon and evening, and noxious fumes descended at night from the lawn, where moshers whirled around a bonfire of concession stand trash), it was left to Green Day, nobody's idea of a leader among rock bands, to steal the show.
The puerile but feisty Bay Area trio of singer-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, drummer Tre Cool and bassist Mike Dirnt played with the fire and authority that everybody else lacked, packed plenty of action into their set, and let their catchy array of tunes do the rest. Long the punk-pop embodiment of shiftless adolescence, Green Day's solid new album, "Nimrod," finds the trio advancing into a more mature stage of post-adolescent disillusionment. But onstage, Armstrong was his usual antic self, mugging and scampering cartoonishly, cussing to be cutely naughty, stripping to his undies and serving as ringleader for assorted pranks.
Chief among these was Tre Cool's demolition and torching of his drum set (Dirnt added his bass to the pyre while Armstrong fiddled away on feedback guitar). It would be fun to take this as a defiant challenge to the headlining Prodigy ("now who's the fire starter?"). But Green Day gave no sign of that intention, so it was probably just an unusually extreme spasm of mindless punk-rock vandalism.
Prodigy's set conjured the fires of hell, as the English electronic rock act's two MCs barked like hellhounds while programmer Liam Howlett and a drummer and guitarist hammered like denizens of the devil's industrial workshop. Keith "Maximum Reality" Palmer proved a more effective howler than Keith Flint, the gremlin-like apparition who is the band's most famous visual focus. The performance had its moments, but 55 minutes of unyielding, outrageously loud and nearly undifferentiated audio overkill was far too much.
Prodigy cast itself as gatekeeper to a futuristic dystopia--the stage set turned the lighting rig into a rusted-out cage a la "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome," and the backdrop was a mural of gigantic faces grimacing with rage. But Howlett's soundscapes never provided a glimpse of the more poignant side of hell: the regret and anguish that would have lent Prodigy's performance texture and feeling, not to mention tempering its assault and battery on eardrums.
The Wallflowers gave capable renditions of hits that added nothing to the recorded versions; Jakob Dylan sounded like Tom Petty struggling on a hoarse night. Two covers about social upheaval and struggles for freedom, David Bowie's "Heroes" (a highlight) and the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" (a creaky attempt) seemed to yearn for higher stakes than is possible right now in an American scene devoid of galvanizing ideals.
Maybe that explains all the trivial acts on the bill.