'Tis the season to be jingled -- and jolted -- by an array of local radio station-sponsored musical shindigs, and as always, alternative champion KROQ-FM (106.7) offered a stocking stuffed with potent performances at its annual Almost Acoustic Christmas concert.
Unfortunately, the first night of the two-day event at Universal Amphitheatre on Saturday was more concerned with being menacing than being merry, focusing on high-decibel punk and metallic acts while largely ignoring the year's more eclectic garage, new wave-influenced and electro-minded breakthrough bands.
Over the years, the show's "acoustic" label has become a misnomer, with unplugged performances more the exception than the rule. Stripped-down offerings from the likes of Incubus and Billy Corgan at past year's shows helped make it a multifaceted experience, but there were no such low-key or intimate aspects to Saturday's show. The nonstop, amped-up lineup got fired early with tight sets by emotive screamers Thrice and hard-core hellions the Distillers (whose raspy-piped singer Brody Armstrong was the only female on the bill), and it never let up.
A rotating stage helped the show move seamlessly, though it also made for a somewhat hurried vibe, with KROQ DJs quickly introducing each act from somewhere within the arena.
Local thrashers Pennywise were the only band to actually address the holiday, opening with a revved-up version of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and heightening the room's energy level with rebellious rants and unpredictable antics, including a wonderfully messy cover of OutKast's "Hey Ya!" and an impromptu duet with a KROQ DJ pulled on stage from the pit.
It was a hard act to follow for Puddle of Mud, whose Nirvana-like rock was decidedly less vigorous. Still, the grungy band does have a gift for big choruses and bold hooks, as it proved on new material from its recent release, "Life on Display," and old hits from its debut, "Come Clean." Kurt Cobain similarities aside, singer Wesley Scantlin is a no-frills frontman with a formidable croon and a dark sense of humor that burns through every one of his catchy grinds. Even when the numbers got rowdy and riff-packed, the band maintained an unpretentious, feel-good vibe, a style that ultimately sets it apart from the enigmatic bands its music is compared to.
PoM might rock with a smirk, but San Diego's P.O.D. rocks with an ear-to-ear grin, evoking positive vibes and messages of hope with heartfelt vocals and a pummeling groove. Jamming from its new disc, "Payable on Death," the dreadlocked quartet is one of the few bands to survive the crumbling rap-rock craze, largely because of its ability to fuse diverse genres -- reggae, metal, hip-hop -- into one cohesive and intense cathartic music experience.
Indeed, the band seemed to make the biggest connection with the fans Saturday, prompting sing-a-longs on hits "Youth of the Nation" and "Alive," though singer Sonny Sandoval seemed to need the vocal help on the latter tune's high-keyed chorus.
The dark and dramatic anthems of AFI, the chug-a-lug punk pop of the Offspring, who opened with a guest appearance by the USC Trojan Marching Band, and a raging closing set by reigning rap 'n' rant group Linkin Park rounded out the aggressive six-hour eve.
And though there was no respite from the high-volume vigor of this year's festivities, the KROQ-listening kiddies in the crowd didn't seem to mind, relishing each set like it was the best gift under the tree on Christmas morning.