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Controlled burn

A little anger management strengthens KROQ's Weenie Roast.

June 14, 2004|Randy Lewis | Times Staff Writer

Rage, as it turns out, isn't a road that goes on forever.

That was the good news out of the 2004 edition of KROQ's annual Weenie Roast concert Saturday at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine, which in recent years has been so filled with testosterone-driven fury you sometimes worried that the whole thing would finish off in one big mushroom cloud.

This year's lineup, one of the strongest ever, was packed with enough thoughtful rock to make it seem that unbridled anger has run its course -- but amped-up guitars blazing throughout the day kept energy levels high.

On that front, the six-string garage-band revival -- solidly represented by the Strokes, the Hives, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Modest Mouse and the Killers -- may be ready for the big breakthrough many have been predicting.

Harking back more to the grand '70s-'80s hard-rock/metal tradition, Velvet Revolver, in its first large-scale show, exuded enough swaggering confidence and riff-laced songcraft to add some of the much-needed personality that's been missing from the genre of late.

The quintet, built around Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland and three ex-members of Guns N' Roses -- guitarist Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum -- has created several arena-ready rockers on its debut album, "Contraband," released last week.

It was all played seriously, sometimes to Spinal Tap levels, particularly by Weiland, in a get-up that made him look like a recent graduate of the Village People. Wearing mirrored aviator shades, a flowing polka-dot scarf, black vest and hip-hugger pants, topped by what appeared to be a German military officer's hat, Weiland was the very model of a modern major rock star.

But for someone who has said that he got into this new band for the pure joy of making music, Weiland didn't let on that he was ever having much. Slash, however, the epitome of guitar-slinger bravado and cool, did seem to be getting a kick out of playing to a large, fist-thrusting crowd again.

The myriad approaches to rock stardom played out in the performances that flanked Velvet Revolver's. Immediately after, Strokes singer Julian Casablancas hewed to the cool, detached school, although he went less for the totally laconic Lou Reed vocal delivery that he stuck to when his band last played the Weenie Roast two years ago.

Casablancas, his hair out of his eyes now, injected more vibrancy into his singing, though he could still use a confidence transfusion from Howlin' Pelle Almqvist, the Hives' lead singer, who has enough ego integrity for four rock stars.

Almqvist knows down to his marrow that even if the pop world still isn't quite ready for the Hives, his band is more than ready for the world.

Almqvist did his best to top Mick Jagger and even the New York Dolls' David Johansen for rock-star swagger, constantly risking the affections of the unconverted. He'd be in serious trouble without the ironic edge he brings to the role, and if the Hives didn't back his deliberate posturing with pile-driver hooks, an attribute sustained in a couple of songs from the new "Tyrannosaurus Hives" album due next month.

Women have been in consistently short supply at KROQ concerts and on its airwaves, and while Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O. couldn't rectify that all by herself, she did bring welcome diversity to the show.

She was part feline, part equine, part arachnid, part pogo stick on stage in her Barbarella-inspired blue and silver metallic space tutu, creating a dynamic tension amplified by the contrast of her caterwauling with the primal rock beats and riffs from drummer Brian Chase and guitarist Nick Zinner.

The Weenie Roast crowd also got an instructive exhibit in how to rap and how not to from the Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill.

The Beasties figured out long ago that brattiness for its own sake is a dead end and subsequently diverted their energies into tricked-up beats and skillful rhymes woven like braids by its rapping triumvirate of Adam Horovitz, Michael Diamond and Adam Yauch. The hero's welcome given the boys by the hyped up KROQ crowd was heightened by anticipation for the Beasties' new "To the 5 Boroughs" album, even if it isn't the knockout punch they might have hoped for.

Cypress Hill, however, slogs down the line still with one thing and one thing only on what passes for a mind: getting high. The group is incapable of keeping its single-issue stoner platform musically alive, falling back on a heavy-handed (and heavy-lidded) "We Will Rock You"-esque beat time after time.

The boisterous response to the Cypress gang's message from the capacity crowd -- one with more women and over-20s than usual -- coupled with its slow warming-up to the Hives and some of the day's brighter lights would indicate that KROQ may have some cajoling in store if its aim is indeed to lead its audience up to higher ground.

The punk torch for this year's Roast was carried proudly by Bad Religion, which moved from a full daylight late afternoon slot in 2002 to a nighttime performance this time, adding impact to its always-strong delivery. More than two decades into its career, Bad Religion pours its punk passion into songs that rail at injustice and hypocrisy.

But there's a big difference between Bad Religion's no-frills punk rock and New Found Glory's plain-wrap version, which in its third Weenie Roast appearance still exhibited many of the genre's signature elements -- frantic tempos, shouted vocals, buzzing guitars -- but precious little character or focused snarl.

The Killers delivered more of a pleasant bump on the head than a fatal blow, and Modest Mouse both lived up to and belied its name with its U2-inspired sound, but both contributed positively to a day that suggested the epicenter of modern rock might just be moving away from the groin and back toward the heart.

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