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Rock's annual sizzler

KROQ-FM's Weenie Roast needs no fire; 17 hot bands, including Audioslave, and near-record heat keeps most fans heated.

May 23, 2005|Richard Cromelin | Times Staff Writer

All that sunshine and all those black clothes. It was hard to think of anything else for a while at KROQ-FM's annual Weenie Roast concert, held Saturday in the near-record heat at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine.

The earliest acts on the main stage, which opened for business a little before 4 p.m., defied the old advice about wearing white to keep cool, choosing instead to appear cool in modern-rock's color of choice.

So there was My Chemical Romance, Hot Hot Heat and Jimmy Eat World, all staring down the sun clad in black duds as seats slowly filled with fans dressed more in tune with the temperature.

Interpol is the band that caught the sunset -- appropriate for the New York outfit, whose nocturnal update of hometown heroes such as the Velvet Underground would have as much chance as Dracula in the bright sun. They were all in black too, except singer Paul Banks, who might have been enjoying an ironic moment by matching his green necktie with a striped, white polo shirt.

And speaking of irony, this 13th Weenie Roast concluded with a set by Motley Crue. The hoary heavy-metal band might be a hero to its die-hard fans from the '80s, and a nostalgic kick to a more mainstream audience, but to the alt-rock KROQ (106.7) audience, it's mainly a curiosity with little genuine connection with the station's core attitude.

Saturday's bill, packed to overflowing with some of the station's key contemporary bands, actually served as something of a candidates' forum at a time when post-grunge diversity remains in effect and a dominant direction in alternative rock is up for grabs.

The Weenie Roast, this year a 17-band blowout, can be a good place to assess the prospects and gauge the response, bearing in mind that the fans' fondness for familiar music can skew the results.

So even though Audioslave churned up the most turbulent audience action of the 11-hour day, it was the band's revival of songs by the members' former groups -- singer Chris Cornell's Soundgarden and the three instrumentalists' Rage Against the Machine -- that really did the trick. Rage's politically informed defiance was especially potent and marked a rare note of social awareness.

The Killers might be the band with the most momentum right now, and the quartet didn't do anything to break it, connecting strongly as it delivered its sultry, catchy synth-pop with unpretentious urgency.

The brazen hooks of such hits as "Mr. Brightside" and "Smile Like You Mean It" don't exactly make the Killers forward-looking, but like their hometown of Las Vegas, the band members manage to make garishness into an aesthetic statement, and if they can find a way to give it more depth, they might be the ones to stick around.

The Killers' radio-friendly anthems and love-me manner followed a very different kind of set from Queens of the Stone Age, whose edgy, bluesy metal and stoner vibe made it the most left-field entry on the main stage. The response to its more challenging music -- and to the similarly complex Interpol -- was decent, but both look like niche bands for KROQ rather than its bread and butter.

The Foo Fighters, a longtime KROQ favorite, were getting just a mild response until Dave Grohl ventured far into the audience playing his guitar. Boosted by the excitement, the band finished strongly on a combination of sheer musical precision and nostalgia for such hits as "One by One."

The Motley Crue experience followed, starting with a fittingly Spinal Tap moment. Tommy Lee took the stage and stood behind his drums with arms held high in a grand, rock-god pose -- but no one could see it because he was in total darkness.

By the time the stage lights came on he was pounding away on the Crue's old-time glam-metal as singer Vince Neil, guitarist Mick Mars and bassist Nikki Sixx plodded creakily around the stage.

Most of the audience hung around to participate in this camp-out, playing the part of the fist-pumping rock 'n' roll audience to the Crue's hard-rock deities.

Those who didn't get the joke or didn't think it was funny started streaming out. It had been a long day for some, starting around 1 p.m. with three hours of music on two adjacent secondary stages. It was Coachella heat but no Coachella comfort, with the stages set up on a shadeless stretch of asphalt parking lot.

Bloc Party (the only British entry of the bill) and the punk-rap Transplants seemed to make an impression on the wilting masses, and the Mars Volta sent them off early to the main stage area with an obstinately difficult series of fusion-flavored jams.

"If you don't like it, please leave," said guitarist Omar A. Rodriguez-Lopez, after criticizing the band's introduction from one of the KROQ personalities.

Maybe that's the future: Insult your host and your audience.

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