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Having themselves a loud, fast Christmas

December 10, 2007|Steve Appleford | Special to The Times

Holiday cheer is a relative thing at the annual KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas concerts, which often involve bands fueled on volume and intensity, not sweetness and light. That was especially true Saturday at the hard-rocking opening show of the station's two nights at the Gibson Amphitheatre.

No act was louder, angrier or more ebullient than top-billed Linkin Park, the multiplatinum rock/hip-hop hybrid from Agoura Hills. Late in its set, rapper-multi-instrumentalist Mike Shinoda played a quiet piano melody from "Silent Night," somehow easing into Linkin Park's "Breaking the Habit," a song of intense loathing and desperation sung by Chester Bennington.

Whatever the message, Linkin Park retains an inner energy that transcends the limitations of the nu-metal label it once labored under. On "Given Up" (from the band's newest album, "Minutes to Midnight"), quiet effects and feedback swelled to a thundering, shimmering wall of sound and heavy riffing from guitarist Brad Delson. The band also slowed down long enough for the new "Shadow of the Day," a romantic epic in the U2 mold.

Second-billed Bad Religion delivered an hour of urgent punk-rock agitprop, with bassist Jay Bentley in a Santa beard and cap.

Bad Religion has been recording albums since 1982 and became a major force in the '90s' alternative explosion when "Infected" and "American Jesus" became as much a part of the influential KROQ playlist as "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

Singer Greg Graffin told the crowd the band had played some of KROQ's earliest holiday shows and took some credit for transforming them from acoustic to "almost acoustic."

Serj Tankian performed his new solo material with a distinctive mix of seriousness and joy. And just as when he sang with System of a Down (currently on hiatus), Tankian railed and wailed with a flair that was at times Zappa-esque and vaudevillian, singing of political crimes and humanity's ongoing failures.

On his frantic "The Unthinking Majority," Tankian could have been singing of prewar Iraq or new revelations about Iran's nuclear program: "I believe that you are wrong, insinuating they have the bomb / Clearing the way for the oil brigade!"

Not every act came prepared with a message. Avenged Sevenfold emerged from a thick cloud of stage fog to deliver its rowdy blend of hard-core punk and the decadent glam of '80s metal.

The radio hit "Bat Country" was loud and hook-filled. And singer M. Shadows (a.k.a. Matt Sanders) looked like a younger Rob Halford in his shaved head and aviator shades as he led a singalong (lyric: "I'm not insane!") on the new "Almost Easy."

Rise Against delivered the same no-frills punk rock that gained it significant chart success and airplay as one of this generation's hard-core standard-bearers. The sound was tough and tightly wound, with melodies screamed by Tim McIlrath, bearded and brooding, as moshing fully ignited in the KROQ "party" pit.

"The Good Left Undone" was all raging emotion. There were occasional musical flourishes from the dual guitars, but the night's abbreviated sets meant the band focused on the straight-ahead and predictable, and there were none of the quieter, subtler Rise Against moments.

Earlier, Angels & Airwaves was led by former Blink-182 singer-guitarist Tom DeLonge through pure pop that was earnest, melodic and emotional.

Not as immediate as Blink-182, A&A seemed to be reaching for another depth of feeling, at times sounding more like U2 than a band committed to the old punk credo of "loudfastrules."

DeLonge was only slightly exaggerating his history playing the 17-year-old KROQ event when he told the crowd, "I feel like I've played this show every year since I was 4 years old."

Some holiday traditions are louder than the rest.

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