Concert Reviews
The hottest gigs straight from the venue to your couch

The State of Rock at KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas 2016

on December 13, 2016, 6:00am
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The Strumbellas

The Song: “Spirits” hit the top of the alt charts in May and is one of the biggest breakout singles of the year. It was an obvious hit from first listen, boasting a big sing-along chorus that could have been released at any point in the last 15 years.

The Potential: At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss the Canadian six-piece as being late to the stomp-clap party that saw The Lumineers, Mumford and Sons, Edward Sharpe, and others sweep into the alternative scene, complete with suspenders, mustaches, and newsboy hats. But when you consider that those bands are still massively popular and that The Strumbellas can write an earworm, as evidenced by their second single, “We Don’t Know”, the band could have legs. It helps that they pack some charm, too, with frontman Simon Ward flubbing a song with a capo on the wrong fret early in their set, and the band managing to laugh it off together.

X Ambassadors

The Song: “Unsteady” has been X Ambassadors’ big follow-up to their smash “Renegades” (which conquered both radiowaves and Jeep commericals). It’s made a dent at pop radio as well as alternative, regardless of the fact that frontman Sam Harris emotes with the dramatic flare of ’80s cock rock.

The Potential: X Ambassadors’ success isn’t inexplicable. Beyond the hits, the band seems schooled in rock star tropes, no matter how uncool and self-indulgent (at one point Harris gave a self-righteous speech about, no joke, being yourself). And they’ve even got some famous friends, including collaborators Rihanna and Tom Morello, the latter of which showed up to close out the performance on Saturday night. Technical difficulties made Morello’s appearance less of a slam dunk than it should have been, and it ended up highlighting that pantomiming the qualities of a rock star is no substitute for being an actual rock star. At that, it’s hard to imagine the band sticking around long after the hits slow down.


The Song: Uh, what song? Did anyone hear a radio single on Junk?

The Potential: The joke here is that radio station Christmas concerts are usually played for free by the bands to curry favor for said radio station to support their music. But for M83, it’s hard to imagine that performing will help the cause of getting anything from their recent flop to the airwaves. That said, the band still rules live, using their brief appearance to build a vibe rather than worry about showcasing their newest material. That included the epic “Sitting”, an extended instrumental jam that should have informed the arena that M83 was the most talented group playing at AAC on Saturday. But unless Anthony Gonzalez goes into his next album trying to replicate the success of “Midnight City”, their relationship with alt radio is not long for this world.


The Song: “Snow Cats” is one of two new songs that AFI premiered in late October, and it’s the one with the most likely radio legs, even if it lacks a great hook. That said, it’s a three-minute nugget of emo nostalgia, situating AFI as one of the few groups that rose to prominence in the aughts to still be plugging away at the sound. That’s got to be worth something.

The Potential: AFI were performing their first concert in two years on Saturday night and gave both “Snow Cats” and “White Offerings” their live debut. If these are the most accessible from AFI (The Blood Album), then AFI won’t be able to replicate the success they found with “Miss Murder” and “Girl’s Not Grey”. The good news for AFI is they are still a live force, showcasing their punk and post-hardcore roots in a set that is made for large audiences. And their history guarantees them a fanbase anytime there is new material to unveil. It’s just that their style hasn’t evolved and seems a bit dated for the current musical climate.

Jimmy Eat World

The Song: “Sure and Certain” is currently sitting at number 10 on the alternative charts, right about where it belongs. When Jimmy Eat World writes a hit, it punches you in the face, but “Sure and Certain” isn’t that kind of song. It’s the kind of song that gains success if a band is already in your good graces, benefiting more from the group’s past than from any sort of inspired effort.

The Potential: We’re more than a decade removed from Jimmy Eat World’s biggest hits, but the likes of “Pain”, “A Praise Chorus”, “Sweetness”, and “The Middle” all served as some of the biggest sing-along moments of the weekend. The fact that Jimmy Eat World have had this sort of longevity speaks to both the strength of their older material and their ability to remain as relevant as necessary with subsequent efforts. As a live band, they aim to please, and that included a cover of Wham’s “Last Christmas”, one of the few holiday tunes audiences were gifted over the weekend. They’re not the future of alt rock, but alt rock is better when Jimmy Eat World are a part of it.

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