As is normally the case with rock radio powerhouse KROQ, guitars took center stage during the station's 22nd annual Weenie Roast, a day-long concert and marketing event at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine on Saturday. What surprisingly ruled many of the sets, though, was not the six-stringed electric but rather the four-stringed bass.
With its bottom-rumbling vibe and dance floor-friendly tone soundtracking the festivities, groove drove the KROQ party, which celebrates acts on the station's play list. Whether part of the bedrock of the happy-go-lucky lines of Capital Cities, Pete Wentz's pummeling runs for punk band Fall Out Boy or Beck bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen's spinning swirls of low-end joy, rhythm and bass drove brains to blast serotonin and launched buns into overdrive.
Then electronic dance music DJ Avicii came on, plugged in, hit play, twiddled a few knobs, gesticulated wildly, pointed to the heavens, shot steam and flames with the press of a button and tore up the place all by his lonesome -- no instrument save his computer, Oz-like facade and chutzpah.
If the Weenie Roast is any guide (and it is), rock continues its bend toward inclusion. Each year, the quick-turnaround sets feature the acts that KROQ plays (often to death), a selection that helps drive commercial radio and YouTube spins, TV spot licenses and Twitter buzz nationwide. For better or worse, if KROQ puts the full force of its power behind a song, it can propel an artist to ubiquity. So it's good when the station takes chances.
Just ask Mark Foster of Foster the People, who earned a big-time hit in "Pumped Up Kicks" and saved one-hit-wonder status with his band's followup, "Coming of Age." In the night's most convincing and invigorating set, the band confirmed the kind of musical evolution one hopes for from a breakout act. Foster's high-tenor wail and increasingly assured stage presence helped drive the 16,000-plus to move.
Or query Beck, who hit with "Loser" because of a boost from KROQ and has continued to earn spins 20 years later, even if many of the teens and tweens used his set as a pre-Avicii intermission.
Was it all rock? Depends on your definition. The five-plus hours of music (and, earlier in the day, a side stage of rising acts) featured as many trumpet, baritone sax, harmonica and keyboard solos as distorted, phallic fiddlings on Telecasters or Les Pauls. Even if the derivative hard rock band the Neighbourhood worked to tip the balance toward standard posturing and a Led Zeppelin-inspired approach, expansion ruled the day -- and Fall Out Boy drummer Andy Hurley, in typical fashion, ruled his kit.
In the genre-collage that is 2014 modern rock, no accent was off-limits, no drum-fill too hard core, no flair too emo or twee. Which is to say, the trend toward inclusion continued.
Well, that is unless we're talking gender. Save for Fitz & the Tantrums' thrilling vocalist Noelle Scaggs and, earlier in the day, Phantogram singer Sarah Barthel, the event was devoted to the musings and voices of handsome men: their problems and desires, their affections and turn-offs.
Proof lay in the uplifting happy-pop of Los Angeles band Capital Cities, which delivered its hits "Safe and Sound" and "Kangaroo Court." The latter, an aspirational affirmation on the joys of dancing in "a dark part of town where all the girls get down," featured trumpet hotshot Spencer Ludwig posturing as dramatically with his horn as Dave Navarro used to with his guitar.
Bastille singer Dan Smith wondered about survival in his band's hit "Pompeii." With his hair styled in a faux-hawk and the full force of synthesizers and rhythm behind him, the singer imagined "walls tumbling down in the city we love, great clouds rolling over the hills bringing darkness from above."
For his part, Beck confirmed his survivor status minus a need for cliched tumbling walls. When he informed the crowd that he'd first played the Roast in 1994, a gasp erupted from the Avicii fans, many of whom hadn't yet been born. That said, the teen next to me still knew every word to "Loser" and "Where It's At," no small feat. The girl, who had said of Bastille's set, "I loved them so much. I loved them so, so much," did however play "Candy Crush" on her phone during much of Beck's set.
She was just resting, for good reason. Avicii's posturing was as outsize as his beats -- and drove the youth batty. The Swedish headliner, 24, is best known for his twang-filled hit "Wake Me Up" and his soul-swiping "Hey Brother." Last month, though, he became the butt of a joke when a "Saturday Night Live" clip went viral starring an Avicii-like superstar DJ named "Davvincii" (Andy Samberg). Suggesting that the performer was playing video games on his computer while just pretending to perform, Davvincii eventually makes fans' heads explode during a musical climax.
No heads blew up during Avicii's set, but it was hard to watch his hands touching buttons and flipping switches without thinking about the joke. Yet while surrounded by jumbo video screens projecting images of roaring lions, rolling thunderclouds and roller coasters, the producer didn't seem to care. He had thousands at his mercy, and many of them lost their heads anyway.