Toppling stylistic barriers is almost always a good thing. But for anyone who got through high school on such early-'70s hard-rock staples as “The Who Live at Leeds” and Lou Reed’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal,” KISS was and will ever be a kiddie band, a foursome of derivative, content-free, modestly talented bar rockers who arrived in the mid-'70s and hit on a gimmick that captured the younger kids.
But the glitzy kid stuff was too much for any promoter to resist. Hence the trumpeted reunion of KISS, a band that KROQ never plays in its modern-rock format, wound up top dog of the fourth annual KROQ Weenie Roast at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre on Saturday.
To their credit, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss returned for their first costumed KISS show since 1983 without any cloying sentiment or pompous self-congratulatory remarks. Instead, they carried on as if they’d never been away. While a fair number of Weenie Roasters left rolling their eyes before KISS turned their daylong alternative-rock fest into a heavy-metal spectacle, the band still faced an excited, near-capacity house and got the response it wanted.
Smoke, explosions, fireworks, ritual spitting of fake blood--it was all there, and it even got slightly out of control when a cache of fireworks under the stage canopy briefly caught fire.
Musically, KISS plodded for the first half, but things improved as the material got more propulsive. The one above-average talent these guys had was for putting together a catchy, sing-along chorus, and the last four of the band’s 10 songs were meaty enough melodically and had some zip in the playing.
Elbowed aside on their own alterna-turf, the second-billed Red Hot Chili Peppers made a surprising and rewarding musical statement. If kid stuff was going to rule the night, the Chili Peppers, infamous for indulging their own mile-wide puerile streak, would be contrarian by being grown-up. They came through with a splendid set that featured the most cohesive, interactive, and mature musicianship of the 11-band bill.
Overall, the Weenie Roast apart from KISS offered a good, varied sampling in which strong song craft was the key to the other top performances.
The noir-flavored atmospherics of Garbage worked just fine in daylight; the sun may have threatened singer Shirley Manson’s perfectly pale complexion, but it couldn’t touch her lacerating mood-weaving. Complex, incessantly catchy, and with plenty of instrumental crunch, Garbage was a treasure.
Everclear’s dense garage-pop was too loose and tangled at times, but when the Portland trio locked into some amped-up countrified twang on “Santa Monica” and “Heroin Girl,” it was something potentially special, a strong heir to Neil Young & Crazy Horse as well as Nirvana.
England’s Lush was a pleasant surprise in its trend-hopping transformation from gauzy, textured “dream pop” to straight-ahead power-pop a la Elastica. Anaheim’s No Doubt was once more a reliable party band, Korn played the glowering, slab-rock heavies on a bill dominated by poppy and upbeat acts, and L.A.'s Goldfinger had lots of good, catchy material--too bad the band didn’t trust it enough to cut the tiresome punk-rock drill.
311 scored with a forthright, cheerful attitude to go with its catchy blend of punk, funk-metal, reggae and rap. Crafty in its borrowings on record, Michigan’s the Verve Pipe was blatantly derivative of the Bush-Oasis axis on stage.
Smooth-running in the past, the Weenie Roast hit a bad glitch that resulted in the plug being pulled on the Fugees, a move that left the eager crowd booing as the high-flying rap group was silenced mid-song.
The Fugees’ significantly late arrival led to their truncated set, according to KROQ official Gene Sandbloom. They began with a listless jam that wasted further time, and then, according to Sandbloom, a “miscommunication” led to the dismaying sight of the No. 1 band on the charts being rotated out of sight just after launching into one of its signatures, Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly.”