Lorde, Arcade Fire, Phoenix win night two of Almost Acoustic Christmas
The artists arrived in perfectly timed succession, each a harmonic tine inside the music box: Atlas Genius, Bastille, Portugal. The Man, Capital Cities, Fitz & the Tantrums, the Neighbourhood, Lorde, Phoenix and Arcade Fire.
The five-plus-hours show at the Shrine Auditorium was the second night of the KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas, a charity event/showcase/ring-kiss that moved from act to act with only a few pauses for breath. Many of those pauses came during the Grammy nominated young singer Lorde’s minimal pop dirges.
A night of explosive peaks and inconsequential valleys, the annual musical variety show serves a few noble purposes: All event proceeds go to the charities Para Los Ninos and the Al Wooten Jr. Heritage Center, and fans of big-ticket rock can catch many of the music’s marquee names in one action-packed night.
To brag that you saw Lorde, Phoenix and Arcade Fire in one night is certainly something to mention around the water cooler the next day, even if you had to endure one-note rapper Riff Raff doing a cameo with bland alt rock band the Neighbourhood, or a few too many trumpet solos from L.A. pop-rock-jazz-electronic fusion band Capital Cities.
In a cost-to-benefit analysis, though, such thuds were easy enough to endure if near the end you experienced the oft-thrilling French rock band Phoenix tear through “1901,” “Lisztomania” and other destined-to-be generational touchstone songs with a perfect mix of chant-along choruses and focused melodic aggression.
A band that after 13-plus years still seems willing to bring it even at something as seemingly inconsequential as a commercial radio benefit gig, Phoenix’s casual confidence was infectious. They brought a fury to gems that they’ve no doubt played hundreds of times before yet still seemed enthused at the opportunity to do so.
Soon thereafter, Arcade Fire blew through the Shrine with an overwhelming force. Promoting its career-peak new album “Reflektor,” the band has been doing warm-up gigs for the past few months, and, man, are they getting in tune. Coupled with a perfectly engineered mix -- somebody give that sound person a raise -- the band at its best offered huge guitars and tangled solos but merged them with so much crazy rhythm as to stir a kind of hurricane.
“Afterlife” was especially transcendent of the new material, and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” from the band’s Grammy-winning album “The Suburbs,” seems to levitate a bit higher each time it plays it -- no small feat.
Oddly, as evidenced by many performances earlier during Sunday’s session, overwhelming “rock” force needn’t arrive via guitar in 2013. Fitz & the Tantrums and Lorde offered the rock ideal -- rebellion and rhythm -- mostly minus a central role for six-strings and strum. (The evening prior was a heavier bill, with bands including Queens of the Stone Age, Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys and Vampire Weekend pushing guitars in many directions.)
Using keyboard, percussion and computer tones to fill in the midrange, for example, the Tantrums propelled the Shrine through modern pop numbers about as rock ‘n’ roll as Hall & Oates. Which isn’t to say the band didn’t deliver. The tracks from the recent “More Than Just a Dream,” especially “Fools Gold,” sounded a ton better live than on record -- no surprise given the magnetism of dueling singers Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs.
Portland, Ore., band Portugal. The Man generated six-stringed heat but with impressive balance. At its best -- the catchy jam “Creep in a T-Shirt” -- the group suggested an armistice between guitar and dance music. This instinct was underscored when Tears for Fears singer Curt Smith arrived to perform “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” with Portugal’s backing. (Earlier in the night Bastille and Atlas Genius offered their takes on rock, but, regretfully, I miscalculated the gig’s start time.)
Lorde strived to generate a different kind of intensity. The odd woman out in a lineup packed with men, the breakout New Zealand 17-year-old singer recently earned four Grammy nominations for music from her debut album, “Pure Heroine,” including both Record and Song of the Year for her excellent “Royals.” Her minimally presented half-hour set was an exercise in restraint -- at times to a fault.
Dressed in black with a center-stage spotlight focused on her, she moved through much of the music with her clunky black platforms firmly planted on the stage, gesticulating with her hands and torso while messing with her mass of black hair and hitting note after note. Her band -- a percussionist and a keyboardist/programmer -- was set far behind, further isolating her.
At her best, on “400 Luxe,” her devastating cover of Kanye West’s “Handle My Liquor” and her Grammy-nominated hit, the sparse delivery -- sonic minimalism focused on rhythm -- was an asset. She’s got a sturdy, confident voice both figuratively and literally, and connected with lyrics that sought to eliminate the distance between singer and audience.
But her inexperience showed, and she had a hard time holding a crowd eagerly awaiting her performance of “Royals.” In her defense, did I mention she’s 17? If the fickle rock marketplace is willing to give her a few years of gigging, and she’s able to approach the craft with as much enthusiasm and take cues from the musicians who followed her on Sunday, Lorde’s got a few decades ahead of her to perfect the craft. Guitar or not.
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