By Scott T. Sterling
In America 2016, anything is possible. Donald Trump can be president, Los Angeles can have its professional football team and you can go to the first night of this year’s KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas and experience two sax solos from two different bands.
From rustic, downhome folk-rock to vintage ‘80s new wave and new millennium emo icons, the first night of the 2016 edition of Almost Acoustic Christmas really did have something for the hordes of radio rock fans that packed the Forum in Inglewood.
It’s safe to say for many in attendance, Blink-182 is the music of their misspent youth. Nostalgia was heavy in the air as the beloved trio raced through a bunch of the band’s biggest hits, with “What’s My Age Again?” and “First Date” resonating deeply with fans throughout the arena who sang every word. Newest member Matt Skiba fit right into the band’s precision pop-punk machine, powered by the kinetic drumming of Travis Barker. They pulled out requisite holiday tune, “I Won’t Be Home for Christmas,” which Mark Hoppus told the crowd was originally recorded for a Kevin & Bean compilation back in the late ‘90s.
Kings of Leon rolled through to bring their singular Nashville flavor to the party as the group, fresh off the heels of the outfit’s first new album, WALLS, in three years. Tennessee’s wide-open spaces and southern fried influence can readily be heard in the music’s ringing guitars and hard driving rhythms. While the new songs were well received, it was fan favorites like “Use Somebody” and especially “Sex on Fire” that roused even the furthest reaches of the arena, inspiring dance parties in the upper deck.
Arizona rock heroes Jimmy Eat World turned the volume up to 11 on the band’s emo anthems, mixing new songs from the recently released Integrity Blues with hits like “Sweetness” and “The Middle.” The guys also took a moment to get into the holiday spirit with their version of Wham!’s 1986 hit, “Last Christmas.”
AFI brought their goth-tinged high-energy punk to the proceedings, with frontman Davey Havok stalking the stage, scaling speaker stacks and even venturing out into the crowd. The band blazed through as many songs as they could cram into their set, firing off inspired takes on hits “Girl’s Not Grey” and “Miss Murder,” also cranking out live debuts of “White Offerings” and “Snow Cats” for the hardcore fans in attendance.
M83’s vintage Pretty in Pink era ‘80s new wave brought one of the night’s two sax solos, during the band’s breakout radio hit, “Midnight City.” The French outfit’s dance-tastic set was highlighted by female singers Mai Lan and Kaela Sinclair, adding a new dimension to the group’s dreamy live show on songs like “Do It, Try It” and “Go,” from the album Junk, which was released earlier this year. Longtime fans jumped along to M83’s customary closing song, the beat-heavy instrumental, “Couleurs.”
X Ambassadors hit the stage hard, opening with a scorching heavy metal guitar solo that segued into the big beat bombast of the band’s hit, “Jungle.” Armed with hooks as big as their beats, songs like “Unsteady” and “Renegades” turned into massive crowd sing-alongs. The set was highlighted by a surprise appearance from guitar hero Tom Morello, who came out to play on “Collider,” a track he wrote with the band, capped with a customarily face-melting guitar solo. Frontman Sam Harris also provided the night’s other sax solo, also taking turns on guitar and bass.
The Strumbellas opened the concert with downhome, folksy vibes, firing up the early birds with feel-good songs like the hit, “Spirits.”
KROQ’s own Jeremiah Red kicked off the night with a high-energy and panoramic set, deftly mixing an eclectic mix that included Rae Sremmurd’s mannequin challenge anthem, “Black Beatles.”
Your move, Night 2 of KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas 2016.