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January 6, 1997

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Richard Handal alerted me to a review of Tori's performance at the KROQ's Seventh Annual Acoustic Christmas concert from December 1996. It appeared in UCLA's The Daily Bruin on January 6, 1997. You can read it at the The Daily Bruin Online web site or below. Actually, it is a review of the entire concert, which had many artists over a period of two days. The photo below is also from The Daily Bruin.

KROQ almost hits the notes with Almost Acoustic Christmas shows.


Seventh annual bash, though entertaining, lacked sense of daring

By Mike Nazarinia and Mike Prevatt

Daily Bruin Contributors

KROQ's two Seventh Annual Acoustic Christmas shows may have been less than acoustic and occasionally less than daring in its line-up choices. Still, the six-hour shows provided more than enough entertainment for the teens and twenty-somethings looking to blow off steam from finals or catch an all-star roster of alternative acts that only KROQ can provide.

In accordance with the female-dominated year in alternative rock, the first night boasted an all-female line-up for the first time, with acts like Tori Amos, Fiona Apple and Garbage stealing the show. The second, rowdier evening showcased the station's other most popular acts of 1996 - Beck, 311, and Bush, among others.

In a year where women made an unprecedented impact on the airwaves and the rest of the new music out there seemed anything but earthshaking, it was refreshing to see a KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas devoted to the double X chromosomes.

The seventh annual affair began with a warm-up performance by Joan Osborne and really got swinging with the extraordinarily approachable Poe. Set to a rooftop backdrop with Santa in his sleigh, Poe took the stage with the sort of energy not usually seen by contemporary artists anymore. At one point, she even did a stage dive into the Universal Amphitheater pit, and actually crowd-surfed in her best imitation of early '90s rock bands.

In what was probably the highlight of the evening, 19-year-old Fiona Apple of New York took to the stage and took over the crowd with a combination of her seductive stage moves and fragile demeanor. Her pipes were amazingly soulful and seemed entirely from her heart. It's no wonder that she has amassed such a loyal following on the West Coast.

Jewel showed off her stage savvy by getting the crowd excited with her superior yodeling skills. The crowd greeted her warmly and, when she finally left, wanted an encore.

Self-proclaimed Swedish indie-pop sensations the Cardigans, however, seemed a little out of place on stage, where their warm and friendly sound didn't transmit live nearly as well as it does on record. The crowd was obviously pleased with their radio-staple "Lovefool," though, and grooved along with the disco tune.

Another misfit, Sheryl Crow, was probably on the bill because she represents the artist of the bunch that is "alternative" enough for adult contemporary stations and so KROQ as well. Nothing against Crow, but her style just isn't as unusual as someone like Tori Amos. The same could be said of Sarah McLachlan and Natalie Merchant as a solo artist.

McLachlan has an amazingly smooth voice that can hit the high notes with careful precision, but her songs are slow and mellow, which is probably what KROQ had in mind when it first came up with the idea for the Acoustic Christmas.

But the crowd had definitely come for Seattle's Garbage and Tori Amos. When Garbage lead singer Shirley Manson took to the stage, Garbage kicked into the night's most energetic performance with stunningly fresh versions of songs that have saturated the airwaves, including "No. 11 Crush" and "Stupid Girl."

Tori Amos was her usual captivating self, starting out her set with a slowed-down version of R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" and displaying her unique musical talent on the giant piano. "Cornflake Girl" was another highlight of an unusually short set.

By the time Natalie Merchant made it to the stage, about a third of the crowd had left, which was a shame because her set included Poe and McLachlan for the encore, with Poe doing the old break dancing move, the back spin. Mechant ended the set with a version of the 10,000 Maniacs' "These Are Days" that lasted for about 12 minutes.

All in all, the evening was a jolly good time even if it was hyped as girlie night. Many charities received a healthy sized check from the evening's proceeds. If one thing could be said about night No. 1, it would be the fact that this night's show might be a blueprint for a girlie tour for '97. If that's the case, then Garbage should be the headliner.

If there was any one concert to represent the current status and continuing direction of "alternative" music, it was the second night of KROQ's "Almost Acoustic" Christmas show Dec. 14 at the Universal Amphitheater.

In years past, the indoor festival of modern rock acts showcased acoustic performances, including Hole, Oasis, and the Cranberries. Nowadays, KROQ seems intent on grabbing whomever pleases the fans most and letting them get away with "plugging in," renaming the show "Almost Acoustic."

This was never more evident than on Dec. 14. With the exception of an acoustic guitar in Cake's performance and a harmonica solo from Beck, there was not one acoustic element to the show.

This didn't necessarily make the show bad. As a matter of fact, despite the number of "one-hit wonders" performing that KROQ gives endless airtime to, the six-hour alterna-fest provided ample entertainment and consistent talent.

The night's highlight act was clearly the ever-eccentric Beck. The first act to get the audience on its feet, Beck performed songs from his latest album "Odelay," the critic's pick of 1996, as well as old favorites like the crowd-fave "Loser." Beck, donned in all white and sporting a yarmulke, thrilled the crowd with his role as the night's court jester, acting out the whole pseudo-rapper schtick flawlessly.

On the other side of the spectrum, Orbital proved you don't need a flashy personality to woo an audience. Only known to the fifteen-something crowd for their breakthrough dance hit "The Box," Orbital dazzled the audience with their impressive three-song set. While "The Box" and their second song, "Satan," didn't make everyone in the house dance, Orbital did entrance all watching with an audio-visual onslaught of dizzying lights, booming music and artistic video images.

They ended their set with "Halcyon," which finally got the crowd up, moving and screaming with its lyrical excerpts from Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven is a Place on Earth" and Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name."

The more frivolous 311, the new KROQ fave, went beyond the night's "one-hit wonder" theme and got the crowd bouncing with their 45-minute set, mixing in hits like "Down" (KROQ's No. 1 song for 1996) and "All Mixed Up" with older songs like the mosher anthem "Do You Right." The consistency of the crowd approval stemmed from great musical showmanship, especially their explosive rhythm section.

Bush, the hugely popular English band, headlined with their style of grunge rehash. The pre-teen girls were screaming for lead singer Gavin Rossdale before Bush even stepped on stage. Once the light shone on Rossdale, the audience let forth the night's most deafening scream.

Bush mainly played songs from their new album, "Razorblade Suitcase," and older hits. Rossdale played the role of the '90s tortured rock star, giving his persona full effectiveness with "Glycerine" and "Swallowed."

However, though undeserving of their "critic whipping boy" status with their solid live presence, their music still drones between their hits, marking the hour-long performance with nothing awful but nothing special either.

Cake received audience approval with their cover of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and their alterna-hit "The Distance." The Eels provided a fresh performance, thanks to lead singer E's offbeat personality and a purely entertaining live presence.

Republica failed to excite the crowd, despite screams during the oprining riffs of their hit, "Ready To Go." And the Presidents of the United States, while charismatic, won the award for the night's Most Banal Performance. Except for a reworked version of "Lump" and crowd fave "Peaches," PUSA's songs all blended together in one sub-average, power-pop mess that bored most of the crowd.

"Almost Acoustic" Christmas proved one thing: KROQ is scared to test its audience. Fearing that it would not approve of acoustic sets, and relying on others with sometimes only one hit to their name, KROQ shows it isn't paving the way for music's future, save Beck and Orbital, who offered glimpses of what potential alternative music can offer the future.

KROQ sought crowd excitement and fun performers to keep their decreasing listenership from falling any further, and they succeeded beautifully in that respect. From the entertaining likes of 311, the Eels and Cake, to the crowd sing-alongs of No Doubt's "Just a Girl" and the Cardigans' "Lovefool" that were played during set changes, KROQ provided their listeners with exactly what they wanted.

Yet with the crowd reactions to Orbital and Beck, hopefully KROQ will realize that its audience is ready for bands whose fresh sounds will stand the test of time.

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