I’ve lived in Southern California for 26 years of my life, and the fact that I just attended my first KROQ Weenie Roast is bizarre. I don’t even know how it has taken this long. Some years they have great lineups, too, but the thing sells out so fast that you have to really want to go to get in. Towards the end of Saturday night’s event, a 300-pound black security officer who had been jovial and pleasant all day turned to me and said, “These people sure love their weenie roasts, every year they fill this place.” Indeed, as colleague Alyssa Pereira pointed out, the KROQ Weenie Roast is actually the longest continuous running radio festival in the country, beginning in 1993. Driving that point home was the late add of Beck to the bill, who played his first Weenie Roast 20 years earlier in 1994.
So, with no basis of comparison, I can say that KROQ knows what it’s doing with the event itself. It almost always takes place at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine, though it has gone as big in the past to host at Angel Stadium, and the event runs smoothly as can be hoped. Tight sets flow into each other with a rotating stage, and the press and radio winners even got access to some random VIP party that had free hot dogs. Though a Live Nation venue, KROQ rules the day, and the atmosphere is all the more relaxed because of it, which matters little to most people, but, well, it makes dealing with the likes of some of the bands that were booked more tolerable.
And that’s the thing, for as bad as many of the bands playing the Weenie Roast are, the fact that the event still managed to be fun says a lot for the event itself. The music is not really KROQ’s fault. They’re just booking what is available and what people are into right now. The listeners who make this shit popular are just as much to blame as the record labels and the bands themselves. But the people who sold this thing out, or who regardless are complacent enough to put up with Imagine Dragons and somehow are still holding strong to their affection for Linkin Park and The Offspring and Sublime and whatever else KROQ plays. It all cycles in waves, and just this last Christmas, their show had Arcade Fire and Lorde and Vampire Weekend and Arctic Monkeys and Queens of the Stone Age, so, this Weenie Roast was just bad luck, probably.
But the recurring thought throughout the event, was why? Music discovery and personal choice have never been better facilitated, and sometimes you don’t have to do any work to find new music that both suits you and is of high quality. That so much of the music on display on Saturday was mundane, boring, unenthusiastically performed, and safe-as-can-be speaks volumes about the current radio audience. You wouldn’t think that internet music fans and radio music fans would be that different, but it’s like we come from completely different worlds. If there was one saving grace, it was that the fans were older than any other festival outside of country- or folk-related events that I have recently attended. The 30+ contingent didn’t dominate but were healthy in their representation and more abundant than the under-18 faction. Does this mean the radio isn’t as appealing to younger listeners or that KROQ is losing touch with them? That seems to be why they booked AVICII to headline what’s traditionally a rock show.
In all, though, the Weenie Roast is healthy in its execution, and band quality will always ebb and flow. If you ever have an interest in the bands set to play one of these, drop the cash and go, as it is well worth the time and effort. But here is a rundown of what was seen this year. Just a fair warning, it wasn’t pretty.
Phantogram made a jump to the majors with their most recent album, Voices, and with that comes the expectation of radio play, of which I hear they are getting some. The problem with Phantogram is their lack of personality. I’ve seen them live, interviewed them, heard the albums plenty, and nothing ever sticks, and trust that it isn’t for a lack of effort from this listener. They always look cool while performing, but the songs just don’t pack any emotional weight. It’s like they’re stuck in the middle between being fun and being affecting, and they seem to be neither when all is said and done. Still, a lot of people seem to like them and don’t discount that. Surprising that they still can’t make it on the main stage at this thing, as they headlined the side stage along with boy-band-with-instruments the 1975, something called American Authors, something else called Congas, I think (ed note: Kongas), and something else I can’t remember (ed note: Bleachers and Cherub also played).
This band at one point taught everyone how to do the “Capital Cities shuffle,” and people actually did it while I wondered why I was at a shitty summer camp. I hope that moment haunts them all til their grave. Also, the trumpet guy was the only one in the band with any charisma, but it was kind of weird when he was spotted, like, five hours later walking around and still holding the trumpet. Are you really holding the trumpet to be recognized as the trumpet player for Capital Cities? Without the trumpet, do you get pegged as Chris Kattan? Otherwise, their neo-disco songs were catchy, so I get it. But c’mon. This shit should be reserved for like corporate holiday parties, not Coachella and Weenie Roasts and the like.
Fitz and the Tantrums
Locally adored, it’s hard to hate on Fitz and the Tantrums. But there was this one point where they were doing a chorus and every time they sang the hook, which was like “We’re friends with benefits” or “You’re my booty call” or “We’re in it to win it” or “Show me the money” or something like that, they would do these little choreographed fist punches. Fitz, if that is even his name, looked just sick of life while doing it, so he did the most sensible thing: he switched it up, signaling to Lady Tantrum (?) to begin a left-to-right arm wave, which the crowd jumped at the suggestion to mimic. The band is essentially language cliches turned into music cliches performed with stage cliches, and it all works on people because they like familiar things. What I will give the band is they work their ass off and fought like hell to get to this level. So, I wish them nothing but success and hope their audience sticks with them.
Is this really still a thing? And how many articles of wolf clothing can one guy have? I hope it’s more than the two he wore here and at Coachella and probably at every show because his laundry responsibilities would just be horrific to keep up the pace he’d need just to remain clothed on a daily basis.
At one point, Bastille did a lap around the venue. I saw this 85-pound Asian girl realize he was in the audience and turn into a virtual T-1000 to pursue him, her eyes red and glowing, leaping over rows of chairs, and just fucking frightening as all hell. It was also funny that the dude would do the same kind of hops and dances that he would do onstage, completely unaffected by the selfies he was the background for. It was around this act that the thought crossed my mind that none of these bands will ever matter, and their fleeting nature must be somewhat on the minds of the actual musicians. I hope they are saving some of their money.
Who the fuck gets to decide they want to be in black and white? Can I do that? Like, if Coldplay decided they wanted to be shot in black and white, okay, they are huge, I get it. But who the fuck are The Neighbourhood? They sound like a shitty-ass reggae band that got lost and wound up at the Viper Room on New Year’s Eve. They could be the Sunset Strip Dub All-Stars. Like, you know your band is shit when you need to have pointless photo rules just so people will remember who you are, because if they were in color, they might as well have been Buckcherry. And actually, maybe they are Buckcherry.
Fall Out Boy
I don’t like Fall Out Boy, never have. But I’ll be honest, they kind of ruled by comparison to mostly everything else on Saturday. They were rock stars, striking poses and using dramatic stage moves and lighting to make their brief set feel like an event. Experience showed, and their trademark song, “Sugar, We’re Going Down”, sounded like “Stairway to Heaven” in comparison to the shit before it. The band even looked kinda above it all, but that might have been just realizing that they were above all of this. It’s really strange to be praising Fall Out Boy, and I think I might not be the same person after writing this, but Fall Out Boy was the class of the bill, only upstaged by one artist, and proved to be vital in the current mainstream rock landscape.
Foster the People
Foster the People’s _____ Foster sang a portion of his set with his hands in his pockets, seemingly as bored with his own material as everyone else should be. I can’t even be bothered to Google this guy’s first name. That’s how little interest I have in them. I am confident that I will never need that information again, so I am not bothering to take three seconds and find out. Also, somewhere down the line they got 18 new members or some shit, and everyone plays percussion at some point, which is weird because the drummer was the only engaging one amongst them and probably didn’t need any help. Like, how does Foster the People need this many members? And if anything, maybe they should take the song about a shooting rampage out of the set for a bit.
Beck has been playing Weenie Roasts and the like for 20 years, since “Loser” first stormed the radio and seemed like another of these one-hit wonders to deal with. And that’s interesting, right? When Beck released “Loser”, many thought he was a one-and-done fad that would likely be forgotten as soon as the song was. But, he returned with one of the signature albums of the ’90s in Odelay and decades later, he’s still getting the radio audiences dancing and laughing and loving life for small portions of it. His set featured hit after hit, including an extended “Debra” that baffled the less familiar, “Girl”, “E-Pro”, “Devil’s Haircut”, “Blue Moon”, and “Where It’s At”. Beck was dancing and animated like he hasn’t been since the ’90s, maybe indicating some of his physical ailments are passing. Either way, it was a predictably stellar set and one that put a little perspective on the Bastilles and Capital Cities of the world. Sure, they might suck, and they might be fleeting in popularity, but every once in a while one of them will prove to be worth more than a catchy song. Sometimes they end up being Beck or Radiohead.
I don’t even know what this was about. I guess everybody likes EDM now, so why not have a headliner that has nothing to do with the music you broadcast on your radio station. It was surreal seeing middle-aged people waving their complementary glow objects while AVICII let his music play to a stage show of pretty pictures of mountains and seas, confetti, smoke, and a few firecrackers. But seriously, if you aren’t bringing the blue fire that Calvin Harris has, why even bother? So, yeah, unmpressed. A silly booking that the flood of early exits will hopefully clue in the organizers as to what their listeners enjoy: Jack White, The Black Keys, or Coldplay all would have made more sense. Maybe next year.