Avicii, Beck sizzle at KROQ's Weenie Roast
The radio station's annual event stayed ahead of the curve by booking the Swedish DJ as an unconventional headliner, while Beck provided first-rate blasts from the past.

Published: June 1, 2014 Updated: June 2, 2014 6:46 a.m.
When: May 31

Where: Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, Irvine

Many music fans looked at the lineup for KROQ’s 22nd annual Weenie Roast, held Saturday in Irvine, and thought the taste-making station had finally lost its ever-loving mind.
Avicii, the Swedish DJ, as headliner at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater instead of some other festival’s dance tent? Fall Out Boy, the emo punksters who seemed quickly forgotten until their reunion a year ago? Beck, whose early classics were KROQ staples but whose more introspective recent work is much, much less so?

But there’s a reason KROQ has been one of modern rock’s standard-bearers for the past three decades: It knows what listeners like. So while the Beck fan probably isn’t well-repped in the Avicii demographic, and the Fitz and the Tantrums follower might not yet have discovered Kongos, you can throw 16,000 people together for a daylong festival and have most of them find enough sounds they like to make it well worthwhile.

So let’s start at the finish with Avicii, the first EDM act to cap a Weenie Roast. His songs are catchy confections – opener “Hey Brother” practically has a country feel to it and “You Make Me” places a sweet, soulful vocal atop a driving beat. But it’s the show that often makes or breaks a DJ set, the visuals and explosions and the like, and by that measure, Avicii did just fine.

The videos were creative, especially so to anyone who had artificially enhanced their perception. He shot streamers into the crowd at the top of the set, used synchronized bursts of flame from the stage during other tunes, and wrapped up with confetti cannons that almost always signal the race for the parking lot has begun.

While you might expect the crowd to thin as non-EDM fans filtered out, most stayed put at first, dancing rapturously in the rows for at least the first half of his hour on stage. In the second half, many bailed, and by set-closing versions of “Levels” and “Wake Me Up” about half the orchestra section was gone, though that might have been a function of how seismically and somewhat painfully loud the bottom end of his mix was if you were seated up close. (I know, I know: first-world problems.)

Whereas Avicii made his Weenie Roast debut Saturday, for Beck, who played just before him with his longtime band, it was a return after 20 years, having appeared at the second-ever event in 1994: “So ... most of you weren’t born yet,” he noted after opening with “Loser,” his breakout single that year.

His current album, Morning Phase, is a gentle masterpiece, yet, as he did at Coachella, Beck wisely stuck to older tunes: “Devil’s Haircut,” “Debra,” “Where It’s At” to close, a mash-up of “Sissyneck” with Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” a danceable highlight. “E-Pro,” which he dedicated to former Verizon usher Will Ferrell, rocked a heavy groove and wrapped up with him cheerfully shouting, “More cowbell for Will Ferrell – c’mon!”

Earlier on the Main Stage, Capital Cities and Fitz and the Tantrums, two Los Angeles bands that moved up from side-stage status last year, turned in strong sets to get people moving during the still-scorching late afternoon.

Standouts from Capital Cities’ set included “Kangaroo Court,” “I Sold My Bed, But Not My Stereo” and, of course, their main hit, “Safe and Sound.” Fitz’s Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs sang and danced enough to get the crowd out of its heat-induced torpor, and with the rest of the band they sounded great on “The Walker,” “Out of My League” and “Fool’s Gold,” to name only a few highlights.

After that group wrapped up, London’s Bastille arrived to a huge response from the crowd for crisp performances of songs such as “Things We Lost in the Fire,” “Of the Night” and its chief smash, “Pompeii.” Another standout turn came via Foster the People, which showed enough confidence in its two-album catalog to dispense with introductory single “Pumped Up Kicks” at the top of the set, then rock powerfully through the likes of “Call It What You Want,” “Coming of Age” and “The Truth.”

Less rewarding, though certainly pleasing to their specific fan contingents, were main-stage turns by the Neighbourhood (who, like the Tantrums and Capital Cities, had moved up on the bill since last time) and Fall Out Boy. Part of that is personal taste – I’ll acknowledge that neither moves me like some others on this bill – but part of it is also the sameness of the sound, in a poor mix that, as with Avicii and Foster the People, pushed beyond the bounds of comfortable listening.

Earlier Saturday, the side stage hosted six bands given 30 minutes apiece to make an impression, with most sporting only one or two songs that have broken into KROQ’s rotation. Of them, most impressive were Kongos, whose South African upbringing added interesting rhythms and textures to most of its material, and Phantogram, whose simmering electronics and airy, echoing vocals would have been even lovelier in a small, dark club. (Have we mentioned it was hotter than Hades on the asphalt by these stages?)

American Authors delivered solid indie pop with the occasional banjo or mandolin for variety, and the young English group the 1975 sounded fine but probably needs a tad more live seasoning. Bleachers, side project of Jack Antonoff (guitarist for fun.), admittedly has recorded just one song – but that tune, “I Wanna Get Better,” is a heckuva singalong number. And Cherub, who started it all off, served up a nice disco ’n’ falsetto vibe that might help it follow in the dancey footprints of a band like Capital Cities one day.

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