Twisted Christmas' alternative: headlining bands at a bargain


December 8, 2003


Though the politics of booking artists remains controversial, and the self-promotional aspects can become annoying, multiband radio festivals such as alternative-rocker Q101's seasonal shindigs remain some of the best bargains on the concert scene.

It was disappointing that the station failed to host its annual Jamboree this summer; the official reason was competition from the revitalized Lollapalooza, but a moribund modern-rock scene seemed to have just as much to do with it. But Q101 came back strong with its 10th annual Twisted Christmas concert, which took place at the Allstate Arena on Saturday.

True, each of the five acts had played their own headlining shows in Chicago within the last few months. But seeing all of those shows would have cost much more than the $35 ticket to Q101's holiday soiree. (And still, despite the reasonable cost for such a wide sampler of current sounds, there were a surprising number of empty seats in the arena's upper tiers.)

The show kicked off with California's hard-core punk revivalists A.F.I. The group, whose acronym stands for A Fire Inside, has been active for about a decade, but it made a major leap into the mainstream (and onto the Q101 play list) last spring with the release of its major label debut, "Sing the Sorrow," which was produced by Butch Vig (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage).

Underground punks tend to dismiss the group as Misfits wannabes, and the album is more or less forgettable. But the group's set sped by in a blur of sweat and energy on Saturday.

In contrast, Chris Carrabba and Dashboard Confessional fare better on album than onstage -- or at least on a stage as big as the Allstate Arena's. Their earnest, hyper-romantic, gently lilting emo/indie-rock was a bit too willowy to hold up to the boomy acoustics, until the last two songs of the set, the back to back hits "Rapid Hope Loss" and "Hands Down."

In fact, muddy sound was a problem throughout the night, but the group that suffered the most was 311.

The most accomplished and ambitious musicians on the bill, the Nebraska natives' mix of dub-reggae and hip-hop rhythms and anthemic alternative-rock choruses was derailed twice during their 45-minute set when the wireless sound system supporting the vocals and the guitars crashed (the fault of the hired sound company, not the band).

Nick Hexum and his bandmates bravely soldiered on after the breaks (one of them about 10 minutes long) when other groups might have simply given up. They salvaged their performance through the strength of their undeniable grooves, whether in the form of their older rap-rock material or the newer, mellower sounds of their last album, "Evolver."

The nadir of the evening was the penultimate act, Korn.

A former Q101 program director once dubbed this group "the king of the Cookie Monster bands," referring to the guttural, barked sounds of skirt-wearing, bagpipes-playing vocalist Jonathan Davis. While its popularity has dipped somewhat with its last release, "Take A Look in the Mirror," Korn's success remains inexplicable: The group is utterly devoid of melody, interesting rhythms, engaging sonic textures or genuine emotion.

At the Allstate Arena, Davis and his bandmates made the mistake of projecting selected phrases from their (otherwise indecipherable) lyrics on a giant video screen. The utter inanity of their angst-ridden, tortured-soul whining only underscored how thoroughly vapid and banal their music is.

Closing out the night, alternative pioneers Jane's Addiction played a much simpler and more straightforward set than it did at previous stops in Chicago, eschewing the elaborate stage props and many of the theatrics that marked its Lollapalooza performance and simply focusing on the music.

Perry Farrell, the perpetually bare-chested Dave Navarro, master drummer Stephen Perkins and new bassist Chris Chaney also offered a more satisfying mix of classic tracks and new material from their 2003 reunion album, "Strays," finally delivering on the promise that this wonderfully complex, psychedelic and sexy band is indeed dedicated to moving forward instead of simply rehashing past glories.