|Review by Greg Prato / Musictoday
Each year, one of New York's most popular rock radio stations, K Rock, assembles a festival style show that features quite a few current chart toppers. In years past, the event took place during the summer and was known as the "Dysfunctional Family Picnic." Held a little less than two weeks before Christmas, this year's concert was renamed the "K Rock Claus-Fest" and took place at the Nassau Coliseum. With a line-up boasting Audioslave, Coldplay, Queens of the Stone Age, Kelly and Ozzy Osbourne, The Vines, Zwan, Box Car Racer, The Jimmy Fallon Band, New Found Glory, Stone Sour, and Taproot, the evening's performances could be best summed up as "the good, the bad, and the ugly." What's more, the line-up inadvertently but neatly summed up the current state of rock radio—a sprinkling of standout artists bogged down amongst too many faceless and soon-to-be-forgotten acts.
First off, K Rock should have realized that the near $60 tickets would be a hard sell to its younger listeners. When exacerbated by the fact that the concert was held on a weeknight and kicked off earlier than it's original start time, it was no surprise that the venue was not even three quarters full at its peak. For the young kiddies in the audience, the first outfits to hit the huge stage (which was adorned with Christmas trees at its corners and a backdrop that featured the radio station's logo) were Taproot, New Found Glory, and Box Car Racer. Not to sound like an old codger, but if this is the future of rock music, I think I'd rather be frozen cryogenically and thawed out once the wave has passed. (Later on, when wrapping up his band's set, Coldplay singer Chris Martin pointed out that not every band has to "have distortion boxes and tattoos" to be appreciated—how right you are, Mr. Martin).
But just when fans thought it couldn't get any worse, it most certainly did. Billing their performance as Kelly & Ozzy Osbourne, crafty promoters realized that Ozzy's faithful fans would gladly make the trek to catch father and daughter duet on a song or two (some even figured a fun version of "Close My Eyes Forever" could be in the cards). The double billing proved to be one of the biggest scams this reviewer has ever witnessed, as Ozzy introduced his obnoxious daughter and walked off the stage (he was led to and from the stage by an assistant). Kelly's four-song set (backed by a band that jumped around an awful lot and played their Incubus-esque riffs with great precision) was the night's undisputed low point. Granted, this is Kelly's first stab at a music career, but she has obviously not inherited her father's gift of entertaining an audience, as the teenager sheepishly stood as far back from the front of the stage as possible for the majority of the set (which included her badmouthing Billy Corgan at one point). Feeling duped by the fraudulent billing, the audience voiced its disapproval by booing during and after Kelly's set.
The Queens of the Stone Age became the first act of the evening to be unanimously embraced by the audience. Focusing almost entirely on their stellar 2002 release, Songs For The Deaf, the Queens, unlike their predecessors, were not intimidated by the vastness of the arena. Hitting the stage hard with the explosive "Millionaire," the band handed in a fine but all-too-brief half hour set, highlighted by ex-Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan joining the group for a few songs (including "Hanging Tree"). The set's standout was the group's radio hit, "No One Knows," which woke up the mosh pit knuckleheads.
The Jimmy Fallon Band, who came next, was an improvement over Kelly Osbourne, but came off as little more than a second rate Adam Sandler musical bit, as Fallon and his band wore matching white Devo-like biohazard suits. Besides showcasing some break dancing moves and a goofy version of "Let Them Know It's Christmas," Fallon's set was largely forgettable. Thankfully, one of the night's finest sets was right around the corner, handed in by Coldplay. Although you'd think the piano-based British quartet would stick out like a sore thumb amongst the other angst-filled acts, the band's set was received warmly, especially the U.S. radio hits "In My Place" and "Yellow." Unfortunately, like the QOTSA's set, Coldplay's was too darn short, concluding after barely 40 minutes with singer/pianist Martin crooning "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" all by his lonesome.
With a song on the radio that hints that its front man may be interested once more in penning succinct songs, the Billy Corgan-led alt-rock super group Zwan made its first New York-area live appearance. The Lynyrd Skynyrd equivalent of an alt-rock outfit (the group's line-up boasts three guitarists), Zwan performed a set of tracks from its forthcoming 2003 debut, Mary Star Of The Sea. The aforementioned single, "Honestly," turned out to be the band's only memorable song, as the rest of the set consisted of songs that seemed to stretch on far too long, each one bogged down with song structures based primarily on indulgent jamming. Another letdown was the role of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin (one of rock's finest players), who seemed delegated to mere time keeping. Next to Ozzy's brief appearance, Zwan's set was the second biggest disappointment of the evening.
Which brings us to the main attraction—Audioslave. Although many assumed the group (comprised of ex-members of Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine) would be the night's headliner, Audioslave surprisingly went on third to last. Regardless, it was clear from the first note of "Light My Way" that Audioslave was the band most fans had come to see, as almost everyone stood up. Singer Chris Cornell and guitarist Tom Morello showed why they are considered the finest at their respective instruments in all of hard rock, as the band's powerful set was easily one of the night's highlights. Like the sets by Coldplay and QOTSA, it was Audioslave's current radio hit that received the most boisterous reception from the crowd. That song, "Cochise," again led to several mosh pits breaking out. Can someone please explain to moshing musclehead jocks that if they behaved this poorly on the football field, they'd be penalized at least ten yards? One more thing: someone needs to tell K Rock's DJs that yelling like drunken fraternity boys between sets does not get the crowd pumped.
Though the Vines and Stone Sour wrapped up the evening with sets of their own, the crowd had already had their fill with the night's true (and deserving) headliner, Audioslave. Was the show worth $60? No. Did standout sets by Queens of the Stone Age, Coldplay, and Audioslave save the night from being a complete washout? Yes.