Everyone hates all-day radio station megaconcerts. Hate hate hate. Listeners hate ’em because they’re advertised on the station with a constant, relentless, hostile ferocity reminiscent of the way Kim Jong Il is advertised in North Korea. Bands hate ’em because they’re treated like cattle, but forced to play ball anyway to ensure constant spins (see Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” — a bitch ain’t one, but KMEL might be). And those poor souls foolish enough to attend hate themselves after enduring a long, slogging, rhythmless gloop of half-hour sets that bleed together like so many disquietingly neon-colored Chinese food sauces.
This is no way to live.
That said, Live 105’s BFD was pretty rad. And that’s even before Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas unleashed one of the greater drunken rock star tirades in recent memory, hurling monitors off the stage into the photographer pit, whipping his microphone at the drum riser, lunging clumsily at a clingy video cameraman, introducing “Reptilia” with “I hate this song,” staggering into the crowd on multiple occasions as though hunting down a lost contact lens, and through it all still singing in that effortless panty-raiding croon that millions of shitty bar band howlers nationwide would kill for.
A true virtuoso performance, and the capper to an enchanted debacle that began eleven hours earlier at high noon on a clear-skied Friday in a remote corner of Shoreline Amphitheater, with a Live 105 MC requesting a “moment of blindness” for Ray Charles (hey, buddy: Fuck you) before hauling out the first truckload of onstage victims. The couple hundred patrons gathered for the Fire Theft set a new world record for imperceptible crowd movement, standing completely motionless through forty minutes of actually quite excellent prog-bombast jams — these dudes used to be in Sunny Day Real Estate, and thus if you mock them in any way I will personally punch you in the face.
But no, the crowd gave much more love to the Killers, who answer the timeless question “What if Hot Hot Heat sucked?” and have authored what is hands down 2004’s dumbest chorus: Somebody told me! That you had a boyfriend! Who looked like my girlfriend! That I had in February of last year! I’m gonna punch these chumps in the face whether they like the Fire Theft or not. The Stills then hopped on with well-meaning melodramatic guitar rock that nevertheless broke the Fire Theft’s recently set record for imperceptible crowd movement.
We’re off on the wrong foot here.
But by then the Subsonic Tent had kicked in, an adjacent stage that morphed from DJs to, by day’s end, as close as Live 105 gets to hip-hop. DJs Dyloot and Tom Slik (who looks exactly like that asshole doctor on ER who got crushed by a falling helicopter) did the ethereal female vocalist Everything But the Girl trance thing, which the East Bay’s own Davey Havok, “DJing” in the sense that he can publicly operate a CD player, then obliterated with anvil-grade darkwave beats — I would’ve bet anyone there $20,000 he was gonna play Lords of Acid, and I would’ve won. But Felix da Housecat, the mini-soiree’s biggest name DJ act, stole the show and perhaps the entire goddamn BFD affair with a tranced-up version of Nirvana’s “Lithium,” which sounds like a cheap ploy (and maybe was), but still managed to send the gathered, overwhelmingly teenage masses into a school’s-out-for-summer frenzy.
And thank Christ, because the constant stream of rock dudes just couldn’t. Warped Tour refugees like Yellowcard, Story of the Year, and New Found Glory leapt around like wild animals and inspired some fist-pumpin’, but BFD’s local stage — massed with similar pop-punk and emo luminaries such as Communiqué and the Matches — did that just as effectively. Great bands like the Rapture, Death Cab for Cutie, and the Von Bondies (yeah, shut up) had to battle questionable sound systems and I’m-not-here-to-see-you crowd indifference.
And when the Subsonic Tent’s one-two closing punch — Dizzee Rascal clearing the way for the Streets — got goin’, those sound issues really bit into our asses. The two stages were literally a ten-second walk apart, so any Brit hip-hop nuance got drowned out by the rock bombast: Dizzee looked visibly alarmed when New Found Glory cranked up its amps and completely overwhelmed him, rendering an already harsh and dense vocal style completely incomprehensible.
But backed by a full live band, the Streets’ Mike Skinner fared a little better, stalking the stage with lively tales of downing lagers and returning rented DVDs. And a ten-second walk outta the tent into the sunlight sent you straight to Bad Religion — the glorious, unfairly maligned, scandalously underappreciated Bad Religion — single-handedly justifying the whole Warped Tour pop-punk thing, again.
With that, it was off to Shoreline proper for main-stage action. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O hopped around like a spastic cartoon character, alternately strangling herself with a towel and shoving it in her mouth as the lone guitar player struggled to juggle pedal effects to fill out the band’s energetic but raggedly thin sound: Hire another guitar player and get over yourselves. The Strokes survived Julian’s gleeful attempts at sabotage. And prior to that, the People’s Choice Award was easily won by the Beastie Boys, gray-haired gents who nevertheless can still deliver an exhilarating thirty-minute greatest hits medley, interspersed with newer cuts that didn’t sound ridiculously out of place. “Root Down” is still the bomb.
But BFD’s true heroes? The Violent Femmes. Dorky as that sounds, and as big a buncha douchebags as they might be, the trio’s pared-down romp through the classics — dispensing with “Blister in the Sun” early left them room to honor superior models like “Kiss Off” and “Add It Up” — cast a warm blanket of ludicrous joy o’er the amphitheater. Why? Maybe because they have no new product to push, no overt agenda, no 2004 sheen of distracted hipsterism. Just goofy dudes playing great songs for a crowd that, in spite of its collective self, loves them to death. If BFD’s raft of currently lauded artistes produces even one act still comfortable in its own skin twenty years after its heyday, we’ll be incredibly lucky. But until then, hell, bring on the monitor-tossers, the drowned-out Brit-rappers, the vanity goth DJs. Just leave Ray Charles out of it.