CONCERT SCRAPBOOK: KROQ’s first ever Acoustic Christmas concert, 1990

The daily posting of pages from my concert scrapbook to our Facebook page screeched to a halt when I got to this one.  Having recently found my 11 page handwritten report, I procrastinated for months on tackling it.  I finally sat down on a Saturday night (PARTY!), trimmed it by about 90% and made it readable.  I am SO disappointed in my 19 year old writer self.  Almost all of it is too embarassing/boring to share, so enjoy this much edited account….

90-kroq-xmasKROQ, LA’s equivelant to 91X announced their first-ever acoustic Xmas show at Universal Ampitheater and it seemed like a good idea. Their lineup was filled with bands I liked but none of them were actually on my shelves. But when two of my best friends, Jim & Dan, decided to go, I decided to turn around and go back to LA from San Diego on my first day of winter break. Jim and I drove up from SD listening to Jellyfish, the new McCullochless Echo & The Bunnymen, Trash Can Sinatras & the Darling Buds. After a few hours of driving and a quick dinner, we parked and met Dan at Universal Studios, where they had huge topiary dinosaurs and monsters from Edward Scissorhands.

It was an unusually cold night for California (35F) so we took turns braving the scalpers for the sold out show while the others waited in the warm souvenir shop. I went to my car to get a hat and when I got back, the two were in line. They’d just heard that the ticket taker would take $20 to let us sneak in, which seemed iffy at best. Right when we got to the front, I realized that Dan had my $20 bill and tried to remain calm. “Dan, you have my money. Dan you have my money! I NEED A TWENTY!” At that moment, Jim reached back and handed me the ticket they’d just bought. Got me….damnit.

They’d built a MASSIVE fake fireplace as a backdrop and using lights, a blower and some crate paper had quite a roaring fake fire going. We never did figure out how the flames appeared to rise. There was a couch behind the soundboard that they’d set up for the DJ’s to MC the show. Each one was welcomed by huge cheers which quickly turned to bored chatter once the on-air personalities tried to be entertaining. The Havalinas started off the show with a rockabilly bang. They only played a few songs since they went on crazy standup bass slapping jams with the singer even going into the audience like a preacher. At one point, the bassist was playing on his back, the singer stood on top of his bass and the drummer came out and thwacked away on that big ol’ piece of wood. It was probably the highlight of the whole show. Richard Blade later mentioned that the band was most of the Rockats with Tim Scott (of super serious synth MTV hit “Swear” fame) singing. Huh.

Jon Auer & Ken Stringfellow a few weeks later at Off The Record in San Diego.  Photo by Katie Shanks

Jon Auer & Ken Stringfellow a few weeks later at Off The Record in San Diego. Photo by Katie Shanks

Up next were the Posies who I’d see two more times in the next few weeks and quickly became one of my favorite band of all-time. That night, I didn’t even know that they were more than an acoustic duo. Jon & Ken charmed us with witicisms like “All I want for Christmas is two D strings” when both of them started breaking them. Most of the crowd wasn’t having it, one lunkhead yelling “You suck” with a lot of the audience audibly agreeing. They mostly played Dear 23 songs, though I didn’t know it at the time, plus a nice cover of the Beatles “Two of Us” and, like the Fabs, messed up the lyrics plenty. They closed with “Golden Blunders” which KROQ was playing so it got a big reaction that Jon replied to with “Oh you know this one?”

Kevin & Bean, the station’s morning show hosts, managed to be the only funny staffers of the night. They introduced a man who asked his girlfriend to marrry him and proceeded to tongue her in front of 6500 people. Up next was Soho, a UK band making their US debut. They appeared to keep with the acoustic theme of the night but with a drummer, electric bassist and a guitarist using pedals with his acoustic guitar, it sounded electric. When he did the “How Soon Is Now?” riff from their KROQ hit “Hippychick”, one of the energetic singers looked over and said, “Sounds just like Johnny!”

As the DJ’s announced that Jane’s Addiction was doing a four night stand at the Universal Ampitheater with Nine Inch Nails opening, Dan was struck in the back of the head with something. We never figured out who did it or what it was but the people around us didn’t seem to care. Nice crowd. The Trash Can Sinatras came on to mild hysteria but were the least memorable group of the night. But that didn’t stop me from loving the chimy, purdy riffs their guitarist was churning out.  Having never seen the Housemartins or the Smiths, this was as close as I’d ever get.

The DJ’s came back and said they’d give away tshirts and calendars to anyone who had a KROQ concert ticket stub, which had people jumping over seats to get there first. When they asked who people wanted to come to town, lots of folks yelled for Morrissey. We yelled for Stone Roses and when Richard Blade repeated it, crickets chirped. Chris Isaak came on and opened with “Wicked Game” and then bored the crowd, doing slower Spanish songs & a Roy Orbison cover. When he and his band finally let loose on a rocker and invited girls onstage, it was immediately filled. Fun finale.

Ex-MTV VJ Marc Goodman, the singer from the Polecats and other station employees made visits to the DJ couch, where it was revealed that Social Distortion were going to cheat and “kick a little ass” instead of going acoustic. This whipped up the crowd, many of whom were in SD shirts and jackets. Not sure why they didn’t headline. I thought they looked and sounded great by my notes but within a few years of hearing them play the same song, I was way over them (read my cringeworthy transcription here). But on that night, there was no denying the roar of everyone singing along with the first line of “Ball & Chain”. It was hard to not end on that note but Mike Ness mentioned seeing the Stones on that stage and then closed with a gruff version of “The Last Time”.

After that, they gave Rodney Bingenheimer a big self-congratulatory intro for helping KROQ be the first station to play any band you can think of, including the headliners, Dramarama, who thanked him during their set. They did a Faces cover and a brand new song about Earth Day, which was a radio hit a year or two later. Their songs seemed to lose a lot of umph on acoustics but John Easdale did make us smile when he tried to light a cigarette in the big, fake fireplace during “Last Cigarette”. The crowd erupted for “Anything Anything” and once again, the singalong on the first line was unreal.

They tried to do a big finale with DJ’s and bandfolks doing “Jingle Bell Rock” but it was a trainwreck. Fun to watch though with the Posies in drag, Chris Isaak chasing his drummer who had a huge marching band bass drum and Mike Ness trying to leave repeatedly. There was a mad rush to get special Social D acoustic “Ball & Chain” 45’s outside but we were too late and were handed a card with details on how to get one sent by mail. When we got back to the car, I opened a piece of gum to find it was frozen and nearly choked on it. After a quick stop for gas and food, we did the long drive back to San Diego that music fans in the southland know so well.

Not a bad start to a long radio concert tradition. The LA Times summed it up nicely: “It was a merry night for all involved, with more than $20,000 raised for the inner-city California Medical Center. Now if only it had come without KROQ jock Richard Blade’s inane, self-congratulatory patter between the sets. . . .”