Saturday night, 99X's yearly Christmas-season bash, the Deck the Hall Ball, featured three radio-friendly bands, each boasting their very own pretty-boy stocking stuffer.
Some initially greeted the announcement of the scheduled performers -- Paloalto, Vertical Horizon and the Wallflowers -- with general apathy. Then tragedy and good fortune simultaneously struck in the form of a death in the family of Vertical Horizon's Matt Scannell, and with only 48 hours before showtime, the Marvelous 3 agreed to fill-in. That seemed to get more people excited about the concert.
Of course, not excited enough to arrive at the very un-rock 'n' roll starting time of 7 p.m. to welcome Paloalto to the cavernous Civic Center. When the Los Angeles quintet strolled onstage, the crowd -- at less than half-capacity -- showed little interest. With crowd silence at maximum level, the acoustics presented the ultra-slick, commercial sound of the band in all its glory.
Ringing guitars and bombastic bass gave the often wrenching songs plenty of '80s arena-rock punch, but their sonic serenade, openly recalling U2 and Radiohead, fell on a politely quiet audience. Paloalto's dramatic intensity, led by turtleneck-clad James Grundler, would be much better appreciated in a small club, but at the Civic Center the band came across as yet another bland 99X commercial divider.
With the charm and infectious energy Paloalto sorely lacked, charismatic frontman Butch Walker sparkled as brightly as his red, white and blue guitar when the Marvelous 3 bounded onstage. After doing time in hard rock and show bands, Walker, Jayce Fincher and Slug (joined by J.J., formerly of the Pleasantdales) know not to take anything too seriously.
Walker's between-song banter ("We won't stop till you are 100 percent rocked") is the perfect gift-wrap for their '70s and '80s glam-fueled songs. Their caustic "Merry Christmas" was a timely touch as well. Not many bands can get away with a medley of Queen and Meatloaf, and demanding the crowd sway their arms "just like at a Journey show," but M3 can work the crowd, brother.
Dylan, pretty-boy No. 3 of the evening, resumed the stand-in-one-spot work ethic of Paloalto, but with better results. But by the time the magazine cover dude and his excellent band played their hits from 1996's Bringing Down the Horse -- including a rousing version of "The Difference" -- the crowd were still on their feet, but most merely watching, worn out from the fist-pumping "Sugarbuzz" of M3.
Like his dad, the younger Dylan's voice broke a few times, but he shrugged it off. For the encore, Wallflowers guitarist Michael Ward, after tearing through a version of Blur's "Song #2," presented a birthday cake to the now 30-year-old Dylan.
The evening was as professionally controlled as the regular rotation of 99X. As a benefit rock event, it served its purpose well: cans were collected and the kids behaved themselves.
It might not have been the present you wanted most, but the Deck the Hall Ball was still a package worth opening. It's the thought that counts, right?
ooooohhhh, I'm so excited!! I can't wait to see them together!
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