94.7’s Electric Christmas (feat. Bush, Young the Giant and others)
Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014
Wednesday, Dec. 10: The night sky overhead is becoming pea soup as I pull into the parking lot of the Sleep Train Arena (formerly PowerBalance, forever ARCO to locals). Everyone expects an apocalyptic typhoon to hit town sometime toward the end of tonight’s show, and a streak of giddiness runs through the concertgoers as they straggle toward the entrance; there are worse fates than being stranded in a storm with a collection of their favorite performers.
Once inside the arena, I take a few moments to mill through the crowd and assess the demographic that Sacramento’s favorite alt-rock station, 94.7, has brought forth. The population here skews rather young, from college-age couples to ‘tween wolf packs far too young to enjoy the fruits of the event sponsors, Bud Light. Scattered here and there among the budding hip crowd and a handful of parents are slightly older holdouts from the KWOD era that can only have come to rock out to Bush (a prediction that reveals itself to be correct at the end of the night).
I move down into my arena seat and prepare to take in Sactown’s largest holiday rock party; the bar has been set high for this event, riding off last year’s performances by Cage the Elephant, Joan Jett and Grouplove. The second annual Electric Christmas has arguably improved the diversity of their lineup, showcasing the acoustic pop of Vance Joy and the more frenetic, multi-instrument styling of Fitz and the Tantrums.
Here we break down EC 2014 set by set, to see if 94.7 was once again able to deliver the goods.
Upstate New York up-and-comers Joywave have made a splash of late with unconventional music videos and a spot on the Earth to Echo soundtrack (a collaboration with Big Data, also sharing the stage). Tonight they hit all the right hooks, showing a natural gift for pop song craft embellished with retro-leaning electronic production. Something about them suggested a younger, mass-appeal Hot Chip. It might have been the insane catchiness of their tracks, or the oddball appeal of frontman Daniel Armbruster (whose narrow mustache became a compulsive focal point when blown up on the Jumbotron).
The proceedings quickly took a turn for the intimate with the night’s second performance. Melbourne, Australia,-native Joy repped the folk flag, particularly the brand of bouncy, coming-of-age folk-pop that has become the pre-eminent flavor in millennial music tastes. His set was marked by sincerity and professionalism, briefly turning the spacious arena into a personal venue for the singer-songwriter’s acoustic musings. Despite one small power glitch involving a ukulele during his signature hit, “Riptide,” Joy breezed through his set with grace and left his audience feeling refreshed and relaxed (perhaps too relaxed).
The character of this group asserted itself in charismatic frontman Alan Wilkis (the only permanent member), a high concept (the creeping surveillance of the Internet age) and a talented revolving cast of musicians that managed to complete Wilkis’ vision with their ominous yet party-friendly grooves. Two highlights of the night went to Big Data for the crowd-pleasing single “Dangerous” (featuring Joywave’s Daniel Armbruster) and a high quality cover version of Hall and Oates’ classic “Private Eyes,” its paranoid themes played up for theatrical effect.
Fitz and the Tantrums
Energy levels spiked somewhere in the middle of Tantrums’ set, their eclectic vibe meshing with every key demographic in the audience. As far as pop acts go, this one had it all, from new wave covers (Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams”), baritone sax solos and dirty dancing from front-people Noelle Scaggs and Michael Fitzpatrick. The showmanship on stage primed the audience for a mid-set command for everyone to “get low.” It wasn’t too difficult to get people to comply.
Young the Giant
Judging from the intermittent displays of crowd tweets on the Jumbotron, the majority of concertgoers were amped for the penultimate group, whose plaintive, anthemic brand of indie rock had one super-fan behind me belting every lyric. Although the choruses of “My Body” and “Cough Syrup” were undeniably infectious, this set found itself in uncomfortable territory between the comedown from Fitz and the Tantrums’ show-stopping performance and the gradual buildup to the night’s finale.
There was an unmistakable changing of the guard at the end of 2014’s Electric Christmas, the crowd in front of the stage becoming densely concentrated while the outer limits of the stands emptied out. Much of this shifting seemed fabricated along generational lines and two distinct interpretations of “alternative.” As the younger, pop-crazed fans appeared to make their way toward the exits, a large minority remained, one who attested to a more abrasive, riff-heavy time for alternative airwaves. In this respect, Bush did not disappoint, introducing old fans to material from their new album Man on the Run while rewarding the grunge-specific pleasure-centers of the brain with buzz anthems “Glycerine” and “Machinehead.” It was the alt way to end the night.