Review: The Chicago Tribune

Rocking Holiday Spirit
Hole, Bad Religion Lead the Charge at Benefit Show

The holiday spirit can be a many splintered thing, especially when bands as volatile as Hole and as skeptical as Bad Religion have anything to say about it.

Such was the case Thursday at the UIC Pavilion, as six bands and radio station WKQX (101.1 FM) threw a benefit party for two Chicago charities, Lakefront SRO (which aids the homeless) and Chicago Child Care Society.

Bad Religion, the most impressive band on the bill, delivered punked up versions of “Noel” and “Joy to the World” before serving up their own carol on national pride, “American Jesus.” Closing with “21st Century Digital Boy,” three-part harmonies surged as the scissor-kicking guitarists slammed out chords and singer Greg Graffin punctuated the choruses with a flying fist.

Hole was in fine form musically, and Courtney Love was her typically sardonic self, declaring “This is a hatefest!” and “Christmas . . . I hate it!” She gabbed between songs about her infamy in the tabloids, and salted her remarks with scatalogical attempts at humor that seemed especially inappropriate given the relative youth of the audience.

That was perhaps the most eye-opening aspect of the night: many in the 10,000-strong audience weren’t just under legal drinking age, but pre-pubescent. It was an indication of how deeply what passes for “alternative rock” has penetrated the youth market.

Once the province of college radio and a small, discerning audience, alternative rock has become the new mainstream, as defined by radio stations like the show’s sponsor.

The youthful demographic made for a high-volume response to virtually all the performers, with the notable exception of Dinosaur Jr.

Playing in the shadows and behind the usual curtain of long black hair, Dino’s J Mascis seemed determined to bring back the self-indulgence of Cream as he cranked out one solo after another, managing three songs in 30 minutes.

In contrast to his band’s fairly involving Riviera show of a few weeks ago, this one was strictly a case of going through the motions, and the audience sat on its collective behind.

Judging by the number of T-shirts in the audience, it appeared that opening act Weezer is a merchandiser’s dream.

The quartet’s sardonic anthem, “Undone-Sweater Song,” has its charms, but despite a propensity for clever melodies and sing-songy three-part harmonies, Weezer came off as even slighter and more insubstantial than it does on record.

Killing Joke, once a potent and mightily influential band in its early ’80s heyday, came across as the Spinal Tap of industrial rock. The band’s symphonic orchestrations and the gargled vocals of Jaz Coleman strived for apocalyptic fury, but were no match for the band’s pummeling early work, much less the recent output of Nine Inch Nails and Ministry.

Perhaps the night’s most intriguing musical question was how the still relatively callow Veruca Salt would fare in such a big arena.

The venue seemed particularly inappropriate for the less-experienced bands on the bill; as Weezer bassist Matt Sharp remarked, “The last time I was in a place this big, I think I was seeing Iron Maiden.”

But Veruca Salt, without any tricked-up devices or special staging, stepped up to the challenge.

If still a long way from becoming a truly compelling live act, the Chicago quartet continues to show steady growth.

The harmonies of Louise Post and Nina Gordon were sharp and shapely on the giddy opener, “Victrola,” and Post’s guitar roared on “Seether” and the even nastier “Straight,” a new, as yet-unreleased song.