Sometime between the tryptophan food comas of Thanksgiving and the flurry of wrapping paper on Christmas morning, there are a few weeks of radio holiday concerts. If you were thinking about making that special friend a mix CD (or is it just Spotify playlists now?), skip it and just bring them to any of these shows.
An improvement over last year’s two-night event, this year’s Wrex the Halls on December 7 gave San Diegans just one night to get their alt-rock fill. And get their fill, they did: the rotating stage allowed for an almost constant barrage of live music.
If you didn’t make it to this year’s 91X Wrex the Halls, O&B writer Courtney Rogin and photographer Sylvia Borgo went on your behalf. Check out their coverage below.
Youngblood Hawke: This fresh-faced, quirky band follows in the footsteps of Grouplove. Lead singer Sam Martin won the award for most unique outfit, donning skintight polka dot pants and a sequined island-themed tee. Youngblood Hawke’s sound is best described as jungle pop and is heavy on percussion beats and harmonic vocals. Martin added to that ideal by bouncing around the stage with a very Tarzan-esque look. The band followed the “How to Make an Infectious Pop Song” guide exactly, and has been rewarded with early success. If they can keep from sounding too much like the other ensemble alt-pop groups out there, they have a great chance of survival.
Imagine Dragons: The Cinderella band of 2012, Imagine Dragons have come a long way since their show at 710 Beach Club in February. (Though after one listen to their debut single, “It’s Time,” there was zero doubt they’d go unheard for long.) Hailing from Las Vegas, the band mastered the spectacle portion of the rock show with creative use of dark lighting and fog machines. Imagine Dragons’ set was a crowd favorite of the night, fulfilling everyone’s dreams of hearing the anthemic sounds of songs like “Radioactive” and “It’s Time”.
The Joy Formidable: The Welsh trio performed in support of their new album (out next month), but the band’s set wasn’t short on hits from 2011′s The Big Roar, either. A big roar is the best way to explain the band’s set: it was loud and gritty and the heaviest rock heard all night. In fact, in the Wrex the Halls lineup, the more abrasive set by The Joy Formidable almost seemed out of place.
Tegan and Sara: Canadian sisters Tegan & Sara have been around for almost 18 years and were the most experienced band on the bill. The band is getting ready to release its seventh album in 2013. The duo played a solid set and wasted no time bringing out its most memorable hits, such as “Walking with a Ghost.” Unfortunately, the uninterested audience’s chatter almost drowned out their vocals entirely.
Passion Pit: With just two more acts to follow, the Massachusetts band’s set marked the beginning of the end for the evening — and the final three artists of the night struggled to win over the crowd at any point. Passion Pit bookended their set with hits and played newer songs in the middle. Despite their earnestness and the presence of die-hard fans, the set felt like a segue into the headlining acts. “Take A Walk” was the best song of Passion Pit’s set; unfortunately, it was also the first song they played.
M83: Easily one of the best performances of the night, M83′s set went misunderstood by most audience members. The French band’s shows are a transcendental experience of the kind that is rarely realized in today’s pop culture shows. Anthony Gonzalez appeared on stage in an indescribable face mask and cape, and the band performed songs almost exclusively from 2011′s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Space travelers in the audience were treated to a wonderful soundtrack to their expedition.
The Killers did not allow photography during their set
The Killers: The prodigal children returned to San Diego! With the exception of Brandon Flowers’ solo show in 2011, The Killers had not performed as a single unit since September 18, 2009 (also at Viejas Arena). My, my, how time has passed. The Killers themselves could have easily sold out the arena, but having the other bands perform was icing on the cake. When Mr. Flowers wants to put on a show, he does so in an amazing, show-stopping manner. The band was at the top of its game and the performance was a delight for everyone in attendance.
For fans who date back to The Killers’ Hot Fuss days, this night was all about the songs we fell in love with eight years ago. Opening the set with house lights on, “Mr. Brightside” brought back a rush of memories, making time seem relative. When the stage lights came back on, fans were treated to renditions of “For Reasons Unknown”, “Smile Like You Mean It”, “All These Things That I’ve Done,” and “Somebody Told Me.” The band also interspersed new songs throughout the set, and
“Flesh and Bone” and “Miss Atomic Bomb” was a welcome inclusion.
The Killers absolutely stole the show. Their set was the best of the night and one of the best of the year. The band closed its set with “When You Were Young” and finally fired the confetti cannons that had been teasing the floor all night. For The Killers, details matter: the confetti was silver lightning bolts and red K’s.
For San Diego, Wrex the Halls has become a way to rewind rewind through the year’s great pop music. Who is ready for 2013?
Correction: The Killers did not play “Flesh and Bone” during the show.