As ever, the KISS 98.5-sponsored annual KISSmas Bash offered a mixed bag of music all loosely acquainted with the Top 40.
There was pop-based modern R&B (Cherish), alternative hip-hop (Gym Class Heroes), straight-up rap (Chingy), unabashed boy-band commercial music (Nick Lachey) and a pop-punk band for the electric guitar lovers in the crowd (New Found Glory).
A confusing mix? A bit, but in a charming way. It's nice to believe that commercial radio can accommodate all of this divergent stuff.
Bands and performers at KISSmas Bash conventionally offer "lightning sets" -- 20- to 30-minute mini-gigs, the very nature of which encourages said artist to crank out the hits (or hit, as the case may be) and crank them out fast.
There's something a bit off-putting about catching a choreographed pop set with singers parading about the stage, devoid of visible musicians, smack up against a full-on, real-time set from a genuine band going for broke. That's how it felt when the sister act Cherish -- King siblings Farrah, Neosha, Felisha and Fallon, from Atlanta -- finished a smart set of pop-based R&B from the hit album "Unappreciated," and Geneva's finest, the Gym Class Heroes, took the stage. That group is much like Philly ensemble the Roots, in that it aggressively fuses alternative rock with hip-hop, soul, R&B and rock.
The band was well-received as it tore through an exciting set of tunes from its excellent new album "Cruel As Schoolchildren." The group offered a furious flurry of music that encompassed an appropriation of Supertramp's '70s prog-rock hit "Breakfast in America" and satisfied the radio single requirement with the lovable "The Queen and I." Led by charismatic singer/emcee Travis McCoy, and aided by the stellar rhythm section of bassist Matt McGintey and drummer Eric Roberts, as well as the funk-informed stylings of guitarist Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo, the group handily stole the show without seeming to break a sweat. Outstanding.
Mario Vazquez followed the Heroes and didn't quite manage to shine in their reflected glare. The 2005 American Idol contestant is a decent singer, but not a remarkable one, relying too heavily on modern R&B cliches to get across his message -- invariably, one concerned with the intricacies of romance. He played his hit, naturally. "Gallery" had them screaming in the aisles, but with Vazquez singing to prerecorded tracks, flanked only by a pair of dancers, the end result was not unlike high-decibel karaoke.
New Found Glory bore the distinction of being the only rock 'n' roll band on the bill. The group boasted plenty of supporters among the largely teenage crowd; its T-shirts were displayed in abundance, and its arrival onstage was met withy a celebratory din. Led by vocalist Jordan Pundik, and powered by the distort-o-matic, buzz-saw guitars of Steve Klein and Chad Gilbert, New Found Glory delivered punk with a pop edge and hard-core with a smily face throughout its 40-minute set, most of which concentrated on the band's new album, "Coming Home." Again, the shift in programming was abrupt and felt like a nonsequitur. The audience, however, seemed not the least bit perturbed, and New Found Glory was received rapturously.
The group did little to distinguish itself from its peers in the modern pop-punk crowd, however. Its songs were fun three- and four-chord rockers but didn't add up to much, in part because the melodies favored by Pundik, and echoed by the guitars, are like nursery rhymes and, after three songs, fairly grating.
Listeners under the illusion that this was somehow punk rock had probably not heard the genuine article, and that seems to pin New Found Glory's role on the modern pop landscape -- to introduce young listeners to punk. Tunes like "Head on Collision" and "All Downhill From Here" fit the bill. That said, while Gym Class Heroes took the top honors on the music front, New Found Glory offered the most dynamic stage performance.
And from there on out, it was all about the former 98 Degrees singer Lachey and his saccharine torch songs.
Kissmas Bash 2006
Sunday night in HSBC Arena.