In just three years, iHeartRadio’s ALTer EGO has become maybe the biggest alternative showcase in the country. Under the guidance of iHeart Alternative Rock Brand Manager Lisa Worden, the show has sold out annually and continues to deliver festival-worthy lineups. This year’s show, held Saturday (Jan. 18) at the Forum near Los Angeles, might have been the strongest lineup yet.
Indeed, it’s hard to say that following last year’s bill featuring Twenty One Pilots, The Killers, Muse and Weezer. But Saturday night’s show is in high probability the last time concert-goers will ever see Billie Eilish open a show. And when are fans going to see stadium headliners Coldplay just in the middle of the bill? Probably never. But The Black Keys are a pretty strong closer in their own right.
This year’s show — which also featured Blink-182 (arena headliners of their own), The Lumineers, SHAED and Rex Orange County — was already sold out before Coldplay was added to the bill, prompting Chris Martin to quip during the band’s masterful set, “And for the first time in our checkered history, we’re playing a show where no one has bought a ticket to see us.”
That may have been true, technically, but there is little doubt that Coldplay’s eclectic nine-song set was the absolute high point of a spectacular musical night. Reveling in their role as non-headliners, and not having to just deliver hit after hit, Coldplay delved deeply into their new Everyday Life album, opening with “Sunrise.”
While they did play a beautiful “Fix You” and a joyful “Viva La Vida,” the standout tracks came from the new album, with the gorgeous “Daddy” and a euphoric “Arabesque,” with special guests Femi Kuti and his band absolutely igniting the Forum in a revelry of dancing and delight to the horn-laden celebration. Before “Champion of the World,” Martin dedicated the song to Rex Orange County, “My son’s favorite musician.”
Landing Coldplay was a huge coup for Worden and iHeart, as though they are doing a lot of intimate shows and promo events around L.A. this week. This is, as Martin said, “The biggest crowd they will play to during this period,” referring to their previously stated decision to not tour until they can find a way to do so without improving their carbon footprint. So the group’s Saturday set was a big enough event to even draw members of the Lumineers side stage to check out Coldplay. And they saw a band, without the pressure of headlining or having a tour to promote, letting their freak flag fly in the best ways possible.
Because of their status as one of the biggest touring acts in music and their decision not to tour, Coldplay’s appearance was obviously the most impactful of the night, but it was hardly the only event.
Anything Billie Eilish does these days is news — and with the Grammys a week away, along with news that she will be the youngest artist ever to record a James Bond theme song, that continues to be the case.
So in her ALTer EGO debut, Eilish again proved, as she has consistently, the size or scope of an event does not faze her in the slightest. She and brother/collaborator FINNEAS delivered a frenzy-inducing set highlighted by when she had the crowd jump in “You Should See Me in a Crown” and the beauty of the quiet “When the Party’s Over.”
She was followed by Blink-182, who seem, at this point in their storied career, as if they are in their sweet spot of just having a blast with everything they do. After “What’s My Age Again,” Mark Hoppus quipped, “I’d like to think we’re the first band to have a song on the radio that says sodomy in it.” Hoppus was in fine frontman form, joking before “All The Small Things,” “Not to brag, but kind of to brag, you might recognize this next song from the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie.”
Matt Skiba got in on the fun, leading the crowd in a chant of the Ramones famous “Hey ho, let’s go” as the intro to “First Date.” And in the closing “Dammit” they threw in a snippet of TLC’s “No Scrubs.”
After a superb set by the Lumineers, who delivered exactly what you want from them, with gorgeous sing along versions of songs like “Ho Hey” and “Ophelia” and rollicking upbeat renditions of “Cleopatra” and “Stubborn Love,” the Black Keys took the stage just after 11 p.m. to close out the evening.
The Keys came to kick ass and take names from the outset with a ferocious blues-rock “I Got Mine.” After that and the subsequent raucous “Gold on the Ceiling,” the rest was just gravy as the band rocked through such hits as “Howlin’ For You,” “Lonely Boy” and the closing “Little Black Submarines,” bringing another ALTer EGO to a close just around midnight.