Josh Homme considered the lineup for the 2013 Not So Silent Night and came to one conclusion.
"So much music," said the Queens of the Stone Age founder to the crowd assembled before him Friday night at Oracle Arena in Oakland. "How can you (expletive) lose?"
The answer: you couldn't. Not with a two-night bill that offered up Queens of the Stone Age (QOTSA), Vampire Weekend, Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys and others on Friday and was scheduled to bring Arcade Fire, Phoenix, Alt-J, Lorde and more on Saturday.
It was the most impressive collection of talent ever assembled for Bay Area alternative-rock radio station Live 105's annual holiday shindig.
Friday's highlights were QOTSA and Vampire Weekend, which thrilled in decidedly different fashions. Queens was all brute force, rocking the capacity crowds with a heavy mix that was part Melvins-style sludge and part Iron Butterfly-esque psychedelia. Vampire Weekend was a more simple pleasure, turning in a set that delighted with uncommon attention to detail and melded world music styles.
The seven-hour showcase provided some early pleasures, especially during the Arctic Monkeys' set. The British indie band has seemingly closed the door on its garage-rock days -- best summarized on 2006's cumbersomely titled debut "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not" -- and is now pursuing a slicker sound. It proved convincing in concert, with lead singer Alex Turner, who looks more like Chris Isaak with each passing year, hamming it up and doing his best lounge-lizard impersonation.
AFI was next to take the stage, delivering a polished pop-opera of a set that made it really hard to recall the days when the band was considered punk. Still, seeing vocalist Davey Havok and the rest of the Northern California crew in person might have helped put an end to any rumors that AFI and My Chemical Romance are actually the same band.
Then came Queens, which erased lingering memories of their mediocre acoustic performance at this year's Bridge School Benefit at Shoreline Amphitheatre by plugging in and royally rocking through cuts old and new. Vocalist-guitarist Homme was an incredible frontman, delivering his lines and riffs with swagger and commanding the attention of the crowd. It was the kind of powerful set that must have struck fear in the hearts of all the acts who'd try and follow it.
Vampire Weekend didn't try to match QOTSA's punch, instead going a more tuneful, less testosterone-fueled, route. The New York indie-pop act delighted by performing a number of curiously addictive offerings from its latest outing, "Modern Vampires of the City," which many are understandably calling one of the best albums of the year. (Rolling Stone magazine ranked it at No. 1 on its year-end tally.)
Vocalist-guitarist Ezra Koenig and crew proved even better onstage than they are in the studio, creating a carnival of sounds to flesh out such new album offerings as "Diane Young," "Step" and "Unbelievers." The band's set peaked, as it always does, with the incredible anthem "Walcott."
Kings of Leon were the Night One headliners and put on a solid closing set. It was hard to understand, however, why the Kings' sound is considered alternative. Back in the 1980s and '90s, it was simply known as: Aerosmith.
Still, it was a strong start to this Not So Silent weekend, with things only looking brighter for Saturday.
Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.