Kiddie Primer

Live 105 Green X-mas Concert
Fiona Apple, Failure, The Lemonheads, Mazzy Star, Allen Ginsberg, Orbital, The Eels, Republica, Cake, Beck, The Chemical Brothers

Cow Palace
Sunday, Dec. 15

Fourteen-year-olds crawled the floor of the Cow Palace like mylar-coated army ants -- shiny-faced insects parading uniforms of hair dye and navel rings, wide-legged pants and alien T-shirts. Yes, Live 105's overhyped Green X-mas Concert made this Alternative Nation cynic feel like a Calvinist preacher waiting to rattle off bombastic jeremiads at a Methodist revival. It's not so much that this year's crop of next year's has-beens lack ability or even talent; they're just boring. I often felt removed, though most of the time I felt nothing. In fact, I felt so out of touch from the constituency that I sought counsel from the demographic target itself.

Meet our guest critic, Travis, a 13-year-old from placid Mill Valley. A genuine baggy-jeans-wearing, alternative-music-loving teen-ager with a mouth full of shiny braces. Accompanied by his 36-year-old stepdad, R.J., Travis arrived 2 1/2 hours early, brimming with holiday cheer (he and R.J. wore Santa hats), and a thirst for "The Distance," Cake's big MTV hit. Travis' favorite band is Nine Inch Nails; the last CD he bought was Rage Against the Machine's Evil Empire; and his all-time favorite concert was the Stone Temple Pilots in San Jose. Just for kicks, we'll let R.J. sit in on the proceedings. After all, he did buy Travis' ticket.

Travis didn't think much of Fiona Apple, an 18-year-old piano player hyped as a pop prodigy. She immediately sat at a grand and began banging out "Shadowboxer," a brooding torch song more KFOG than Live 105. A few months ago, Time made much ado of Apple's lyrics, saying they "have a sad, cloistered feeling to them." But Apple's second number, which she announced as "a song that I started to write when I was 15," sounded exactly like that. "I got my feet on the ground/ ... You got your head in the clouds," she sang. Deep. Apple gyrated her hips, flaunted her naked navel, and then thank god she was finished. Travis was with me on this one. "Not very exciting," he said. R.J., however, bit like a fish: "I enjoyed it, but I'm a sucker for those women with pianos." I say it was the hips.

Travis liked Failure, a brash quartet from L.A., because they were "fast." R.J. thought they were better than "a clone punk band." The input was extremely valuable, as I'd fallen asleep and missed all four songs.

The Lemonheads' set was so dry, so bereft of any spring or step, that it was difficult to remember what made them intriguing a few years ago. Not even "It's a Shame About Ray" could get heads bouncing. Travis' reaction was decidedly lukewarm.

Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval was the sexiest person onstage, but few could tell. "It was really dark, and I couldn't see what was going on," said Travis. Here's your answer, little buddy: nothing. Mazzy Star must have a rider in its contract that prevents more than one stage-light color from shining at any time. Throughout "Ride It On," Sandoval looked like that blue orb that hovers over witnesses on televised court proceedings. Through opera glasses, she was a clothed CK waif, swaddled in hip-hugging leather pants and graced with long, dark hair. Her looks wouldn't matter if she didn't have the voice to match: It wilts like a relationship with nothing left to salvage but sex. Still, she's a boring frontwoman. R.J. said he "wasn't thrilled with the performance." Who was?

Allen Ginsberg, a man who needs no introduction, needed an introduction. Travis, and by extension half of the audience, had never heard of the poet. And who better to educate them than Live 105's flaccid morning host, Alex Bennett? Greeted by boos, Bennett responded, "If you're going to throw anything, throw Vicodin." Ha! That crack led into a story about a "little book of poems," but before the jock could reach dramatic tension, the crowd erupted, chanting, "Ass-hole."

Ginsberg's first poem, "The Ballad of the Skeletons" -- a long, rambling piece that sets one public figure or group against their political or religious enemies in a point-counterpoint rhyme structure -- was accompanied by a loose jazz band (Ralph Carney on baritone sax) and received swimmingly. But the next two song-poems barely held water with the crowd. The lyric "Everybody's born a little homosexual" prompted boos from the back of the arena. I overheard one girl announce, "This is soooo wack," to her buddy. There's grist for 20 more years of corporate sensitivity training, though our trustworthy teen-crit Travis "thought he was funny."

I'm embarrassed to say that I'd never heard the two English brothers known as Orbital. It's my own loss. Like Travis said, "I liked them a lot because of their techno and the video and the lights." The second series of beats and loops ("song" or "composition"?) began with a voice booming over the PA, "Satan! Satan! Satan!" I watched Travis pump devil horns in the air. Swear.

Republica? I despised Jesus Jones the first time around. I'll bet R.J. did too. "Every once in a while Live 105 finds a band that they push the hell out of and I just don't get it," he said. But both R.J. and I missed something, and that's why we have Travis here, right? Travis liked Republica for the Live 105 hit "Ready to Go," but he couldn't articulate the allure. "I don't know what I like about it, I just like it when I hear it," he said.

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