The Forum has changed over the years. Those who have been in Los Angeles for a bit longer than most may primarily recall its function as the Lakers’ home stadium, hence the driveway being named after Kareem. But ever since the Lakers moved on to bigger, better and more centrally located digs at the Staples Center, the Forum has struggled to maintain relevancy. That is until it was purchased by the Madison Square Garden group, retrofitted and turned into one of the better arena venues in Los Angeles.
If The Forum were to have any hope of maintaining that title they were going to have to show out for ALTer Ego, a Festival put on by ALT 98.7 and iHeartRadio to showcase the best in “alternative” music. This, of course, led to one of the most comically jumbled lineups we’ve ever seen, featuring Billie Eilish, Blink-182 and Coldplay all on the same bill. But people seemed more than happy to shell out the cash for the event.
Before we even get into the performances, we have to talk about the absolute train wreck of the lineup order. With seemingly no reasoning or forewarning, the show kicked off with Billie Eilish, the biggest draw of the show, and then lead into Blink-182. Due to this total brain spasm, we missed Eilish because no show ever starts on time in LA anyway and even if it did we certainly didn’t expect to miss who should’ve rightfully been the headliner. But even beyond that the bewildering choice to have Coldplay and Shaed stranded in the middle of the show, only to close with the Lumineers and The Black Keys made no sense and remained a point of great bewilderment throughout the evening.
Blink-182 was the second band to play the event. This was strange in and of itself given that there was a time, not so long ago, when Blink-182 would’ve been on the top of any bill, especially a bill in Southern California. If there were any better examples of the ravages of time you’d be hard-pressed to find it. So here was Blink-182 opening for five bands in their own hometown without even having their original lead singer, Tom DeLonge onstage with them. Even still they performed admirably, there’s a huge continent of mid-twenties and early thirties punk rockers that have nothing but positive things to say of the bratty pop-punk that Blink-182 helped propel to the forefront of radio in the early 2000s. They generally knew what they were there to do though, choosing to mostly stick to the good old hits, “What’s My Age Again,” “I Miss You” and of course “All The Small Things” got everyone on their feet and singing along but performances from their latest record were met with butts in seats, leaving them to be saved by the somewhat excessive light show which at the very least kept people’s eyes on the stage near the band. All in all, it helped to have seasoned performers kick off the show even if it was a bit sad to dwell too long on what it meant to have one of the most influential bands of this century open for four other bands.
Rex Orange County took the stage next. Which was met with a shocking amount of enthusiasm compared to expectations. They were clearly popular with the young crowd but we underestimated just how popular they were, in fact, they garnered a more enthusiastic reaction than Coldplay or Black Keys. Despite their youth, they put on a decent show. Some of the vocals were a little shaky but at least the production and light show were good but to be entirely honest they should’ve opened this show instead of Blink. Alas here we were and the teenagers seemed rather happy about it, and who can blame them? There’s always going to be some artist that you don’t get if you’re too old, and tonight those acts were clearly Billie Eilish and Rex Orange County though Eilish ended up putting on a much stronger performance between the two. Ultimately the crowd prevailed and the energy of the venue, which really was proving itself to be a perfect concert venue with its ample seating and twinkling ceiling lights, was high enough that it reminded one of a Bieber show when all he had was screaming teenage fans.
Coldplay took the stage next, providing enough throwback energy to power all of Inglewood. To their credit, they received by far the most rapturous reception of the evening and immediately launched into “Orphans” which showcased their new, somehow, even more, radio-friendly style of music. Much like Blink-182 the most exciting moments of their set were when they went back to the old hits like “Viva La Vida” which had enough radio permeation and time so as to be absorbed by the general population through osmosis, willing or unwilling. But their skill as performers shone through even when they played newer tracks that were less popular or had less time to be taken in by the general population. It was clear that they were a well worthwhile last-minute addition for the festival, which did lead to the great quip of this being the first show they had played that no one had paid to see them. At one point they even brought out Femi Kuti and his band who came all the way from Nigeria to tour with Coldplay. Throughout the show so far they were certainly the highlight, though The Black Keys were hell-bent on changing that.
Of all the bands to play so far, Eilish notwithstanding, Shaed had by far the most unique sound due to a reliance on classic Roland synths. This sound helped them to bridge the gap between the ‘80s and the modern-day but as performers, they largely held still and relied on moderate use of screens to power them forward. It was becoming clearer and clearer that the night was to be ruled by those who had had a little more time to grow as performers and build their musical repertoire. With that said, the dip in crowd engagement was not the fault of Shaed who clearly did their best, but rather the fault of the organizers, who decided to leave Shaed stranded in the center of the lineup between far more popular groups, which put them in an exceedingly difficult position that ultimately proved to be too much.
The usurper kings of pop-rock themselves, The Lumineers, commandeered the stage next, bringing an infusion of life and energy into the show that had been missing for the past 30 minutes. No matter what song they played a majority of the crowd remained on their feet and singing along. Again they proved the value of two things; 1) being popular and having popular songs everyone knows really helps when you’re playing an arena, and 2) having experience playing big shows really helps you be comfortable when you’re onstage. Their production was roughly at the same level as every other band, barring Blink-182 who had far and away the best production value we saw. Oh, they did play “Ho Hey” which may as well have been a karaoke version of the song considering how loudly the crowd sang, and admittedly that was pretty great.
Closing out the show was (again, somehow not Billie Eilish) The Black Keys, who ended up having quite the task on their hands when it came to keeping the arena as full as they possibly could. I have to say if they weren’t going to have Eilish or Coldplay close out the show they at least chose the next best option. Black Keys chose to go with a slightly more reserved approach for the show from a performative aspect, but even so, they brought far more energy than everyone because they were one of only two true rock bands playing this evening. Fans of the group certainly got everything they could’ve wanted from this set, whether that was hard-hitting rock tracks like “I Got Mine” or megahits like “Gold On The Ceiling,” “Lonely Boy” or “Howlin’ For You.” Everyone who stuck around got exactly what they wanted from the set, and it wouldn’t be hyperbole to assert that they might just have saved this show from being a disaster. The crowd absolutely seemed to think so.
There are certain things you think about when you put on a concert. Location, access to drinks, bands who will play and the lineup order. The honest truth is you need to nail just about all of these things or your show is gonna have a tough time. ALTer Ego managed a solid three out of four, but unfortunately they whiffed on the lineup order so hard it overshadowed all the great things about the show. Really all you had to do was close the show with Billie Eilish or at least not open with her, and while every band did their damndest to keep everyone in the arena there’s only so much within their control. So if you’re a show organizer read these next words carefully, don’t start your show with the artist people think will be the headliner.
Photo Credit: Brett Padelford