For all that modern technology has achieved in connecting us to the people we want to be with, and the places we want to be at, when it comes to music there is still no true substitute for the live experience. There is only so much our magical devices can do to replicate the thumping of bass, the clapping of hands and the energy that fills a building whenever an artist captivates a crowd.
It’s no wonder, then, that concerts and festivals not only remain relevant but have become the lifeblood of a music industry that’s still grappling with the ripple effects of the streaming revolution. And it’s why media brands in the space—from content sites like Live For Live Music to broadcasting platforms like iHeartRadio—are doing their part to be not just promoters of the live experience, but producers as well.
The latter of those examples spent the third Saturday of 2020 demonstrating the power of that approach during the third-annual iHeartRadio ALTer Ego event at The Forum in Inglewood, CA. The San Antonio-based media company managed to sell out a 17,505-seat arena in South Los Angeles with ease by serving its audience (and attracting more ear holes) with a lineup that would rival some of iHeartRadio’s most star-studded playlists.
Any great compilation requires a strong star, which is precisely what Billie Eilish provided. The 18-year-old singing sensation presaged her upcoming world tour, which includes three sold-out shows at The Forum, with a romp through her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, that had the crowd hopping and rocking almost as much as she was on stage. With her brother, Finneas O’Connell, leading her backing band, the L.A. native showed off the brooding voice and mischievous charisma that has not only made her a smash hit with Gen Z but also landed her a gig writing and performing the song for the next James Bond film.
Watch Billie’s entire performance at iHeartRadio ALTer Ego below.
Billie Eilish – 1/18/20 – Full Video [Pro-Shot]
[Video: Billie Eilish Updates]
As big as Billie is, though, her 40-minute set was just the appetizer for a bill that featured up-and-comers and sonic legends amid more than four hours of spellbinding performances.
In the former category were Rex Orange County, a self-produced singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist from England who’s become popular among much the same demographic subset that has vaulted Billie to superstardom. The 21-year-old and his band offered a fresh, light-hearted blend of indie bedroom pop with a sprinkling of hip hop that, according to his introduction, has drawn over a billion streams to his music.
Watch Rex Orange County’s full performance at iHeartRadio ALTer Ego below.
Rex Orange County – 1/18/20 – Full Show [Pro-Shot]
SHAED, meanwhile, might seem like a relative-unknown if not for their song “Trampoline”, which the wider world would recognize from a MacBook Air commercial dating back to October 2018. And though the Washington, D.C.-based band had only about 20 minutes with which to work, the trio of vocalist Chelsea Lee and instrumentalist brothers Max and Spencer Ernst flashed a fullness of sound and spirit with a style that evoked elements of CHVRCHES and St. Vincent in one carefully curated package.
Watch a video of SHAED performing “Melt” at iHeartRadio ALTer Ego below.
SHAED – “Melt” – 1/18/20
[Video: barry king]
All told, though, the night at The Forum belonged to the more veteran elements of ALTer Ego’s blockbuster lineup.
Blink-182 followed up Billie with a string of pop-punk classics—including “The Rock Show,” “What’s My Age Again,” “I Miss You,” “All the Small Things” and “Dammit”—that were all the rage among Gen Xers and Millennials once upon a time. The San Diego-based trio, though, hasn’t exactly fallen off since Tom DeLonge left for good in 2015. Instead, founding members Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker have not only filled Tom’s shoes with Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba, but added to their catalog of hits with a fun, familiar sound. Be it “Bored to Death” from 2016’s California or tracks from 2019’s NINE, Blink-182 brought the same frenetic, hard-driving energy that’s made them a staple of the alt-rock scene for more than a quarter-century.
Watch Blink-182’s entire performance at iHeartRadio ALTer Ego below.
Blink 182 – 1/18/20 – Full Video [Pro-Shot]
Coldplay wasn’t quite the same throwback, though their appearance was far more surprising. For one, the Londoners had said that 2015’s A Head Full of Dreams would mark the end of their discography—that is until Everyday Life dropped this past November. As far as ALTer Ego was concerned, Coldplay wasn’t even on the original bill. So when lead singer Chris Martin quipped, while seated at the piano, about this being the first show the band had ever played where no one paid to see them, he wasn’t kidding.
Nonetheless, Coldplay pulled out plenty of stops for its abbreviated set. The new songs fit well alongside the past standards like “Viva La Vida”, and were even better with special guests. Chris Martin and his quintet welcomed a local choir to join them for a selection of songs, including “Fix You” and their cover of “Cry Cry Cry”, and brought out a brass ensemble led by Femi Kuti, the son of Afrobeats pioneer Fela Kuti, to perform “Arabesque” off the new album.
Watch Coldplay’s entire performance at iHeartRadio ALTer Ego below.
Coldplay – 1/18/20 – Full Video [Pro-Shot]
[Video: Music Lovers]
Nowhere was the seesaw between styles within the same musical sphere more prevalent at ALTer Ego than at the end. The Lumineers brought their popular brand of indie-folk Americana to bear on a rapt audience. Singer-guitarist Wesley Schultz, drummer Jeremiah Fraites (who had celebrated his 34th birthday the day prior) and the rest of their instrument-rotating group stomped, strummed and shouted their way through crowd-pleasing standards like “Ho Hey”, “Ophelia”, “Cleopatra”, and “Life in the City”.
Watch a fan-shot video of The Lumineers performing “Cleopatra” at iHeartRadio ALTer Ego below.
The Lumineers – “Cleopatra” – 1/18/20
[Video: barry king]
To close out the night, The Black Keys quickly turned the tables from easy listening to hard rocking, courtesy of the dynamic duo of singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney. The Akron, Ohio natives have plenty of help from a broader backing band nowadays, though they’d surely bring ample noise to the party regardless of their measure of on-stage support.
Nearly two months to the day since headlining a tour stop at The Forum, the Black Keys returned for a performance that managed to span most of their nearly 20 years together, despite a much shorter allotment of stage time. From early standards like “I Got Mine” to career-making hits like “Next Girl”, “Howlin’ For You”, and “Tighten Up”, to more recent smashes like “Gold on the Ceiling”, “Fever”, “Lo/Hi”, and “Little Black Submarine”, Dan and Pat finished the night on a high note by pumping out the kinds of gritty, grimy tones and psychedelic guitar solos that, on their face, couldn’t have been much further from the synth-pop theatrics with which Billie began the proceedings.
Watch The Black Keys perform “Gold on the Ceiling” and “Tighten Up” below.
The Black Keys – “Gold on the Ceiling” – 1/18/20
[Video: Ross Fiuzi]
The Black Keys – “Tighten Up” – 1/18/20
[Video: Ross Fiuzi]
Yet, from end to end, at least one thing bound all of these acts, no matter their style or instrumentation—the sheer power of the live experience. For iHeartRadio, that impulse was enough to bring artists and fans of all ages and dispositions together for one captivating event to kick off what’s sure to be another banner year for live music in 2020.
Below, check out a gallery of photos from the event courtesy of photographer Josh Martin.