The Forum was the site of an impressive roster of bands Saturday night at the 2022 edition of iHeartRadio ALTer EGO Presented by Capital One despite surges in the Omicron variant. Security and safety protocols were in place in a major way, attendees were masked up and the event felt like a wildly successful and well-produced celebration of all-things alternative rock. The lineup included a wide range of acts that encompass numerous alt-rock subgenres from pop to punk to glam rock to rap rock to electro rock with twenty one pilots, Coldplay, Imagine Dragons, Kings of Leon, Måneskin, All Time Low, Willow and surprise guest Avril Lavigne.
ALTer EGO took a pause due to the pandemic and the last show was in 2020 which also featured Coldplay, as well as Billie Eilish, The Black Keys, blink-182, The Lumineers, Rex Orange County and SHAED. Now in its fifth year, ALTer EGO had a welcome return kicking off strong with Imagine Dragons, who played a bunch of their biggest hits starting with “Believer”, a true stadium anthem, with shooting smoke blasting from the stage floor and the first of many confetti moments for the night, as frontman Dan Reynolds orchestrated the ending of the song.
“What a beauty, what a pleasure to be here, experience real music with real, live people”, said Reynolds. He added that he hoped the night would be an opportunity to unwind and forget about stress and to enjoy the people around you. “You all deserve it. Peace, love and equality”.
The inspiring “Whatever It Takes” was next with a sepia-tinged screen during the spiritual song in which Reynolds visited both sides of the stage to connect with his fans and later guitarist Wayne Sermon and bassist Ben McKee joining center stage as Reynolds pounded an extra drum while joining drummer Daniel Platzman.
Reynolds talked about the depression he struggled with as a teenager, feeling weak and mentioning how therapy saved his life. He encouraged the crowd to seek help if needed and said “your life is always worth living” prior to the powerful “Demons”. The bouncy “Thunder” was next with the smoke machines in full force again, the crowd moving and Reynolds laying down on the stage mid-song feeling the vibes with his hands up. New song “Enemy” found the band engulfed in a fiery red filter behind them, coupled with impressive falsetto on the chorus with Reynolds falling to his knees on the second verse. The band played another newer song “Follow You” and they wrapped with a sort of remixed version of “Radioactive”. It was heavier in dubstep and synth, with an apocalyptic, pixelated screen and Reynolds back at his big bad drum, accompanied by his band members for an extended percussion section and a final lively chorus followed by a confetti blast.
Italian glam rock band Måneskin made a splash with one of their first-ever U.S. performances with each of the four band members donning some shade or another of pink including lead singer Damiano David in a stylish pinstripe jacket, shorts and thigh-high boots. Known best for their global smash “Beggin'”, an infectious cover of The Four Seasons classic, the band delivered while the crowd sang along and grooved. David only briefly chatted with the crowd, saying “We are Måneskin, and we are actually better with music than with words”, continuing on with standsouts “Mammamia”, a dancy hard rock song dripping with sexual energy, while David kicked his boots up while dancing and female guitarist Victoria De Angelis thrusted on guitar on her knees for a moment while facing her lead singer. David’s charisma, powerful vocals and guitars led much of the band’s energy throughout the set which also included “For Your Love” and another highlight, “I Wanna Be Your Slave”, a lively rock song that found David running, dancing, jumping wildly around the stage, whispering some of the lyrics intensely while De Angelis’ hair flailed every which way.
Coldplay’s set of smash hits and some newer tunes felt like a headlining show, partially because each audience member had a glowing wristband that pulsed with color throughout the songs and also because Chris Martin and his band commanded the stage and the crowd. The band blasted through 2021 single “Higher Power”, a truly stunning opening of a show with everyone’s glowing bracelets, lasers and a trippy watercolor effects of Coldplay on the screen. Martin expressed, “We’re extremely happy to see you, very grateful”, the first of a few moments he chatted with the fans.
The stage was awash in red with lasers floating over for “Clocks” as Martin tooks time at the piano and later numerous orange spotlights shot up from the stage for the incredibly moving “Fix You”. Martin’s hands were up throughout while singing, the guitars built with intensity and the crowd went wild. Martin found his way to the piano by the song’s ending while a constellation of stars were bursting on the screen. Chris Martin then made a joke about Kings of Leon having two songs that are better than theirs but went on to play “Viva La Vida” while the whole place was singing and clapping along.
LA twin sister duo We Are KING joined Coldplay for the harmony-fueled soul ballad “Human Heart” (without the other featured artist Jacob Collier) with a moving message about boys and girls, gender roles, emotions and mental health. It was a powerful highlight of the night. The dark and mysterious “People of The Pride” was next following a humorous moment where Martin said “We’re not a rock band, we’re like a soft thing”. The well-produced rock tune was highlighted by memorable drums and guitars.
“We’ve been a band as long as some of you have been alive,” said Martin. “I’m excited for you to see Willow, she was born around the time of our second album”. Martin then transitioned into “the song that allowed us to come to America”, which is “Yellow”, grabbing the acoustic guitar solo on the stage to strum to the gorgeous ballad, while a flood of yellow lighting took over the stage and the crowd joined in unison singing “you know I love you so”. It was a much-needed campfire version of the song that was good for the 2022 soul.
Martin announced the next song by saying “As long as you have rudimentary Korean [speaking skills] you can sing along with us” to the pop banger “My Universe” which features megastar 7-piece boy band BTS. It was a vibrant, glowing explosion of joy and it felt like BTS was there with Coldplay as they flashed across the screen. “A Sky Full Of Stars” closed out a pretty epic middle set with incredible lighting, vocals and Chris Martin working the entire stage. The place was lit with glowing wristbands, singing fans, dancing and nothing but color.
Pop-punk princess Willow Smith stepped into high gear with her recent single “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l” in a white shirt, black tie and tights and followed it up with a loud and screamy “Gaslight”. With pop-punk there can be a tendency on uptempo songs to scream and yell and she’s a solid performer who can sing, but she should consider pulling back on some of the yelling and focus on more singing like on “Meet Me At Our Spot” when her voice was clearly shining. Willow closed out her set with two popular tracks, “Grow” and “Wait A Minute”, showcasing endless swagger and a whole lot of heart.
Nashville Southern rockers Kings of Leon opened with a strong guitar-led “Crawl” while morphed faces of the band took over the screen and bright lamps backlit the foursome. The guys sounded quite strong on the vocals, guitars and drums on “Waste A Moment” as psychedelic images floated across the screen. Red strobe lights flashed during the entirety of “Sex On Fire” with lead singer Caleb Followill really rising to the occasion and the guitars from Matthew Followil and bassist Jared Followil echoing the cry in his voice.
The pulsating, guitar-driven “Find Me” continued Kings of Leon’s set with an addicting groove and 80s vibes and later the band commanded the crowd with the warped ballad “Closer”, with its powerful instrumentation and guitars. “Time In Disguise” showcased all of the slick instrumentation of this timeless band coupled with another solid vocal from Caleb. The guys really impressed with their inescapable hit “Use Somebody”, an absolutely beautiful, perfect rock song with a vamp that kept the crowd roaring for more. Caleb Followill’s voice shined again on this one while the rest of the Followills joined in the call-and-response. The band closed out with the indie-rock song “The Bandit”.
Baltimore pop-punk band All Time Low launched into their energetic “Some Kind of Disaster” with style and passionate, harmonious vocals, followed by new track “PMA”. Lead singer Alex Gaskarth’s voice hit the high notes and his band brought the energy on their exhilarating newer song “Once In A Lifetime” with fans’ hands up. Gaskarth stood on the speaker with his hands up to the crowd keeping everyone moving. This was followed by another new one, the thrashing “Monsters” (yes, we wish Blackbear was there as well!) All Time Low’s pop-punk classic “Dear Maria, Count Me In” was the band’s final song, a shot of pure adrenaline as swaths and splashes of paint fiercely colored the backdrop screen and confetti blasted from the stage cannons.
A surprise guest was announced rather quickly and the audience was shocked by the announcement of Avril Lavigne, who really should have been in a proper performance slot for the evening. The Canadian singer treated fans to “Girlfriend” while she ran across the stage in a red jacket and skirt, while skulls were emblazoned on the screen. New track “Bite Me” which features Travis Barker (he wasn’t there) was next and it sounds just like Avril picked up where she left off, like no time has gone by. The crowd was slightly in shock that Avril was there at all and she sounded as strong as ever on “My Happy Ending”. For her final song Avril performed the now-twenty-year-old throwback “Sk8er Boi”, kicking her leg up in the air multiple time and doing cartwheels. Lavigne was a burst of energy, much too short a set but very enjoyable. If she had a few more songs, it would have been cool hear her new blackbear-featured track “Love It When You Hate Me”, “I’m With You” and her worldwide smash “Complicated”.
Columbus, Ohio band Twenty One Pilots took the headliner slot for the evening, playing a somewhat experimental set of both hits and covers. Drummer Josh Dun was seated at his kit and lead vocalist Tyler Joseph asked the crowd at 10:50 p.m., “You still here? Got one more band in you?”
Though it was a Saturday and their tune “Saturday” would have been perfect, they launched into the more well-known “Stressed Out” as the crowd sang along to the lyrics that really resonate today, “Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days, when our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out”. Joseph ran to the back of the stage, landed on the piano and jumped off of it.
Joseph said, “We don’t have very long with you, and we’re gonna give you everything that we have”, before starting the haunting “Heathens” at the piano. Mid-song, the light went black and Joseph was no longer at the piano but was instead center stage with his guitar, as some pyro shot up from the stage floor. The duo was accompanied by a full band for their set, and the show really came alive during 2011 song “Ode To Sleep”, with its 80s synth while a guitarist, trumpet player and a keyboardist playing memorable accompaniment as Joseph rapped his way through the new wave-y, powerpop tune in his big leather pimp coat and beanie.
The stage was flooded in green lighting during the mysterious and experimental “Jumpsuit” followed with fire, smoke shooting from the stage floor and a pop during the heavy rock song. Following the song, Joseph asked his fans, “You still alive out there? I know it’s been a long night, there’s been a lot of confetti”. He added that there were so many great bands and mentioned the honor it was to close out the night.
Following one of their more aggressive songs, new song “Mulberry Street” was a refreshing change of pace, with Joseph fittingly in sunglasses on the piano as he mashed up the bouncy, piano-pop tune with Elton John’s “Benny and The Jets”. At one point, the saxophonist blasted after each “Benny” and the place was moving.
Tyler Joseph, accompanied by security made his way through the crowd up to the stage left balcony, driving fans into a frenzy with cheers for the reggae-flavored “Ride”, before making his way back to center stage. He played some beautiful chords with a few lines of Coldplay song “Yellow”, to everyone’s delight. “Do you know how many people I texted saying I’m busy watching Coldplay open for me?” A wave of laughter took over The Forum. “Do not disturb”, said Joseph.
He got serious for a moment and told an off-the-cuff story about how years ago Chris Martin called him to tell him how much he loved his music. “They’re big influences on us” said Joseph, before reverting back to “Ride” lyrics “I’ve been thinking too much” on just the piano.
Both Joseph and Dun were in their skeletal get-up and face masks for the funky, tripped out “Shy Away” with standout guitars. Fans were singing along to “Car Radio”, a very poetic, powerful song about being alone in silence which was blended with My Chemical Romance’s “I’m Not Okay”. Tyler made his way to the back of the venue’s floor section and climbed a pole to view his thousands of fans, bidding farewell, taking his mask off, and hands in the air to a rousing crowd. Tyler left everyone with, “We’re Twenty One Pilots, and so are you. We’ll see you next time”.
2022 ALTer EGO talent were broadcast to over 75 alternative and rock iHeartRadio stations and LiveOne exclusively streamed all performances at www.livexlive.com. Milky Chance and Cannons played the free pre-show, also at The Forum.
Main photo by Skyler Barberio