I make no secret of the fact that A Thousand Suns was my favorite album of 2010. I’ve been jeered by other music nerds many times for this. Then, when hanging out near the box office trying to buy a decent ticket to last night’s show, one woman said “It’s not completely sold out, I guess. Because the new album’s no good.” Now this may be the conventional wisdom of a lot of Linkin Park fans, including many in attendance at the HP Pavilion last night, but they’re wrong. It’s a great album that’s pushed the band and their live show about a thousand times forward.
After I paid a guy $15 for his extra nosebleed ticket, I used a secret method to find an available seat 12 rows up from the stage, just in time to watch Prodigy do their 45-minute opening set. They jumped and bounced around the front of the stage, absolutely shaking the rafters with their booming sound. But looking down below at the gathered crowd, it wasn’t hitting. Even the megahit “Firestarter” didn’t really get the fire started. Eventually, the “guy with the normal hair” shouted out “Where my Prodigy people at?” and there was some scattered cheers. I was shocked. Why wasn’t the audience feeling this? No pit? Finally, for one glorious song, the controversial classic “Smack My Bitch Up,” we saw hands in the air and some movement down below. But it was too little, too late. It felt like wasted time.
After a half hour wait for Linkin Park to start, we waited an additional 15 minutes. Finally, at 9:15, the lights went down, and the band walked out slowly while the opening track from their new album, “Requiem,” was played (not by them). For sure, they would light right into one of the tracks from this album, but instead they opened the show with a blistering take on “Faint,” much to the delight of the packed house. This was a pretty common occurrence during the show: the packed house was delighted A LOT. There was jumping and screaming and fist pumping and circle pits, and up in the seats where I was, disinterested head bobbing, too.
But on the floor, it was a bit crazy. Not as crazy as it could have been, for the wise Linkin Park folks had put a second barrier on the floor to prevent the fans up front from being crushed. This is just one of the fan friendly aspects of a Linkin Park show. They also give a free download of the show to everyone in attendance (and honestly, to anyone within Twitter range, too), by a simple text message to the band. And even the stage design is a crowd pleaser, making everyone think they have a better seat than they do, as it has a triangle that juts out, making each side of the house feel like they’re facing the stage, not to the side of it.
One thing about a Linkin Park show is that it never stops to catch its breath. Except for tonight, as during “The Radiance,” which is supposed to lead into “Iridescent,” both from A Thousand Suns, Mike Shinoda started gesturing wildly to the crew, and to the band, and to anyone who was paying attention. His keyboard had broken, and there could be no next song without the piano. So while the crew started working on things, Chester Bennington started leading the crowd in a singalong. Then, there was some looking around at each other.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that my keyboard is fucked up,” Shinoda explained. “Usually we try to play this shit off, but we’re just gonna get a new keyboard.”
Meanwhile, guitarist Brad Delson grabbed an acoustic guitar, and he and Bennington then did an unplanned rendition of “The Messenger.” By the time this was done, a new keyboard was in place, and the show went back to its blasting, non-stop, in-your-face ways.
Most people have made up their mind on Linkin Park, and I’m one of them. I enjoy watching them play live, as they really do look like the dorkiest band in the world. Not like some group deciding to dress dorky, but honest-to-goodness nerdy dudes just hanging out, playing music. They could be anywhere but here when they play. These look like my high school friends. Then, there’s the two lead singers: Mike Shinoda always looks relaxed, like he’s having the freakin’ time of his life on stage, while Chester Bennington uses the entirety of the stage, sometimes leaping from one end of the stage to the other during a single phrase. It’s a marked contrast, and I’m sure most fans have a favorite. (Shinoda is mine.)
I said in my show preview for this one that Linkin Park can be hit-or-miss as a live band. I think those days may be over. The new material played last night — “Waiting For the End,” “When They Come For Me,” “The Catalyst,” “Blackout,” and “Iridescent” — is all so big and dramatic, filling the room with sound. And I guarantee those same fans that were saying “meh” about the new album were screaming and fist pumping with everyone else by the time the show was over. There were a lot of hoarse voices leaving the Shark Tank last night; I was one of them.
There’s a lot of people out there with preconceived and ill conceived notions about Linkin Park, and I’m not going to change their mind. Whatever. I’ll let them live on in their ignorance, making it easy for me and the thousands of other people in attendance to buy tickets for $15. For this Linkin Park is a different band, a better band, than the one who recorded “One Step Closer.”
But I gotta tell you, ending a show with 14,000 people screaming “Shut up when I’m talking to you” hasn’t lost its charm, even though it probably should have. And recognizing that dichotomy — the new music is big and interesting, the old music is fun — is why I can count Linkin Park among my favorite bands.
And if you want to make fun of them, or me, go right ahead. Haters gotta hate.
Linkin Park set list for 2/22/2011
Lying From You
What I’ve Done
No More Sorrows
From the Inside
Jornada del Muerto/Waiting for the End
The Radiance/Iridiscent (Chester vamp)
Iridescent (the whole song)
Fallout/ The Catalyst
Shadow of the Day
In the End
Bleed It Out
Empty Spaces/When They Come For Me
One Step Closer