In the years since I became a 30 Seconds to Mars fan, it’s been a bittersweet ride. The first time I ever saw them live was two and a half years ago, at this very same venue. As you can see from that review, I was ready to let Jared Leto himself baptize me into the “cult of Mars.” I also said regularly that I’d be happy to inject the band’s music into my veins if I could just figure out how. And then I took my best friend to see them, where we had a little issue with front man Leto, and ever since, I haven’t quite felt the same about the band. Frankly, I’m not made of whatever that stuff is that allows a person to be a fan of someone they dislike as a person. I’m just not. For two years, I’ve tried to convince myself that maybe that was just a bad moment, and Jared really is who I want him to be: a fantastic actor with an amazing voice and musical talent, and hopefully even a decent human being to boot. So yes: I couldn’t wait to see Mars again Friday night when they came back to SJSU’s Event Center, and try to make up my mind once and for all. (And it has to be said that the band’s most recent album, LOVE LUST FAITH + DREAMS, is nearly as good as the one before it, the epic This is War. It certainly couldn’t hurt my chances of enjoying my evening that I had several new favorite songs I expected to hear…)
The first disappointment of the night was a minor one: I discovered that my fellow photographers and I would not be shooting the bands from the photo pit. Instead, we were directed to shoot from the soundboard, which is much more difficult. But at the end of the day, I’m a writer with a camera, not a photographer who also writes. So my shots aren’t as great as they might’ve been? I still got to enjoy live music, which is always a good day in my book.
At seven o’clock on the nose, the lights went down and New Politics took the stage. Though the only song I’d heard from this band was the addictive single “Harlem,” a hip young friend recently proclaimed them to be her favorite band, so I was looking forward to a great set. After a song or two (“Give Me Hope” and “Dignity,” respectively), it was easy to see why she’d fallen for them after the first song she heard live. I’m not so quick to love, but I really enjoyed their whole set and vibe from start to finish. “Wow,” lead singer David Boyd said to the crowd. “I said wow! Your energy is amazing!” He went on to say that they felt very lucky to be opening for a band like 30 Seconds to Mars, iterated again how much he was feeding off the audience’s energy, and called it “crazy.”
“Can I join you guys on this song?” Boyd asked. “I wanna fall into a stranger’s arms. Can I fall into a stranger’s arms?” Song three was “Fall Into These Arms,” and Boyd performed what I must admit was the ultimate ‘trust fall.’ I expected that by falling into a stranger’s arms he meant crowd-surfing, but I watched in amazement as he very carefully stepped into the hands of the crowd. It was tentative at first, but soon he was indeed fully upright. At the song’s end, he did in fact crowd-surf his way back to the stage, saying, “when this song starts I wanna see everyone in this crowd jump!” The song was “Just Like Me.”
“God! This is insane, you guys are amazing!” Boyd gushed before going on to tell a little band history: they’ve been a band for about three years. Two of them (Boyd and guitar player Søren Hansen are from Copenhagen, Denmark). “We’re looking for American wives cause we need passports!” Boyd joked (though I’m sure he meant green cards). There is, he continued, an American in the band: drummer Louis Vecchio. The next song, he said, was dedicated “to all of you, because there’s no other words to put it than this. It’s something only music can do: it unites and brings us together. Regardless of this fucked up world, you guys are amazing, and tonight you’re perfect!” Appropriately, the song was titled “Tonight You’re Perfect.”
“Before we do this next song,” Boyd paused again. “We’re gonna be in the back at the merch table after our set sellin’ t-shirts, giving away stickers… come get a sweaty European hug or an autograph! You guys have been amazing!” The song was the band’s current single, “Harlem,” from their newest record, A Bad Girl in Harlem, and I must admit I’m a little obsessed with it at the moment. I’ve completely fallen for it. This song is so unabashedly catchy, and is everything I love about a great pop/rock song. It’s the kind of song you can really jump around to, and the crowd certainly did last night. “Make some noise for yourselves! Do you guys mind if we take a picture?” Boyd again, who went on to promise that the band will be touring America for the next year and a half, so they’d be back soon in the Bay. And then, sadly, it was time for their last song. “I wanna see everybody get outta their seats! All you guys sitting down need to stand up! For three minutes… I wanna see how loud this crowd can be, alright?” Boyd taunted the crowd by shouting, “thirty seconds to…” and holding the microphone out to the room to finish with increasingly deafening shouts of “MARS!”
“You guys are amazing, we love you, let’s go fucking crazy for this song,” Boyd said. Though he continued to gush about the energy in the venue, it was Boyd’s energy I was mesmerized by: he’s a great performer, and they’re definitely a band that’s piqued my interest. During the last song, “Yeah Yeah Yeah,” he had the crowd chanting the “yeah, yeah, yeah” and even did a flip on stage. It was a fantastic song to end a set on, and the audience’s enthusiastic participation made it really fun. “San Jose! Are you ready? I said are you ready?! This is your last chance!” The crowd indulged, jumping and generally rocking out alongside members of the band. And then with a final, “thank you so much for being fucking awesome!!” the band waved and disappeared from the stage.
During the set change, a cheer rose up from the floor when the 30 Seconds to Mars’ triad symbol was revealed. Though it’s an ancient symbol for air, the band has been using it as something of a logo since at least the This is War era. Though they were scheduled to start right at 8, it wasn’t until nearly fifteen minutes later that they finally made their grand entrance as the stage lit up and Jared Leto’s voice began “Birth” from somewhere offstage. By “Night of the Hunter,” though, he was fully present, though shrouded in shadow and hiding behind his sunglasses (which he kept on for most of the night). “Search and Destroy” came next, and I let the music I enjoy so much carry me away a little: this band is amazing. I love their music! Sadly, though, it didn’t take long to decide that I think Jared seems as into his role of “messiah” as are the fans to give him the role. Though I’ve never been big on the celebrity idol worship that runs rampant, I certainly don’t expect musicians to buy into their own fame, and I wish I could say I didn’t have the impression Leto does exactly that. I went to this show hoping to leave feeling the exhilaration of loving this band once more. But early on I began to suspect that it would be my last Mars show. (Though, honestly, I still really love the music, so I’ll probably keep buying their albums, at least.)
Speaking of music, awesome new song “Conquistador” was next, after which Jared finally addressed the crowd with a “hellllllloooooo,” saying he needed somebody come up on stage with him, and asking if anybody was crazy. He said something about people getting up on shoulders, and counted off several as soon as they did, but I never saw any of them appear on the stage. After Leto quickly taught the crowd how to sing the “ohhhhhh”s of the next song, they played “Do or Die,” during which he waved a giant white flag and was marching on stage. Well, they do call their fans a Mars Army, among other things. Perhaps he’s not the messiah anymore, but just the commander-in-chief? That would be a much easier pill for me to swallow… “End of All Days” was next, after which Leto said “thank you guys so much for being here,” and mentioned how happy he was to be in his “hometown state” of California. After a quick plug for the new album, he teased that anyone who doesn’t have a copy will “go to hell and have their testicles pulled down and ripped out,” and something about a butt being fed to a dog. Then a complete non-sequitur about a sad song, which was “City of Angels.” It was pretty fantastic live, though, which is just as expected. These guys are stellar musicians, I’ll give them that.
While drummer Shannon (Leto’s brother), and guitarist Tomo Milicevic took a break, Jared remained on the stage with an acoustic guitar for a solo set. “Do you guys have any requests?” He asked. “I’ll play whatever you want.” He noted hearing fans ask for “The Kill,” “Hurricane,” and “Alibi,” which he did a little bit of a capella style. “You remember that song? Wanna sing with me? Come on! Louder!” He’s bossy, I noted, while simultaneously making a mental note that fans that read this will hate me. “You guys are great singers, man.” He sang a little bit of another song next, which he admitted was just a “little song I play sometimes. It doesn’t even have a name. What do you call it?” Next was old tune “From Yesterday,” of which I never tire, and then finally Leto discarded his sunglasses. “Requests?” Someone asked for “This is War,” and the crowd began to clap its beat. “Don’t do that!” Leto snapped, explaining how hard they’d soon find it because it would get faster and faster, and they wouldn’t want to finish it. He sang a little of it, though it’s incredibly unique acoustic, and when the audience sang along he crowed, “you know that song! I’ve never played that song acoustic in my entire life!” When the crowd shouted the “to fight!” part, he laughed and continued to play a little more of it, saying, “ah, this is funny!”
“Okay, I’ll sing one more and then I’ll shut the fuck up. What do you want me to play? ‘Kings and Queens?’ I can’t play that without Shannon and Tomo. Maybe if we’re loud enough, we’ll get them back out here… I wanna hear all the singers real loud, okay?” As expected, the rest of the band returned for “Kings and Queens,” which concluded with a dramatic ending and the crowd singing the epic “oh, oh, ohhhhh” parts that were so brilliantly written for audience participation. “Thank you, I love you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!” Again, Leto professed to need someone up on stage “for real,” asking for the “craziest person in here, where you at?” After suggesting that everyone in the bleachers should come down for this song, promising that the floor was “not that scary,” a few of those pulled onstage from the crowd were introduced as the band geared up for the next song. Jared instructed the audience on the how-tos of the song’s participation: fists in the air, “repeat after me: ‘no no no no!'” He sang the majority of the song, “Closer to the Edge,” from where the photo pit ought to have been, and it was hard to hear him well. Still, it was one of the best songs of the night, and lyrics like “no I’m not saying I’m sorry, one day maybe we’ll meet again” prompted me to point to Leto and then to myself, telling a friend it was “our song.” (Jared’s and mine, that is).
“Make some noise!” Jared shouted at the crowd, and I laughed. That tired expression seems funny coming from such a bona fide rocker. (And however much I like or dislike him, Jared Leto is that. He has that thing you have to be born with, that thing that’s nearly impossible to describe but so damn charismatic and interesting.) As the song concluded, confetti canons went off and showered Leto and the fans in tiny bits of paper. “We love you, thank you so much. We’ll see you soon!” And so the band’s full set had ended. The encore, as is typical for Mars, consisted of Leto pulling lots of fans from the floor up onto the stage where they can dance and enjoy themselves, but only interact with him if he’s willing. The one and only encore song was recent huge hit, the infectious “Up in the Air,” and then it was over. I’d say “short and sweet,” but again I must say bittersweet instead. I don’t know what this means for my future as a Mars fan. I love this band. I don’t know that that will ever change, and I hope not. I may never go out of my way to attend a live show again, but I’d be sad to get to a place where I could no longer enjoy even the songs they create, because they truly are fantastic.