Trying to grow up in front of millions of fans who want you to stay a certain way must be frustrating. But the guys of Linkin Park are trying to play it both ways: Give the fans what they want upfront and then reveal the "deeper" side that's still evolving. On Minutes to Midnight, the rap-metal band's latest album and first release in four years, the group's searing, angst-filled approach has mellowed. Sort of. On it, the band offers more soaring melodies reminiscent of U2 or even Coldplay.
But Tuesday night at a packed 1st Mariner Arena, the Los Angeles sextet tried to strike a balance between the thrashing, snarling sound that made Linkin Park one of the biggest-selling rock bands of the decade and the group's epic-pop ambitions, which have garnered lukewarm reviews.
The guys mostly succeeded.
The show began on the frantic, hard-rock side, with "No More Sorrow," one of the angrier cuts from the new album. Chester Bennington, the group's earnest lead singer, screamed the tormented, I-hate-feeling-this-way lyrics that have long become standard Linkin Park fare. It was all underscored by the band's choppy, fiery guitar chords and a marching beat. The songs in the first half of the group's 90-minute set came in thunderous bursts, fueled by Bennington's screams.
Not even 30 minutes into the show, his face was red and drenched in sweat. Bennington attacked the songs like a prize fighter. From time to time, he'd even turn away from the microphone to spit. The staging -- an industrial-looking set with five large, rotating monitors overhead -- wasn't as extravagant as you would expect from a band that has sold more than 45 million albums in about eight years.
"We didn't bring any pyrotechnics with us, so put up your lighters," said Mike Shinoda, Linkin Park's MC and occasional keyboard player. But the largely unadorned set complemented the unassuming guys who make up the band. Although the six millionaire musicians are 30 and older, they look a lot like the scruffy, jeans-and-pullover-sporting college-age guys that dominated the arena.
And during the first half of the show, as Linkin Park dipped mostly into its first two mega-selling albums, the house was strongly responsive -- pumping fists in the air and slam-dancing on the arena floor.
But during the show's second half, as the band delved deeper into the "softer" side of Minutes to Midnight, the mood drastically changed as all the fist-pumping and jerky dancing stopped. During "Leave Out All the Rest," Bennington turned into a wimpish crooner. With its predictable surging chorus and atmospheric electronic textures, the song, a stab at power balladry, wasn't convincing. The slightly contrived artsy-rock mode continued with "Numb," which Bennington sang with more bite. But the tinkling piano notes made the song a bit too precious. And images of blooming roses and lilies on screens overhead further pushed the performance into Sappyville.
Just when the mellow-metal formula was about to grate on the nerves, Linkin Park wisely shifted gears, going into hard-rock overdrive with "Crawling," the band's Grammy-winning hit from 2000's Hybrid Theory.
During the number, Bennington shook hands with eager fans on the floor before jumping back on stage without missing a note. But the guys couldn't resist showcasing the band's softer side again. During the encore, Bennington sang "My December," a ballad of heartbreak, with just Shinoda on keyboards. After screaming about tainted love for more than an hour, he managed to sound sincere as he pensively crooned, "And I give it all away/Just to have somewhere to go to/Give it all away/To have someone to come home to."