Thursday night's opening show of Linkin Park's new tour, at the BankAtlantic Center near Fort Lauderdale, Florida, showed a group of veteran performers standing on a divide. On the one hand, Chester Bennington, Mike Shinoda, and company clearly want to explore the new, more ambient and electronic sounds of the band's fourth studio album, A Thousand Suns. On the other, these seasoned road dogs clearly aim to please their fans, many of whom have stuck with the band since its early nu metal-ish days.
So despite the MTV and radio hype surrounding the release of the new album's first and wildly unexpected single, "The Catalyst," the song was, bizarrely, never played in full during the evening. The only reference to it came through "The Requiem," which shares some of the same lyrics and was played as the band's entrance music.
Instead, Linkin Park started out blazing with a string of throbbing, rap-heavy hits that featured the dynamic Shinoda. With a longer, glossy hair-do and dark sunglasses, he looked less like a b-boy and more like Prince. Still, Shinoda is a commanding rhymer whose aggressive but controlled delivery can light up a yawning venue. His star power only shines brighter as he switches between his vocals, guitar-playing, and synth work, often on the same song.
After about the first third of the show, though, Shinoda largely receded from the spotlight as the band launched into a chunk of material from A Thousand Suns and vocalist Bennington controlled the proceedings.
Here is where the set took a turn for the somber, beginning with the atmospheric electronic coda of "Empty Spaces" and dramatically heightened by the moody, galactic slab of trip-hop that is "Waiting for the End." Even the older, frenetic "Breaking the Habit" was introduced by a bit of maudlin piano, though Bennington finished it strong by going a cappella and reminding everyone of his vocal chops.
Toward the end of the show, though, things picked up again with a slate of chart hits -- "Crawling" and "In the End" among them -- and a close-out with the explosive rap-rock anthem "Bleed It Out." Though fans had respectfully listened and sung along to the subtler songs, it was during these ragers that the mood became electric.
Wherever you happen to fall on the new vs. old Linkin Park divide, however, there's no denying the band's generosity. A series of videos played on screen before the set outlined the band's charity work through Music For Relief: scads of money to southeast Asia after the 2005 tsunami and to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and a million trees planted throughout the Thousand Suns tour, ostensibly to offset its carbon footprint. And for the fans, there was a special SMS code to send that would generate a unique link to download audio of the evening's show.
Linkin Park has also been creative in selecting supporting acts (particularly on its past Projekt Revolution tours). Thursday night's openers further signaled the band's desire to bridge the rock-electronic divide.
Reading, England, dance-punk quintet Does It Offend You, Yeah? took the stage with little fanfare and a modest setup, but won the crowd over by the end of its brief set thanks to the force of its hefty electro hooks. Skipping its relatively subtler, vocal-driven material in favor of ear-splitting, four-to-the-floor stompers, the band showed that it has outgrown hipster dance floors and grown arena-size. Even the several-year-old club stormer "We Are Rockstars" sounded fresh again.
Meanwhile Pendulum, originally from Perth, Australia, made one of the better cases of recent years for another major mainstream dance/rock crossover, a la the Prodigy. Like those English greats, this six-piece marries dance beats with rock attitudes and textures (and the beginning of Pendulum's "The Vulture" sure seems indebted to "Smack My Bitch Up").
The main difference, though, is that even if Pendulum has publicly downplayed the connection, the band mostly skips house and big beat-type styles in favor of metallic drum 'n' bass. As evidenced by mass crowd singalongs to songs like "Witchcraft" and an unusual cover of Metallica's "Master of Puppets," the group has accomplished what Roni Size and company never could. It has created songs from the genre that would fit seamlessly into commercial radio. It just took removing all of drum 'n' bass' old Caribbean and hip-hop inflections, and then kitting it out in a platform-booted, active-rock image, to do so.
"Wretches and Kings"
"When They Come For Me"
"No More Sorrow"
"Jornada del Muerto"
"Waiting for the End"
"Wisdom Justice and Love"
"Breaking the Habit"
"Shadow of the Day"
"One Step Closer"
"In the End"
"What I've Done"
"Bleed It Out"