Photographs by Sean Chin.
If you had asked me in grade six if I would expect to see Linkin Park play a hockey arena some 13 years later, I think I would have been skeptical about it even back then. I was 11 when the California alt-rock outfit released their Hybrid Theory debut. It was definitely different than what other people were listening to – though I certainly wasn’t the only kid in Ms. Johnson’s class to know all the words to “In the End” or “Crawling” – and a far cry from my days of adoring the Backstreet Boys. But even though I was a fan, they were always a band that struck me as a novelty.
Pass it off to the rather tepidly received category of “rap rock” (a genre forever tarnished by Limp Bizkit in my books,) but even adolescent me had a hard time foreseeing any staying power in Linkin Park. By the time Meteora rolled in three years later, I had admittedly already checked out.
This is where the “and yet” comes in. Because even though I stopped paying attention, it seemed the band was continuing to develop, grow, and incorporate interesting elements into their musical output. Heck, they even pulled off a well-received collaboration with Jay-Z on their 2004 Collision Course EP. A string of singles like 2007’s “Shadow of the Day”, “New Divide”, and “Waiting for the End” continued to proliferate radio stations – and the thing with Linkin Park (and probably part of the reason for their staying power) is: no matter what new electronic elements or melodic ballads or metal riffs they’re throwing at their listeners, it’s easily identifiable as a Linkin Park song.
So I found myself at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday night, seeing Linkin Park play to more than 13,000 people a selection of songs from a rather extensive – and surprisingly familiar – discography. Topping an impressive three-band bill on the “Carnivores” tour, the six-piece balanced new material from 2014’s The Hunting Party with fan favourites for their 26-song setlist.
As could be expected, vocalist Chester Bennington was the man to watch – commanding the stage with an enviable set of lungs that seemed to easily transition between both melodic harmonies and harsher yells, shining on songs like Minutes to Midnight (2008) single “Given Up” and debut single “One Step Closer”. Bennington’s counterpoint, Mike Shinoda, provided the rap elements of the night.
Let’s admit it straight up: Shinoda doesn’t have a fantastic solo singing vocal. This was evident on his contributions to “Rebellion” – a new song from The Hunting Party that plays instrumentally like a call to arms and a march into battle. His strength instead lies in his rapping (shock!) and when paired to Bennington.
Electronic interludes also coloured the set, with Shinoda and turntable player Joe Hahn each winning the crowd over – Hahn at one point turning the ACC into an industrial-like rave with a solo behind the decks.
As the electronic elements highlighted, they’re also a band (rounded out by guitarist Brad Delson, drummer Rob Bourdon, and bassist Dave Farrell) that seems inherently comfortable in taking risks and exploring new territory. If there was one takeaway from the show, it’s the fact that Linkin Park has a ton of variation – and that kept things exciting.
On “Wastelands”, another from The Hunting Party, they gave the crowd an interesting tempo shift with the gradual slowing of the instrumentals underneath Shinoda’s vocals. Another change came with the shift from Living Things’ (2012) “Castle of Glass” to Minutes to Midnight’s “Leave Out All the Rest” – the latter a piano and vocal ballad that could easily find a home in One Republic’s discography. “Waiting for the End” was another gorgeous moment, too – a deceptively pretty song that offers up surprisingly sweet harmonies and melodies.
But even with an impressive showing of material from across their albums, Hybrid Theory breakout single “In the End” still seems to be the band’s crowning glory, inspiring a massive sing along across the crowd in the pit and the people in the nosebleeds. And in case you were wondering: yes, it still holds up.
Linkin Park finished it up with “Faint” – a song I had completely forgotten about but remembered as soon as those electronics kicked in. Loud cheers followed them off the stage and they returned for a five-song encore, including the abbreviated Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen soundtrack single “New Divide”, “Crawling” (complete with a minimalist start which placed focus firmly on Bennington,) and set closer “Bleed It Out”, a 2007 single off of Minutes to Midnight that saw Delson throw down an extensive drum solo, much to the delight of the crowd below.
So say what you will about Linkin Park, 11-year-old me. It might still come off as a bit of a novelty, but some 13 years later – they’re still putting on some surprisingly impressive and entertaining shows. Imagine that.