Photographs by Sean Chin.
Walking into a Thirty Seconds to Mars show, you kind of know what to expect: Jared Leto. That in itself is pretty self explanatory – the actor/musician dedicating a lot of his time and heart into the alternative rock band.
As a performer, Leto’s unsurprisingly a commanding presence on stage and carries the weight of the band (a trio on record, a four-piece when playing live.) That’s not to say drummer and older brother Shannon Leto, guitarist Tomo Milicevic, and touring bassist Stephen Aiello aren’t proficient – just that if there’s a spotlight, it’s inevitably on Jared. He knows it, too, taking to the stage waving a flag and dressed in a white overcoat, aviators, and a crown.
Garish? Absolutely. A little bit like a hippie Jesus? No doubt. Does it work? Well, that depends. I’d be hard-pressed to imagine that Leto could take himself seriously in that getup, but given his commitment to his roles (see: his Oscar-winning turn as a transgender woman in last year’s Dallas Buyers Club) he probably takes it all pretty straight-faced. And that’s actually a point of contention for me because – while I can appreciate a frontman wanting to energize his crowd – much of his stage banter and calls to action came off rather egomaniacal. It’s one thing to want your audience to participate; it’s another to force fun on them.
But that seemed to be the theme of the Thirty Seconds to Mars performance. Leto and company would start a song; stop it prematurely; ask the crowd to participate; continue to ask the crowd to participate; then finish said song. It was a lot of stop-and-repeat, and a lot of their songs ended up clocking in much longer than one might expect.
The standard stage banter was there (Leto at one point asking: “Do you believe in us Canada? Because we believe in you?” … I’m not sure if he meant they believe we exist as a country or what, but thank you Jared Leto nevertheless,) as were the requisite calls for hands in the air, jumping in the crowd, getting up on someone’s shoulders, and standing up out of your chair.
That’s where things got a little awkward though, with Leto calling out specific audience members for their less-than enthusiasm. He seemed particularly hard-done by one young man wearing a Billy Talent shirt in the front row – probably at the Air Canada Centre to see headliners Linkin Park. While I understand how it can be hard to play to someone seems apathetic to your efforts, demanding a specific response from them seems far too rigid. Maybe the problem isn’t them or their attitude; maybe the responsibility lies in the performer to put on a show worth getting excited about.
While much of the crowd seemed to enjoy the gimmicks of colourful, oversized balloons floating around the venue for “This Is War”, an accompanying wall of confetti, pulling fans up on stage, and Leto actually running around the arena during “Kings and Queens” (from 2009’s This Is War) to excite us schlubs in the seats – musically, I was underwhelmed.
The vocals were decent but the timing was off. Leto can hit the notes – and again, he pulls off the frontman shtick convincingly – but the band itself seems disjointed and unharmonious. It’s more a mish-mashing of musicians than a solid front, like everyone’s playing to match Leto, rather than them all coming together to pull off something cohesive.
Maybe I’m just old though. A lot of people seem to prescribe to the Jared Leto school of instructional fun. But while he was waving around a Canadian flag mid-way through the set and talking about sitting in a Toronto park, eating organic food… it felt comical and gimmicky.
That said, I’ll issue credit where credit is due – and that came in Leto’s sprint to the soundboard, where he performed three songs acoustically from the back of the venue. It was a nice, near-endearing moment to see him perform “From Yesterday”, “Alibi”, and their breakthrough hit “The Kill (Bury Me)” in such a manner. Yeah, he still treated it like he was Moses parting the Red Sea, but it was the most humanized moment of the night.
So make no mistake – Leto panders well. He’s got the attitude of a rockstar, and it’s evident he’s got fans that firmly believe in what Thirty Seconds to Mars is doing. I’m not converted (sorry) but I can see and appreciate the appeal. I’m not going to be drinking their kool-aid anytime soon though, so here’s to hoping I’m never in a situation where Leto calls me out on it during a show.