Linkin Park has long since fashioned itself as a jack-of-all-trades kind of band, hailing from the “hybrid theory” of rap-rock, directing animated music videos, producing artsy movies, designing their band artwork, participating (like many bands) in a baffling number of side-projects, promoting bizarre online/cell phone games based on their albums, apparently really liking The Transformers–even before their relationship with Michael Bay, check out the cover art for Reanimations–and partnering with rappers, rockers, electronic music-ers like they’re all going out of style.
And maybe they are; I’ve been a Linkin Park stalwart since 2004, and ten years down the line I love them even more than I did then (I was thirteen; I’d just discovered music, period, so LP was a Big Landmark), but I’m also reasonably certain Linkin Park hasn’t been cool since about 2004. Nevertheless, the variation and evolution of her discography from the intervening decade is what I love about them. Minutes to Midnight (2007) supplies your soft tracks when you need them, and then occasionally rocks you with tracks like “Bleed It Out,” which have fantastic energy and idiotic lyrics. A Thousand Suns (2010) is an ambitious concept album that blends the Cold War era, Kennedy’s administration, and nuclear warfare with ambiguously present-day lyrics–my personal favorite. Living Things (2012) gets more electric, though I don’t have the musical vocabulary to say anything more than I liked it, and that I can testify that it is the best LP album to go running to. By now there’s a Linkin Park song for every occasion, and in my daily life I’m full willing to take advantage of that!
But how do you throw that all into one concert and keep the performance a cohesive, intelligent thing? Their latest series of American shows, titled the Carnivores Tour and also starring AFI and 30 Seconds to Mars, somehow manages to cram in a decade’s worth of very different music all into the same two hours, and the scattershot is actually sort of brilliant: It’s Linkin Park doing what Linkin Park does best.
I saw their show in San Diego in 2011, promoting A Thousand Suns. Because the album had such a strong unifying concept, their performance was very much themed around the horror (sick realization) and terror (sick anticipation) of nuclear warfare and atomic weaponry, with historical footage and voice-over bridging one song into the next. It remains the best concert I’ve ever been to–which isn’t to say that I’ve been to many, but it was smart, it was haunting; and it was somehow, still a whole lot of fun.
Come 2014 and The Hunting Party, LP’s new show steps to a whole different orientation. Mike Shinoda, the band’s resident “hybrid” (hapa) and one of its chief creative voices, stated in an interview that the album was a move to take back rock, so to speak. To go against the grain of contemporary pop rock and hipster folk rock and electro-rock and blow it out in a harder, more old-school direction, which some have taken to mean “we’re doing the Hybrid Theory and Meteora thing again because that’s what y’all still like.”
That’s not what it means.
In an earlier commentary on The Hunting Party, I noted that while the album had that raw explosivity of LP’s first albums, it’s hugely important to also recognize that, as Shinoda also states, back then they were angry twenty-something young adults, and now the band is angry… thirtysomething adult adults. There’s a political consciousness to A Thousand Suns (that’s thankfully still focused on being Music, not propaganda) they can’t back down from. They’ve founded Music For Relief, a musician-based charity organization dedicated to fundraising to assist in the aftermaths of international disasters like the earthquake in Haiti, the Touhoku earthquake/tsunami/nuclear explosion, and Typhoon Haiyan. One of the stand-out tracks on The Hunting Party is titled “Rebellion,” and features Daron Malakian of System of a Down:
I can’t resolve this empty story
I can’t repair the damage done
We are the fortunate ones
Who’ve never faced oppression’s gun
We are the fortunate ones
Imitations of rebellion
There’s a recognition of privilege, limitation, and grace of luck here that I think goes forever unrecognized by a lot of angry twentysomethings, even when they become angry thirtysomethings. (And this is a privilege they recognize, even from a position of intense, intimate familial association with these oppressions. Shinoda’s Japanese American grandparents were interned at Manzanar during World War II, and System of a Down is vocally involved in recognizing and speaking out against the Armenian genocide. Joe Hahn of Linkin Park is Korean American–Japanese imperialism and their violent occupation of Korea is not something most Korean families are able or willing to ease from their personal histories.) This self-awareness isn’t new to rock by any means, or unique to Linkin Park, but it distinguishes beyond a doubt The Hunting Party from any sort of “regression” of consciousness, back to something loud, angry and young. This is different.
At their show in Detroit (er, nearish to Detroit) this past August, Linkin Park opened their set with four of their loudest songs, both from The Hunting Party and earlier, rapid-fire, without stopping for breath, or even to distinguish the tracks. They played medleys; they remixed. They included almost every single song they’ve ever written, whether as an instrumental bridge between two separate songs or as a mash-up across albums.
What the concert was meant to showcase was Linkin Park’s evolutionary revolution, their ability to stretch old music into something completely new: They played a lot of their oldest music, but in stylizations completely different than the studio tracks. They combined it with music from Fort Minor (one of Shinoda’s rapping side projects), with a rendition of their hit, “Numb” that was actually a remix of their “Numb/Encore” remix with Jay-Z, from back in the day. They freestyled entire instrumental sections that didn’t come from any album at all, including a physically grueling and undeniably epic percussion performance by drummer Rob Bourdon that honored, well, the physically grueling and undeniably epic percussion performances made famous by the rockers of the 60s and 70s. Remix, revolution, reinvention: Linkin Park owned all of that in this concert.
And us? We scream-sang out hearts out. We realized we knew more lyrics than we thought we did, and more than most of the people around us. We had a grand old time. Plain and simple, we (rap-)rocked out. This was the concert where Linkin Park took the stage and shouted, Hey, we’re Linkin Park. This is our music. This is what we are. And we can remix this, and work this, and do anything we fucking want with this, and it’s still undeniably, indomitably us.
When they sounded the last chord of their finale, the thunderstorm that had been threatening all evening dropped. We’re talking thunder, lightning, buckets and buckets of warm late summer rain, and extremely dubious lake-like puddles in the venue parking lot levels of thunderstorm. Clearly, Michigan was down with this pronouncement.
Lead on, Linkin Park. Lead on.
I give you what you came for / This is not the same though / Got a different method but / I still can bring the pain so! – Mike Shinoda, “Keys to the Kingdom,” opening track on The Hunting Party
Photo Credits: 1. Linkin Park in San Diego, CA (February 2011) and 2. Linkin Park in Clarkston, MI (August 2014), by me. 3. A thunderous finale in Clarkston, MI (August 2014), by Megan Ouyang.