Music Reviews

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Staples Center, Los Angeles
Tuesday, March 4

Linkin Park might have proved why it is at the top of the arena rock game in its sold-out Los Angeles homecoming Tuesday night, but the band also demonstrated why it still isn't at the top of its own game.

Having exploded onto the modern rock scene at the turn of the millennium with such teen-angst-driven rap-rock hits as "One Step Closer," and "Papercut," Linkin Park favored a decidedly more mature approach on its third and latest studio effort, "Minutes to Midnight." The stylistic swing took center stage Tuesday at Staples Center, where despite a rabid fan response, its 18-song set suffered at the hands of at-times stalled pacing.

Make no mistake, Linkin Park has earned its spot at the top of the modern rock mountain, and its latest album is a profound example of why and how, transforming the band into a well-oiled, music-first machine no longer willing to sacrifice the song for the sake of a simplified break-beat and sing-along chorus. The problem is: Sometimes it's that simplicity that rules on the live front.

From a musical perspective, a midset trio of ballads from the latest release formed the focal point of the set: "The Little Things Give You Away" delivered a lush soundscape in the spirit of Coldplay, backlit by videos of hurricane-ravaged New Orleans; "Shadow of the Day" tore a page from U2's "With or Without You"; and "Valentine's Day" brought Chester Bennington to a riser behind the drum kit, where he sang to the fans seated behind the vast open stage.

The ballads should have provided a much-needed pause from the unbridled energy in Linkin Park's more incendiary hits but instead delivered a lulling calm. When "Valentine's Day" gave way to "Crawling," the verses lacked the muscle needed to elevate the crowd, transforming what should have been raucous screams of the chorus ("I've felt this way before, so insecure") into little more than a loud chant. To the band's credit, it blew early hit "In the End" out of the water, tearing it from its rap-rock confines and delivering a memorable arena rock anthem.

"Bleed It Out" ended the main set with guitarist Brad Delson squibbing tight riffs over the rapid-fire vocals of Bennington and Mike Shinoda, and a Rob Bourdon drum solo broke the frenetic pace for long enough to end the small mosh pit or two on the general admission floor. Like the music, the mosh pits were far from dangerous. But at this level it's not about danger, it's about feeling good and offering a release, and Linkin Park delivered capably on both accounts.

The 90-minute set would have fared better with more energetic peaks to match the band's vision and bravado, but Linkin Park has chosen its musical path, and a transformation is under way, trimming the muscle from its delivery and stretching out songs with a heavy alternative slant that not only allows the band to grow but its audience to grow with them. The results lend themselves magnificently to the band's present and future; it's a just a question of finding that balance within the fires that flamed their past.

Coheed and Cambria was tight and dynamic in the support slot, its 50-minute set offering more progressive rock crunch and arena-ready polish than the metallic fury of its early recordings might indicate. Lead singer-guitarist Claudio Sanchez bore a nod to Triumph's Rik Emmett, albeit with a more grisly presence, his five-piece band (with two female backing vocalists) churning through retro-fueled art metal that bled with the influence of Rush and Tool.

Opener Chiodos was similarly memorable, its rough-around-the-edges fusion of My Chemical Romance-styled modern rock churning infectiously within progressive metal keyboard trappings and guitar riffs.
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