News Column

Despite headliner Linkin Park, Jared Leto dominates

August 22, 2014

By Jeff Miers, The Buffalo News, N.Y.



Aug. 22--Jared Leto wants you to love him.

He made that fact plain throughout 30 Seconds to Mars' set at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center on Thursday. He stopped songs in progress to make sure the crowd was with him. He wasted no opportunity to engage the assembled in a singalong. He brought the entire front row onto the stage during the band's encore take on Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love." And he ran into the crowd at several points, even going so far as to climb the pole that led to the spotlight operator's "Crow's Nest" to sing to the crowd from an elevated perch..

Leto certainly went to every extreme to earn the devotion of the assembled. Of course, he'd already earned it well before the downbeat of Thursday's show. Winning an Oscar for his work in the film "Dallas Buyer's Club" certainly didn't hurt the guy. 30 Seconds to Mars was a middling alt-rock band before Leto's explosion into the mainstream. Though he is an absolutely stellar entertainer and an engaging front man, the band remains as much today, Oscar notwithstanding.

The ascension of Leto into the superstar arena was probably a bit of a bitter pill for Linkin Park to swallow. After all, at the time that the "Carnivores Tour" was announced, Linkin Park was clearly the headline attraction. But things changed. Leto became a superstar, and Linkin Park remained what it was -- a reminder of that brief few years in the late '90s when rap and metal commingled to form "nu-metal."

How much you loved -- or didn't love -- that particular wrinkle of hard rock defined your take on Thursday's show, or at least Linkin Park's part of that show.

Along with Korn, Linkin Park serves as the finest living reminder of the nu-metal idiom. Rap and emo-tinged metal meet and party together in the band's sound, and leader Chester Bennington moves with ease between a mildly nasal tendency toward pop melodies and a deep, throaty, hardcore-reminiscent scream.

Over and over and over again.

Meanwhile, co-vocalist Mike Shinoda does his Beastie Boys best to bring hip-hop into the mix. Sometimes it worked Thursday. Sometimes, it sounded like Linkin Park was a few different bands performing a real-time mash-up. That might be the point, but from a purely musical standpoint, it often felt forced, sounded strange in a not-so-good way, and made the band come across as a reminder of a time that perhaps might be better forgotten.

Having said that, it should be noted that Linkin Park is an incredibly tight band, one able to generate excitement, fully engage a large crowd, and deliver a muscular form of energy. When the group took the stage with "Guilty All the Same," the place simply exploded, suggesting that the idea that 30 Seconds to Mars fans had hijacked the gig was at least slightly hyperbolic. "With You," "Final Masquerade," "Blackout" -- these were all performed flawlessly, and were greeted with rapturous engagement by the crowd.

It was all about Jared Leto, though. Let's face it.

Looking a bit like a cross between a guy playing Jesus in a musical and a member of the Polyphonic Spree, Leto spent his band's entire set working the crowd.

Whether demanding that they jump in time to "Up in the Air," arriving on stage waving a white flag in a nod to Bono circa U2's "War" tour, or pulling a pair of pre-teen boys onto the satellite stage located at the mid-point of the arena, Leto stroked the crowd as if he was desperately trying to land a great role in a lucrative film. Based on the reaction of the close to sold-out house, he got the gig.

Musically speaking, 30 Seconds to Mars is nothing special. Like an immensely dumbed-down version of U2, or a less classy take on Coldplay, the band's songs favor massive sing-along choruses, less than challenging chord progressions, and overly earnest lyrics. It's not great art. But thanks to Leto's ceaseless efforts, it sure is great entertainment.

email: jmiers@buffnews.com

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