Great name for a package tour: CARNIVORES. I was excited to see 30 Seconds to Mars again. Erica and I witnessed an excellent show at the Greek in LA back in 2011. At that particular show the group performed the majority of THIS IS WAR, the bitchin’ and hard hitting new album at that time. Much to my disappointment this particular tour was not a true co-headlining situation. AFI would be allotted 40 minutes as the first opener while Mars was given 60 minutes. Linkin Park would close the show with an 80-90 minute set, thus ending the concert right at 11pm. Regardless of set times, it was still great value for the ticket price: three big name international touring acts with storied histories would share the same stage, you don’t see that every day. Ticket prices were very reasonable, starting as low as $40 for the lawn ‘seats’ and as much as $120 for the GA pit area.
I chatted with one of the staff for a bit before taking my seat. I found out that most of the reserved seats had been sold along with a handful of lawn tickets, amounting to 10,000 attendees, an impressive number but it was only half the house. The amphitheater can hold 20,000, the lawn area alone is able to accommodate 50% of the patrons. Of interesting note was that 12 of the last 16 shows at Sleep Train have been country acts, and most of those shows were sell-outs. I can only speculate that economics play a big factor in concert attendance. Most country fans are older and have more discretionary income, and they’re more likely to buy physical CDs. I redeemed a voucher from Live Nation and was able to get a reduced price on my ticket. I was only a mere 3 rows behind the pit area with a great view of the stage.
The sun was still out and fans continued to trickle in when AFI took the stage, beginning with “The Leaving Song Pt. II” then immediately crashing into one of their signature anthems, “Girl’s Not Grey.” The pit was only half full at this point but the crowd was getting into it. I was familiar with these guys but had never given them a proper attention. I knew only a handful of their songs but had never seen any live footage. I also knew their singer, Davey Havok, was loved and adored by obsessive fans, male and female alike, but I wasn’t sure why. 40 Minutes later I was FLOORED. I finally get it. I now understand the fuss about vocalist Davey Havok. Wow…I think of that scene in Almost Famous when Jason Lee’s character, Jeff Bebe, is telling the rest of the group about his worth and role as lead singer, he says something like “you know what I do…I CONNECT. I look for the guy who isn’t getting off and I MAKE HIM GET OFF.” That’s exactly what Davey Havok did to me, figureatively J. Havok had this energy and charisma. He was electric. It’s like he took lessons from Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Morrissey and Bono. I couldn’t stop watching this guy. Jared Leto and Chester Bennington should be taking lessons from Havok! He was the king of rock poses, going from one iconic stance into another, or jumping from various pieces of equipment. And then there was the CONNECTION with the fans. At one point he ventured out onto the catwalk and kneeled on one of the monitors. He grabbed a fan’s hand and held on as he continued to sing. The fan bowed his head, as if he was receiving communion…it was surreal watching that. During “I Hope You Suffer,” Havok jumped down into the pit and ran directly toward the rear, right up against the barrier where this younger kid was standing. Havok looked like he was charging him, instead he stopped just inches away from his face and screamed “IIIIIII HOOOOOPE YOOUUUU SUUUFEERRRRRR!!!! into the mic as the fan watched, bug eyed, in disbelief. The onlookers gasped and we smiled and cheered in wonder and awe. HO-LY CRAP. There was no stage banter from Havok, no chit-chatting. The only words he said that night were “Good evening Sacramento, we are AFI” after their third or fourth number. Havok let his performance do the talking. The group was excellent. The music is a combo of dark wave, goth sounds of early Depeche Mode, The Cure and Joy Division, with a touch of Taking Back Sunday to give them that emotional, aggressive edge. And there was something about AFI that reminded me of The Smiths. It had to be Havok’s charm onstage. The vocals were excellent and Havok proved to be a true performer, not merely just a singer. The name of the group is very fitting: A Fire Inside. They were…incendiary – a line also taken from Almost Famous, haha. Passionate and emotional, yet brooding and visceral. The songs flew by with power and conviction, nevermind they were merely just the opening band. They hit us with one anthem after another, “17 Crimes,” “Days of The Phoenix,” “Silver and Cold,” and the rocking and ridiculously catchy “Miss Murder” completed the set, ending with a drop of the microphone and the group unceremoniously and quickly exiting the stage. WOW…
The venue continued to fill up as 30 Seconds to Mars took the stage to welcoming applause. Darkness had finally come and the group was able to take advantage by employing their full lazer, video and lighting rigs. A trio of anthems opened the show and got the audience pumped. “Up In the Air,” “Search and Destroy” and “This is War” effectively started the show. It was truly a modern rock show, with the performances going over very well. Much like the 2011 show, Jared Leto missed a few vocal cues while he traversed the stage or jumped up and down while playing guitar. It’s like he became distracted, saw a squirrel or something. The sludgy “Conquistador” continued the set and the crowd continued to joyously rock out. It was a high energy set and heavy with newer material. Much like the previous show I saw in 2011, front man Jared Leto directed the crowd in sing alongs and jumping contests, humorously singling out and poking fun at a few fans in particular, including the big guy with the stache and the wife that looked too pretty to be his and the guy on the lawn with the beer bong. “Kings and Queens” came next, with a brief a capella sing along with the crowd. Then the new single “Do Or Die” was performed with a patriotic spin to it. Leto gave thanks to the men and women in uniform and carried the stars and stripes while onstage. At song’s end Jared hopped down into the crowd and ran up into the loge section, singing the outro of the song a capella as we all looked on mesmerized. “City of Angels” and “End of All Days” closed out the main set leading to a brief acoustic version of “The Kill,” which was the only track played off of the immortal “A Beautiful Lie” album. “Bright Lights” and “Closer to the Edge” ended the set. The group included surprise jams before “Closer to the Edge.” The group tore into the first few bars of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and “Sad But True,” I guess they’re on a Black Album kick (you guys couldn’t do any Justice songs, huh?). It was thrilling to see this group live again and it was cool to hear the new songs in this setting. The performance was very good and Leto did an excellent job of captivating the audience. During their set Leto asked “with a show of hands who has seen 30 Seconds to Mars in concert before?” Around 50% of the house raised their hands. Leto then joking said “Ok, the rest of you guys, what the fuck took you so long?” My main criticism concerns their set time. Some media outlets described this tour as a co-headlining venture, alluding to equal set times for Mars and Linkin Park. This was not the case and Mars performed only 11 or so songs, more than half of which were off the new album. The new record had not grabbed my attention like This Is War had in 2010/2011. But the live songs made me take notice and now I was considering buying the new album: Love, Lust, Faith & Dreams. So unfortunately there was little room for other signature, classic tracks. I was bummed that I wouldn’t be able to croon along to the soulful “Alibi,” that I wouldn’t be able to triumphantly scream along to the chorus of “From Yesterday” or joyously shout along to “Attack” or “A Beautiful Lie.” But consolation and the absolute shocker of the night came right at the end when Leto said that the group would be signing autographs for anyone buying the new album, he said “we’ll be at the merch table at the main entrance, come down and say hi to us, we’d love to see you.” I seriously forgot to breathe. As the group exited the stage I ran off to find the line.
I’ve never seen this before at a venue, but after doing some research it appears that it’s a new trend. In what some might call a greedy move, or a genius move, depending on your point of view…the artist offers an autograph signing with the purchase of their latest CD release. I thought it was a great move. The fans get rare access to their beloved group and the artist gets direct compensation for their recorded work. There had to be around 1000 people standing in line ready to meet the group. Logistically this arrangement seemed like a nightmare. Seriously, how were we guaranteed an opportunity to see the band with only a couple hours left before show curfew? One fan dryly said “damn, by the time we get to see the group Linkin Park will be finished playing!” Fortunately a protocol was put in place that quickly moved things along: Buy the CD at the main merch table and receive a pink wrist band, then get in a separate line to meet the group. By the time I actually made the purchase the line of 1000 people had dwindled down considerably. In no time I was quickly ushered over by handlers (practically pushed over) to the artist’s table and stared wide eyed as I came within inches of Shannon Leto. I was seriously star struck. Holy crap…I was close enough to touch Shannon, Tomo and Jared. I quickly snapped out of it and said “Guys, you played a great set, cool seeing you live again.” Shannon looked kind of bemused by the whole scene, but said thanks and Tomo smiled broadly and said “thank you, man.” Tomo appeared genuinely appreciative, his smile melting away the “famous rock star” image, revealing the warm, personable musician underneath. They both signed my CD booklet and I then moved down to Jared Leto. Again…I could not get the words out of my mouth as he smiled broadly, his eyes practically twinkling. All I could manage was a smile in return and a boring and generic “great set.” I should have told him that he was lucky my wife couldn’t make it to the show, she’d probably try to jump across the table and pounce on him, then get hauled off by security lol. It was surreal having access to these guys. They seemed out of their comfort zone. But kudos to the group for trying this out, for offering a unique spin on the usual product – a chance to meet the people who created the product, face to face, if even for a brief moment. This baby is going up on my wall.
Linkin Park had just wrapped up “Guilty All the Same” as I made my way back to my seat. I was still coming down from my high from meeting 30 Seconds. I was a FAN of that group after all and merely a casual listener of Linkin Park. But as LP’s set continued I quickly saw why everyone was going apeshit. LP killed it. This concert turned into a true Linkin Park gig. The crowd went nuts, the pit was finally packed to the gills and everyone down in it turned rabid. Two mosh pits erupted until Mike Shinoda gave the order for the crowd to make the pits one. The crowd response to 30 Seconds’ set was impressive, but the response LP received was freakin’ deafening and made my jaw drop. LP has a wealth of material, and the casual listener would easily recognize most of the set that was performed that night. The group made the most of their brief set time by shortening some of their songs, playing interpolations, selected instrumental sections, and mashups. Heavy hitting rockers like “Points of Authority,” “One Step Closer” and “Runaway” set the tone well and got the crowd energized. What hit me hard especially was Chester Bennington’s tender rendition of “Leave Out All the Rest” with just vocals and keyboards which lead into a section of the anthemic “Shadow of the Day,” ultimately ending the string of ballads with “Iridescent.” The cool, ethereal keyboard intro to “Robot Boy” came next, the group opting to do an abridged, instrumental version of the song only, followed by a solo by Joe Hahn. Then another “hell ya!” moment came with the intro to “Burn It Down.” A sweet “Waiting For the End” continued the vibe later on in the set. Damn I love that song, it’s like lover’s rock, that mellow groove, sensual sounding reggae that makes couples swoon. Chester Bennington is an amazing vocalist. Often underestimated and overlooked, his vocal execution that night was phenomenal. He easily transitioned from soft and tender crooning to out-right screaming. I have no idea how he preserves those vocal chords – that style of singing is tough on the body, but he gave it his all that night and he impressed the hell out of me. And there were no screw ups either. He never missed a cue, didn’t go flat or sharp and he recreated that powerful, raspy scream perfectly. It was also very cool to see the vocal interplay between Bennington and Mike Shinoda, who would often augment Bennington’s singing with his own style of rhymes. Another noteworthy part of the show were the close-ups on Shinoda ‘s and Hahn’s work on the pads, turn tables, keyboards and midi controllers. You could see them lay down their parts, all the beats, samples and scratches. These guys were great performers and the songs ain’t bad. Sure LP gets heat for being a “Nu-Metal” band (purists still think it’s sacrilege to add samples, hip-hop and keyboards to hard rock) but they actually make decent, hook laden music. And the keyboard hooks…wow, It’s like LP took a page from the Depeche Mode recipe book. Shinoda has this ability to write simple but memorable hooks on the keyboard that make makes you sing the melody out loud or even play air-keyboard. The intros to “Burn it Down Again,” “In the End,” even my favorite LP track of all time, “My December,” all have these simple but magical keyboard melodies. Props to the band for continuing to be a melting pot of sound and for teaming up with AFI and 30 Seconds to Mars for this tour. It was truly money and time well spent. Support live music and buy a t-shirt. I hate the idea that some people would rather sit comfortably at home and watch the scripted lives of others on television (so-called reality TV). Live music is an experience. People make music, and it’s thrilling seeing these people, these artists recreate it live, in the moment, onstage…especially if it’s difficult music to play. There’s something compelling about seeing a performer playing at the peak of their ability, pulling this stuff off on a regular basis. It’s also a bonding opportunity: witnessing and experiencing something like live performance with a loved one or friend is an experience in itself. And most importantly, buying a ticket and official merchandise supports the artist, many of which see very little income from actual recordings.