By MARK GUARINO | Chicago Sun-Times
Last Modified: Jan 28, 2011 02:37AM
Like a piece of fruit that was tossed into the corner of a basement and left for a few years, rap-rock has not grown better with time. The moldy musical hybrid from 10 years ago used hip-hop beats and attitude to lend authenticity to the one-dimensional temper tantrums of entitled suburban mall punks.
Which makes Linkin Park a kind of Rumpelstiltskin of the era, having filled the United Center on Wednesday in a time the majority of its former peers (Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach) are filling gas tanks for tips.
The catalysts for Linkin Park’s renewed relevancy are aggressive fan outreach (the band stages meet-and-greets with fans and offers a free download of each show) and a reconfigured sound tailored after Coldplay and U2 and even minimalists Sigur Ros and Radiohead. The latter is something the band does very easily, the former less so.
The difficulty of transcending rap-rock is that it was so self-conscious, humorless and lacking in new lyrical ideas other than complaints. When Linkin Park played songs from that era, the difference between then and now was glaring. Songs like “Numb” and “From the Inside” followed a single pattern exactly: a single heavy guitar riff, a pause, a cresting chorus handled by lead singer-screamer Chester Benningham. Rinse, repeat.
The six-member band spread itself across a triangle-shaped playing space rigged with short platforms. Benningham thrashed himself around the stage to translate the angst of each song while vocal partner Mike Shinoda interjected vocal lines. Their collaboration delivered contrast, which was in short demand. Not one song from that era strayed from adolescent whining, which by now is not exactly a comfortable fit performed by men in their mid-30s.
Songs from 2010’s “A Thousand Sun” were an attempt to transition the band to a more mature sound and thematic credibility. At first you knew matters were getting serious when the video screens were filled with that old stand-by: the mushroom cloud. Archival video clips of J. Robert Oppenheimer and Free Speech Movement activist Mario Savio also were borrowed to set the mood.
Keyboard-heavy songs like “Blackout” and “The Catalyst” redirected the band into more sophisticated song structures, which, due to the extra percussion and keyboards, gave each member more to do.
The evolution gave the band renewed purpose, but the new direction also made it obvious that some personnel cuts were needed, particularly Joe Hahn, the band’s “turntablist,” who was responsible for dropping in samples. Clownishly dressed in a ski mask, Hahn looked like a relic from an era to which time has not been kind.
Linkin Park’s transition from rap-rock to uplifting art-rock could happen, but not so fast. That’s because its references are front and center and not fully integrated. On no other song was that more evident Wednesday than “Shadow of the Day,” a duplication of U2’s “With or Without You” in its vocal melody, guitar pattern, bass line and song structure. Strip out the lyrics put in Bono’s own and you have the most expensive karaoke machine on Earth.