My Chemical Romance have one of the best modern rock albums this side of the millennium in “The Black Parade,” breakthrough singles at Top 40 radio, and a stage show and delivery to match every bit of their burgeoning fame and fortune. And they were firing on all cylinders at the Hyundai Pavilion at Glen Helen in Devore, CA, unleashing a performance that could have headlined the already eight-hour Projekt Revolution and left fans feeling satisfied.
The only catch was, they weren't the headliners. And as good as My Chemical Romance were, Linkin Park were better. Not an easy feat, but one that demonstrated just how far the tour's founders, headliners and namesakes (Linkin Park Presents: Projekt Revolution) have come in three studio albums that have--for better or for worse--shaped the face of hard rock in the 21st century.
Hailed as one of the preeminent bands to fuse rock with hip-hop, Linkin Park have gone out of their way to distance themselves from the rap-rock tag and genre, particularly on new release “Minutes to Midnight.” The irony is, the fusion of frontman Chester Bennington's pained and anguished vocals with Mike Shinoda's more rapid fire, hip-hop heavy blasts and spoken-word beats are where the band are clearly at their best live.
Opening behind a white curtain, the band's shadows projected from atop an erector set-like staging as the instrumental pangs of “Wake” ebbed through the crowd of more than 15,000. As the curtain split and shot into the rafters, the Southern California six-piece exploded into “Given Up,” the crowd exploded to life, and both maintained the fevered-pitch throughout the 90-minute, 21-song set.
“No More Sorrow” slammed with a Metallica-like urgency (think “Am I Evil,” albeit less menacing), a piledriver of riffs and drums that, like the openers, featured co-frontman Mike Shinoda on rhythm guitars. Shinoda took the mic and shared center stage on “Lying From You” and “Don't Stay,” the pair trading lines and injecting depth to the guitar-driven and drum-paced maelstrom paving the wake, the heavy scratch and sonics of DJ Joe Hahn sending ripples of texture through the music.
A mid-set coupling of “Minutes To Midnight” ballads followed by a trio of mid-tempo crowd favorites offered a necessary change of pace from the amped proceedings, but also showed Linkin Park at their most vulnerable--on both the personal front, and as a band. Bennington's onstage convulsions can compete with the most manic out there, his screaming softened by a singing edge. Relying solely on a pained, sorrowful singing atop Shinoda's keyboards on “Leave Out All the Rest” and “Shadow of the Day,” the results weren't quite as jarring.
The crowd ate up every minute of it, hanging on every word and singing along in complete abandon, but the attempts at a U2 and Coldplay-like landscape still require refinement, the delivery lacking the flawless confidence of the rest of the set, and perhaps submitting a bit too much to the feelings of incompleteness expressed in the tracks.
“Breaking the Habit” offered an infectious dose of synth-pop, electronic rock that harkened a passing glance back to mainstage openers Julien K, and ushered in the final third of the set in grand fashion. Encore-opener “One Step Closer” truly set the night off, dropping like a shower of gasoline on already kinetic flames.
Where Linkin Park were at their most vulnerable expressing pain and remorse, My Chemical Romance were at their most poignant best expressing the same sentiments.
Dusk was the backdrop as My Chem opened with a sustained burst of flames and pyro, launching into “This Is How I Disappear” and “The Sharpest Lives” with a musical certainty that defies their emo-punk roots. Like Linkin Park, they also have three studio releases under their belts, but unlike the headliners their latest launches them into a landscape of infinite possibilities, a resplendent tandem of hard rock riffs and punk rock rapture, all interwoven by an almost Broadway-like appreciation for harmony and melody.
Where Bennington is infectious via his energy, My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way is gripping in his dynamics, his presence as endearing as it is commanding, whether orchestrating the creepy, carnival-like sideshow psychosis of “Mama,” or closing the set alone with a piano on the heart-wrenching “Cancer.”
And just as “One Step Closer” helped define a generation of music fans for Linkin Park, My Chem's “Teenagers” is an anthem for the ever-growing legions of disenfranchised. Like the rest of the set, the song was driven by the blues-soaked guitar riffs of lead guitarist Ray Toro, whose afro-like hair and classic rock demeanor offer a jarring compliment to Way's casually-confident front.
The night may have belonged to Linkin Park, but not by a safe margin. Judging from the response and performances, it's only a matter of time before My Chemical Romance can be atop similar festival bills.
Taking Back Sunday, H.I.M. and Placebo joined Julien K on the mainstage. The Revolution sidestage was headlined by Mindless Self Indulgence, and also featured newcomer buzz bands Saosin and The Bled, and openers Madina Lake and Styles of Beyond.
The closest Projekt Revolution comes to Wisconsin is a stop in Chicago at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheater, Sept. 1.