Linkin Park lead vocalist Chester Bennington had a small role in 2010’s “Saw 3D: The Final Chapter,” and while I never saw this movie, it’s safe to say the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was justified in completely ignoring his performance.
So, Jared Leto – 2013’s best supporting actor for “Dallas Buyers Club” – has the clear advantage in that particular area of the performing arts.
But on Tuesday night at PNC Music Pavilion, Bennington and co-band leader Mike Shinoda proved masters of their craft, following an upbeat but somewhat mild showing by Leto’s Thirty Seconds to Mars with a scorchingly paced, relentlessly energetic 95-minute set that had 15,000 fists pumping and left just as many pairs of ears ringing.
Often, Leto seemed to be trying a bit too hard. He strode onstage wearing a Dolce & Gabbana crown and a custom Chrome Hearts lab coat over a white shirt and white pants; with his full beard and caramel- and coffee-colored locks that fell almost halfway down his back, he looked a bit like Jesus in aviator shades.
As he sang 2010 hit “This Means War,” dozens of gigantic balloons were released on the crowd. Later, confetti rained down on the pit. During newer single “Do or Die,” he twirled an American flag like it was a samurai sword. And before finishing up with “Closer to the Edge,” he invited about 50 fans onstage to jump up and down in the background as he belted.
Those are gimmicks. They’re amiable gimmicks, and Leto bolstered them with charm and an easy rapport with the crowd – but they’re still gimmicks.
Linkin Park used no gimmicks on Tuesday night.
Bennington came out wearing a denim-colored button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, untucked over jeans (the shirt later came off). Mike Shinoda, the band’s rapper/guitarist/keyboardist/producer, wore a tank top over a tee shirt, black jeans, glasses and a ballcap he alternated between backwards and forwards.
And all they did was play. Hit after hit after hit after hit after hit.
If you know the venerable band, you know its unique, time-tested formula: Bennington, now 38, sings tuneful rock melodies, but regularly tears into guttural, throat-shredding growl-screams; Shinoda, 37, plays keys or guitar and jumps in routinely with a crisp, bold rap, flinging his axe behind him so it hangs low as he rhymes, whipping his hand up and down with bravado.
Picking just one highlight is difficult. The rock-hip-hop-reggae fusion that is “Waiting for the End” came off magnificently, elevated by Bennington’s donning of a Tar Heels hat foisted on him by a fan. Shinoda dusted off 2005 pump-you-up rap anthem “Remember the Name” – by his side project Fort Minor – to great effect.
And solos by drummer Rob Bourdon (during “Bleed It Out”) and DJ Joe Hahn (segue-ing into “Numb) reminded fans that the band’s vocalists are in the company of some pretty amazing talent.
There was no banter, no storytelling. At one point, Linkin Park went on a streak that included “Lying From You,” “Somewhere I Belong,” “In the End” and “Faint,” followed by the end of the regular set, followed by an encore that started with “Burn It Down” and “New Divide.” All of those songs once sat at No. 1 on the alternative charts.
This is not to mention the fact that Bennington’s ability to do so much growl-screaming without turning his vocal cords into mush defies logic, in addition to the laws of physiology. It’s almost like his voice is a superpower, like he should be wearing a cape – or something.
Leto is a darn fine actor, but if anyone deserved to be wearing a crown onstage Tuesday night, it was Bennington.