Last Night: Projekt Revolution @ Coors Amphitheatre
Projekt Revolution, which concluded its 2007 run on September 3 at Coors Amphitheatre, wasn't exactly revolutionary from a musical standpoint. Sizable chunks of the venerable package show headlined by Linkin Park played like extended outtakes from VH1's I Love the '80s. Still, there were quite a few memorable moments from this particular swan song, including time management taken to hilarious extremes, a break-out set by an easily overlooked up-and-comer, and a foray into the musical version of sexual identity courtesy of My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way.
On this day, I was accompanied by Lora and Ellie, my fourteen-year-old daughters, who felt so literally and figuratively burnt by our last day-long concert outing -- KTCL's Big Gig, reviewed in this blog entry -- that they opted for a later arrival. As a result, we found our seats around 4: 30 p.m., toward the start of the set by Julien-K, an Orgy side project co-starring Ryan Shuck and Amir Derakh. They're reportedly pals of and collaborators with Linkin Park's Chester Bennington, which likely accounts for the prominence of their Revolution slot. Sonically, though, they're about as au courant as a leisure suit, pumping out retro synth blasts like "Kick the Bass," which suggests Dead or Alive spinning records right 'round, baby, right 'round, baby, right 'round. Before the group's time in the spotlight had expired, the crew was already breaking down the stage, literally removing mike stands and guitars within seconds of them being used. This may have simply been an overly rigorous attempt to stay on schedule, rather than a comment on the lack of freshness displayed by Julien-K -- but it didn't come across that way.
Next up was London-based Placebo, a veteran outfit that seemed to be on the wane until My Chem's Way began talking it up, and Brian Molko, the act's lead singer, promptly displayed his nicely acerbic sense of humor. After wrapping up the opener, "Pure Morning," he told the audience that he hates "that fucking song" -- and because the Revolution was ending, he was pleased to report that he'd probably never have to play it again. Unfortunately, a thin guitar sound and a typically diffuse outdoor mix prevented the rest of Placebo's offerings from stirring the throng from its relative torpor. Molko's Feargal Sharkey-like delivery on "Meds" wasn't enough to make the prescription effective.
H.I.M. had a leg up thanks largely to Bam Margera, the MTV personality whose energetic touting of the Finnish collective has brought it plenty o' publicity. The Coors crowd reacted with delight to "Wings of a Butterfly" and the louder, more forceful nature of the songs in general; unlike with Placebo, the guitars rang loud and clear. Still, the mood was far from modern. Singer Ville Valo and company seemed to be channeling '80s rockers the Cult throughout -- never more so than during a lugubrious sorta-metal cover of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game," during which Valo aped Jim Morrison via Ian Astbury for all he was worth. And he was worth plenty.
Taking Back Sunday was more surprising, at least from a qualitative standpoint. On disc, the combo tends to blend in with the dozens upon dozens of emo-inspired bands currently clogging the marketplace. In concert, though, TBS is several cuts above owing to the controlled chaos of their approach to performance and the effective dynamic between singers Adam Lazzara and Fred Mascherino, who are a study in contrasting but complimentary styles: Lazzara does the rock-god strut and swings the microphone with aplomb, while Mascherino fills the hard-working everyman role. They mesh so well that tunes such as "Liar (It Takes One to Know One)" and "MakeDamnSure," from their latest long-player, Louder Now, become infinitely more interesting live than they are coming out of the average radio. As a bonus, Taking Back Sunday actually sounds as if its music was made during the 21st century -- no small feat in this context.
Of course, My Chemical Romance has more than its share of flashback elements, as any Queen fan who's spun the hugely entertaining 2006 CD The Black Parade can attest. Yet despite that disc's success, its joyous, buoyant theatricality has triggered an unfortunate backlash among the most aggro males in the punk-rock constituency, many of whom have decided that admitting they like the band will make pals question them about their sexual preference -- a nonsensical response, but a wholly predictable one.
During MCR's appearance here in March (recounted in this Backbeat blog), head man Way went whole hog into the Broadway aspects of his masterwork. This time around, however, he initially seemed determined to show off his manliness by playing My Chem's hardest, toughest material (including the hit "I'm Not Okay [I Promise]") back to back to back. Visually, he also took another tack. In place of the bleached-blond 'do and marching-band-from-hell uniform he was sporting a while back, he showed off jet-black hair and an outfit that made him look like a bad boy from a brat-pack flick. Because he's lost so much weight (the once-pudgy Gerard is now almost wiry), he pulled off this guise with an effortlessness and confidence that was unexpectedly convincing.
Then, at the set's mid-point, Way gave the proceedings a twist by tweaking the very dudes he seemed to be kowtowing to early on. He wailed "Mama" wearing a multi-colored boa, of all things, after which he goaded men in attendance who might think he was "a fairy" or "a cupcake" into taking off their shirts and swinging them over their heads -- and a goodly percentage of the guys did so eagerly. His primacy reestablished, he turned "Cancer," The Black Parade's signature tearjerker, into a diva-licious solo extravaganza that ended with him alone on stage, backed by just a tinkling piano -- just like Judy Garland would have done it. Take that, macho men.
The odds of Linkin Park topping that were slim, and LP didn't. The group has evolved into a thoroughly professional ensemble, and they did a thoroughly professional job, churning through songs new and old with a mechanistic efficiency that was echoed by the industrial motif of its current set. Even back in the day, they never seemed truly outre, and the members don't really bother to try anymore: With the exception of Bennington, who stripped off his shirt to display his many tats, Mike Shinoda and the rest of the musicians could have passed for Dave Matthews Band sidemen. They were extraordinarily tight, and their friendliness and accessibility was welcome for so popular an entity: Minutes to Midnight sold more copies during its first week than any other album released in 2007 to date. If only their music was more immediate, more compelling, more singular. Their hybrid theory continues to work, but at the end of "Numb," as Shinoda fingered his keyboard like a brawnier Richard Clayderman, the effect was far from gripping -- an impression that was amplified when I saw my daughters casually fiddling with their cell phones throughout the length of the song.
The Revolution won't be televised, but when things get boring, it may be sent by text message. -- Michael Roberts