Like many firsts, my first concert was a mixture of equal parts nervousness and excitement. The date was August 30th, and I was going with my friend Nitya to see Linkin Park perform with 30 Seconds to Mars at the DTE Energy Music Theater in Clarkson, MI. I’d been to a couple of concerts before, sure, but they’d all been of the classical variety, which we all know are extremely different from modern music concerts. Thus, a show by Linkin Park–one of my favorite bands since the middle school days–seemed like a good way to break into this alien new world. At 6:00 pm on a sticky-humid Saturday evening, Nitya pulled up into my driveway, and I hopped in shotgun. We turned the radio up, entered our destination into Google Maps, and off we headed!
The first thing I learned about concerts right off the bat is that they involve a lot of people converging on one location at one time, and that usually results in some pretty heavy traffic. Nitya and I got stuck on the highway about two miles away from DTE. A line of cars snaked towards the horizon and disappeared around a bend. After around twenty to thirty minutes, the line began to move, and we finally entered the venue.
Most of the actual parking lots were already full or roped off, so we followed a dusty trail of vehicles into an area filled with rolling hills. We parked in the grass, got out, and walked to the entrance of the theater. It was about 7 pm now, and 30 Seconds to Mars was on in half an hour. There were some people just tailgating in the parking lots, reclined in lawn chairs with beers in hand, presumably waiting for either 30 Seconds to Mars or Linkin Park. A ticket hawker passed by, casually advertising his wares.
The lady at the entrance scanned the tickets on my phone, printed out our seating passes, and let us in. Immediately, Nitya and I queued up at the merch booth. The t-shirt prices, I am sad to say, were astronomical–only $10 less than the Macklemore verse in “Thrift Shop” where he bemoans the clubbers wearing Gucci.
“I’m like, ‘Yo – that’s fifty dollars for a T-shirt.'”
– Macklemore, “Thrift Shop”
It’s almost painful to come to terms with how inelastic my demand was, because I bought a shirt anyway. On the bright side, it is very soft, in a nice color (snow grey), and is something I will probably wear comfortably for the next three to five years.
The DTE Energy Music Theater has a seating capacity of roughly 15,000 people. Needless to say, the crowd was gigantic. The lawn area around the pavilion was coated in a colorful, pointillistic canvas of bodies. Nitya and I made our way downhill into the pavilion. Our seats were in the RT5 section, to the far right hand side of the theater. We would be less than ten feet from the wall, but also pretty close to the stage.
The moment when the show begins is hard to describe. It’s instantaneous, like the flip of a hat, and nobody really sees it coming. Just all of a sudden, a single dramatic clash of music, and the lights flare up and mist spews from the stage. Immediately the crowd is alert, cheering and rising to its feet. Everybody’s attention strains like a dog on a leash towards that single point onstage. The music grows louder and louder, the drumbeats stronger and stronger, and then–lo and behold!–lead singer Jared Leto runs onto stage with a huge flag!
Jared Leto is Jesus. He looks like Jesus, he acts like Jesus, and to many people in the crowd, he probably is a musical form of Jesus. He had this long, brown-blond streaked hair, the hair of somebody who is either homeless, a cult leader, or an artist. That combined with a large pair of aviators, ragged facial hair, a white overcoat (or lab coat?) embroidered with 30 Seconds logos, and an oversized loose white biker tank that exposed his arms and ribcage, he was quite the sight. Before he even began singing, he just stood with his arms spread out and his face tilted towards the sky for a good half minute, basking in the cheers of the audience. It was all very messiah-like.
30 Seconds to Mars performed thirteen songs over the course of two hours. Halfway through the setlist, Jared Leto ran out up of the pavilion towards the lawn. The crowded parted, Red-Sea-before-Moses style, and Leto got to the edge where the pavilion ended. He was surrounded by people tugging at his long hair. One person pulled a bit too hard, and he turned around mid-lyric with an expression that said, clearly, “WTF.” That part was pretty hilarious, seen on the big screen. People absolutely swarmed the guy. Leto clung to a pillar, and sang the rest of the song from that vantage point. Then, with several security people running alongside him to keep him from being crushed, he ran back to the stage.
A little while later, Leto led the audience in singing an early happy birthday to Tomo, the band’s longtime lead guitarist, who also happened to have grown up in Troy and attended Athens High School (!). (The guy actually has a pretty interesting Wikipedia backstory involving stray bullets, concert violinists, and culinary school.) Shannon Leto brought out a cake, and two brothers chucked pieces of it out into the crowd.
The sun went down as 30 Seconds finished up their set, thanked the audience, and exited stage. To be frank, I’d been having a lukewarm time so far, mostly because I didn’t know 30 Seconds to Mars and their songs that well. I wasn’t ready to worship them as readily as some of the others in the theater, who were probably huge fans. But, as Linkin Park ads and videos began to play on the mega screens in the forty-minute waiting period, I felt my enthusiasm rise.
At 9:20 pm, the theater went pitch dark. Smoke rose from the stage, multicolored stage lights blazed, and the heavy guitar-and-drums intro to “Guilty All The Same” blasted. Suddenly there were figures standing amidst the smoke–the band! The buildup reached its apex and gave way into the guitar solo, and the crowd screamed as lead singer Chester Bennington ran onto stage, and took to the mic: “Tell us all again / what you think we should be / What the answers are / what it is we can’t see!”
What do you physically do at a concert? Well, there’s a lot of fist-pumping, hand-clapping, and the throwing of arms in the air. And scream-cheering, lots of that too. It’s like one of those solo dance-and-lip-sync parties that you have in your room alone at night (or is that just me), except you happen to be standing in a crowd of thousands of other people, listening to live music. And there is a significant difference between live and recorded music, mostly because the former is just so much more involved and tangible. Sure, recordings are a lot cleaner and clearer, but live music always presents the opportunity for more creativity (remixes, mashups, refrains, acoustics, sing-alongs, etc.) and direct performer-listener interactions.
There is always some variation on how well bands perform in live concert versus how they sound on their albums. For Linkin Park, I can confidently say that they sounded just as good, if not even better, live. The band’s stamina, energy, and clarity really impressed me. Chester Bennington, in all his lanky tattooed glory, gave every song his all, clutching the mic and physically doubling up with the effort of belting each verse. Mike Shinoda, ever the Renaissance man of the group, alternated between the guitar, electric piano, rapping, and baritone vocals. The band just kept playing song after song, seamlessly, and each one was fantastic.
After a rapid-fire string of hard rock songs, the setlist mellowed out with a beautiful medley of three of Linkin Park’s more ballad-y songs (“Leave Out All The Rest”/ “Shadow of the Day”/ “Iridescent”). Then things went electronic-synthy with “Robot Boy”. It was my first time hearing the song, and it ended up being one of my favorite parts of the entire show–utterly bone-chilling to hear live. Next, Joe Hahn did a super sick EDM solo, which was refreshing and also gave the other band member some time to take a quick break.
More of Linkin Park’s typical repertoire followed after Hahn’s solo, mixed in with a Shinoda rap tangent à la Fort Minor. The set closed with “Faint.” The stage went dark to thunderous hollering and applause.
As expected, the crowd wouldn’t stop cheering for an encore in the three minutes that followed. Chants of “LINK-IN PARK! LINK-IN PARK!” filled the theater, faded away, then resumed with renewed vigor. At last, a crack of light burst forth from the stage, and the band came out again. They performed six more songs, including some of my favorites (“Lost In The Echo,” “New Divide,” “Crawling”), and ended the night with a massive drum solo by Rob Bourdon at the end of “Bleed It Out.”
Just as the last cymbal smash rang out through the theater, I felt little pinpricks of water on my arm. I turned around, and saw a gigantic wave of icy rain and wind sweep into the theater. People were yelping and trying to avoid getting wet, but to no avail—the rain was everywhere. I shoved my purse and t-shirt into Nitya’s waterproof drawstring bag, and we charged out into the rain to get back to the car.
Getting caught in a thunderstorm right as the concert ended turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. Just imagine: it’s midnight, and 15,000 people who have just come off of five hours of the most fantastic music are all pouring out of the theater into the rainy night, into the parking lots and the muddy hills. Everybody was whooping and shouting and getting utterly drenched. Even the venue staff people were grinning in their plastic ponchos; one filmed us on his cell phone as we streamed past.
Thunder clapped above-head, followed by flashes of lightning that illuminated fields of cars, like gigantic resting beasts, crouched along the horizon. Nitya and I unabashedly leapt into puddles and soaked our shoes to the soles. We located our car, changed out of our wet clothes into dry concert t-shirts, and spread the wet shirts out in the backseat to dry.
The first thing we did when we got into the car was drink water. Nitya grabbed her water bottle, I grabbed mine, and we chugged in total silence for about twenty seconds like we’d just crawled out of the Sahara. Then we sat in the car for probably about half an hour waiting for the massive parking lot congestion to unknot itself.
Eventually the traffic eased up. We drove out of DTE, and headed to Dunkin’ for a much-needed post concert snack. Parked in an empty parking lot at one in the morning, we polished off our Boston cream and chocolate glazed donuts .
Overall, I had an amazing first concert experience. I think a big part of enjoying yourself at a concert is that you have to actually, genuinely like the music the band plays. You can’t have just listened to a couple songs, or just think the leader singer is cute. But you also don’t have to be extremely invested either. With Linkin Park, I wouldn’t say I’m the biggest fan in the world. I haven’t heard every single song they’ve ever made. I am not obsessed or up-to-date with the lives and personalities of the band members. But I have been listening to Linkin Park for about seven years. I remember playing “Numb” on repeat in 2007 on my old Sony VAIO laptop and loving the electronic intro so, so much. Over the years, I’ve built up 30 songs from 5 albums by Linkin Park on my iTunes. I guess that’s why it felt so much like coming full circle that night, to finally attend one of their concerts in person.
To close off, I would like to address one of the main questions I had coming into this whole experience. That is–are concerts all the hype and fun they are portrayed to be by society, or nah? I don’t believe I’m qualified enough to make a blanket statement on whether all concerts in general are worth their reputations until I’ve attended at least several. But in terms of how my expectations lined up with my experiences this time around, I’d say it was well worth it. I don’t think I will ever be a regular concertgoer—too much money, band idolization, and eardrum damage for my personal tastes. When one of my top three favorite bands are in town though, such as this time with Linkin Park, you can be sure I will attend.
In the end, who knows how long any musical group will be making music, or how many new albums they will put out and go on tour for in the future? If you can catch some of your favorite bands in live performance in any way, I’d say do it. And make sure you document it plenty, so that you will remember it for years to come.