Over the past few months, or really, years, Linkin Park fans have been subjected to an unending stream of talk that the band’s new album would be a departure from their hard-riffing roots, instead forging heady, darn-near conceptual new territory from which there was no return. Early reviews of A Thousand Suns only seemed to confirm all that chatter, and it appeared that the Linkin Park of old was gone forever, that the once-snarling Dobermans had been replaced with a group of bespectacled Mr. Peabodys. And this was not good.
But those fears can be put to rest. Because on Tuesday night — hours after that new album, A Thousand Suns, hit stores — Linkin Park played their first show in nearly two years (or, as Chester Bennington put it, “two f—ing years”) at the Best Buy Theater in New York. And though the tickets for the show prominently displayed the new album’s name, there was little of its calculated, claustrophobic conceptualism on display. Rather, this was a balls-out rock show, with some rapping and electronic frippery thrown in for additional impact. Or, in other words, it was just like a Linkin Park show of old.
In fact, the band played just a handful of tracks from A Thousand Suns, peppering them in throughout a hit-packed, pummeling set. They opened with “The Requiem,” the first track on the album, which featured Mike Shinoda and DJ Joseph Hahn lit in moody silhouette, the former hunched over a synthesizer, repeating — in robo-coated vocals — the de facto mantra of Suns (“God bless us everyone/ We’re a broken people living under loaded gun”) with the latter providing ethereal harmonies. That washed into the sampled Robert Oppenheimer speech from the album, and then, the band now at full force, LP backtracked gloriously, hammering through older tracks like “New Divide,” “Faint,” “No More Sorrow” and “Given Up.”
Those were met with thunderous cheers and a sea of fists thrust skyward, and with enough goodwill built up, the band worked the second Suns track into the set, the booming, rattling “Wretches and Kings,” which saw Shinoda and Bennington trade vocals and had the audience nodding along to the gut-punching beat.
After a quick “thank you” — their first words to the audience all night — LP threw themselves into “Numb,” and then slowed things down exponentially with another new tune, “Iridescent,” which built slowly and solemnly on a Shinoda-played piano line and was met with a mixture of rapt attention and angry indifference, though most of that came from the tank-top-and-backward-ball-cap aggro set (and, it should be noted, the song climaxed pretty amazingly, with the band going five-wide on the chorus and the guitars soaring to the ceiling).
The rest of the set played out in much that same fashion: The older stuff pummeled, peaked and powered (“Numb,” “Bleed It Out,” “In the End”), the new songs soared and stuttered and, yes, slightly mystified (“Burning in the Skies,” “Waiting for the End”), and it was pretty clear that A Thousand Suns was probably going to take a while to win some of the fans over. But, as Shinoda told MTV News last weekend, that’s sort of the point, really.
And, perhaps to soothe those still hoping for a return to their Hybrid Theory days, Linkin Park opened their encore with current single “The Catalyst,” which, on this night, was cranked to the max and actually featured a good deal of chugging guitars (Bennington sang the hell out of it too). And then they closed with “What I’ve Done,” the first single off their last album that ticked off fans, Minutes to Midnight. And it’s worth noting that, in the three years since it was released, something rather amazing has happened to the song: It’s become a fan favorite, ranking right up there with their earlier, snarling stuff. There probably wasn’t intent behind the decision to close with it, but it’s not too hard to make the logical leap: Give the new songs time too, and see what happens. Patience is a virtue, after all.