The light came before the dark at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Saturday night, as a blissed-out, love me, hug me, set by Thirty Seconds to Mars gave way to an aggressive, hard-edged show by co-headliners Linkin Park.
Thirty Seconds to Mars singer Jared Leto came out in angelic white threads, a golden crown and a “Duck Dynasty” beard that made it look as if his next movie role could be as an extra-scruffy savior in a “Jesus Christ Superstar” remake.
Performing for a crowd of 14, 931, the Oscar-winning actor proved that his band is one of the prettiest in rock music, from the pretty sing-along anthems (seriously, does this band have one song that doesn't have a big, lyricless, ooh-ahh vocal melody?), pretty pastel-colored confetti and balloons, and a pretty frontman who looks like a Hollywood leading man no matter how much his beard looks like a nest for woodland animals.
Despite some eye-roll-inducing crowd banter (“Have you ever heard that music can heal?”) it's hard not to get on board with Leto's wild-eyed earnestness. His acoustic version of “The Kill,” standing in the middle of the crowd, was a highlight.
While Thirty Seconds to Mars pulled out every crowd-work trick known to man, from bringing fans on stage, to having everyone hold up their glowing cell phones for effect, to asking over and over how we were feeling, Linkin Park kept things straightforward about the music.
They opened with the extra-heavy “Guilty All the Same” off their new album, "The Hunting Party," a less radio-oriented and more aggressive effort from the band, and spent the rest of their time rocking not talking.
They played all the hits, including "Numb," "In the End" and "New Divide," but mixed in quite a few tracks from "The Hunting Party." It's always a gamble when a band like Linkin Park plays new material live, but it felt seamless and the songs went over with the crowd. It helps that their new stuff is their best work in years.
Chester Bennington still has one of the most impressively muscular voices (and screams) in modern rock, and Mike Shinoda still brings a laid-back hip hop swagger that actually feels less corny now than it did 15 years ago, when the mostly-awful rap-rock genre was being shoved down our throats.
For the record, Linkin Park always did it the best anyway.
Steinbrenner Field has some kinks to work out if it's going to regularly host big concerts. People who bought tickets VIP and the field waited more than two hours in a line that stretched from the ballpark across the walking bridge to the other side of Dale Mabry Highway.
At 6 p.m.. In Florida. In August.
Not a great way to start the night, or the first concert at Steinbrenner Field since the mid-90s.
Otherwise, the stadium was a comfortable place to see a show. The giant, new display screen in the outfield made it easy to see the action from the very back rows and the sound was great.
On the field, conditions felt somewhere between Amazonian rain forest and sauna (hardly the venue's fault, of course). You could get a decent view from the general admission area, but the VIP area in front of the stage seemed larger than necessary. It would be nice to see some of that unused space become general admission in the future.