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Review / photos: Linkin Park, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Jared Leto bring live, loud rock back to Steinbrenner Field in Tampa



The New York Yankees have won five World Series titles since the last time their spring training home, George M. Steinbrenner Field, last hosted a rock concert -- Sting and Natalie Merchant on June 22, 1996.

Back then, the Ice Palace and Ford Amphitheatre had not yet opened, St. Pete's Thunderdome was still hosting A-list concerts, and there was some thinking that Legends Field, as it was then called, could become Tampa Bay’s home for top summer tours. But then, for 18 years … silence.

If you’re going to re-enter the concert game for the first time since Derek Jeter’s rookie season, you’d better go big or go home. Luckily, Linkin Park and Thirty Seconds to Mars know no other way.

At the second stop on their co-headlining Carnivores Tour, two of the biggest modern rock bands of the past decade made Steinbrenner Field’s concert comeback a smashing spectacle, with 14,931 screaming fans on the stands and in the outfield creating a powerful, festival-like feeling on Dale Mabry Highway.

Linkin Park closed the night, but the Carnivores Tour’s biggest celebrity, by far, is newly minted Academy Award winner Jared Leto, lead singer of Thirty Seconds to Mars.

Far be it from us to imply that the Oscar has gone to Leto’s head, but the dude looked more than a little messianic on Saturday night -- shaggily bearded, wearing all white, a golden crown wrapped around his long, flowing locks. Perhaps by now he’s earned the right. Thirty Seconds to Mars had built a rabid following long before Leto's prize-winning turn in Dallas Buyers Club, and with around 17 giant white band-logo flags flying in the centerfield pit, Leto’s fans in Tampa -- “one of our old-school haunts,” he called it -- were out in force.

Leto worked his cultlike appeal like a maestro, striding around the stage and reaching into the pit during early songs Up In the Air and Night of of the Hunter. Unlike his last local show, when he adopted a dark hoodie and disinterested demeanor for December’s 97X Next Big Thing, this was a fully committed performance, with Leto feeding off the fans’ energy and racing offstage and into the crowd to sing the chest-pounding battle cry Kings and Queens.

These shamelessly uplifting moments are when Leto the rock star truly shines. Thirty Seconds to Mars’ darker, softer stuff is very much hit and miss, such as the gothic synth-blues number End Of All Days and a solo, acoustic Save Me, which Leto introduced by saying: “This is a song my granddaddy used to sing me, sitting on the muddy banks of the Mississippi. It’s amazing how sometimes music can heal us, you know what I mean? Music can save us, you know what I mean?” So yeah, all of it walks a very fine line of cheese.

But dang if things didn’t get a little chilly in the stadium when, just after sundown, Leto pulled out an American flag and whipped it around the stage as the crowd shouted those life-affirming “Whoa-oh-ohs!” on Do or Die. For that performance alone, the guy might deserve another Oscar.

Linkin Park hails from an era not fondly remembered in rock ‘n’ roll history, but no band before or since rap-metal’s heyday has married the genres in such devastatingly incendiary fashion. Singer Chester Bennington has the yowl of a jaguar, an unholy hybrid of clean and dirty vocals that’ll make the hairs stand up on the back of your Rottweiler’s neck.

But over the past 15 years, Bennington has found new ways to let those mighty pipes breathe, flex and grow. That’s due entirely to the band around him – particularly Mike Shinoda, Linkin Park’s hypercreative rapper and multi-instrumentalist.

Linkin Park is a band obsessed with technology -- their futuristic stage is dotted with tiny lights and cameras, and outside the stadium there was even a mobile body-scanning lab that allowed fans to create and purchase custom figurines of themselves with the band -- and Shinoda steers their sound in all kinds of forward-thinking directions. He mellowed the electronic-leaning Castle of Glass into the piano ballad Leave Out All The Rest, which blossomed into a medley of Shadow of the Day and Iridescent. That, in turn, led to an electro-leaning mini-set in which Shinoda’s synthesizers showcased a few newer, poppier songs, such as the EDM-lite single Burn It Down and the almost reggae-rocky Waiting For the End.

The setlist was structured in a way that made the most of both Bennington’s and Shinoda’s talents – napalm bombs like Guilty and One Step Closer early; electronic experimentation in the middle; stadium-wide scream-alongs like Faint, Crawling, What I’ve Done and Bleed It Out near the end.

Saturday’s show got started a little late -- at one point, the lines to get in stretched across Dale Mabry Highway and well into the Raymond James Stadium parking lot -- and you had to wonder, as the clock ticked well past 11 p.m., if the authorities would pull the plug. But in the end, Linkin Park's encore, like the rest of the concert, went off without a hitch. Rob Bourdon even squeezed in an 11:30 p.m. drum solo.

Does this mean the Yankees are back in the live music game for good? Well, there are no new shows on the books just yet. But you can be it won’t be another 18 years before there are.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Monday, August 11, 2014 2:39pm]


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