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Call for Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.

Linkin Park: Road to Revolution Live at Milton Keynes / Songs from the Underground

Linkin Park
Road to Revolution Live at Milton Keynes
Warner Bros.

Like most college students, I have a CD collection back home that I try not to talk about. Mine is in the living room, in a cupboard to the right of the television, under a set of Muzzy language-learning tapes. And in that collection, sandwiched neatly between Nickelback’s Silver Side Up and Third Eye Blind’s Blue, is a scratched, well-worn copy of Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory.

I listened to the album obsessively between seventh and ninth grades, and while I was writing this review I was trying to remember why. I think that to my twelve-year-old self there was something very appealing about the band’s earnest-but-vague anger. I was angry, too, though I had no reason to be — it was a rage born more out of hormones than circumstance. I knew, even then, that my feelings were unearned, and so I felt a little guilty listening to bands like, say, Rage Against the Machine, that had real and specific grievances. Linkin Park’s undirected vitriol served me better.

It is with no small amount of nostalgia, then, that I come to Road to Revolution Live at Milton Keynes. I’ve kept tabs on Linkin Park, of course, in the same way that a father might collect newspaper clippings of his estranged son. Meteora, but for the singles, was underwhelming. Minutes to Midnight was downright disappointing, but I appreciated the tentative stabs at artistic growth. And this latest offering I find neither as good Hybrid Theory seemed nine years ago, nor as bad as I expected it to be. Road to Revolution, like the band itself, is slickly produced, mostly soulless, but somehow not entirely without merit.

Watching the DVD, I was blown away by both the sheer size of the crowd and the incredible production values. The National Bowl in Milton Keynes is a 65,000-person venue, and if it wasn’t filled to capacity, I’ll eat my laptop. Over this crowd spin dozens of cameras, all of them in constant motion and all of them pointed at the gargantuan stage upon which the six band members cavort. The picture is absolutely clear. The band is covered from every conceivable camera angle. The lighting setup must suck as much juice as the Vegas strip on a Saturday night. The sound is crisp and clear. Clearly, concert DVDs have improved while my back was turned.

You might think that Linkin Park’s music is the kind that wouldn’t necessarily improve in a live setting. You would be right, especially since the years of screaming appear to have taken a serious toll on singer Chester Bennington’s vocal cords. Out of the studio, his voice is thin and reedy, and no matter what note he is meant to be singing, he is consistently a half-step flat. He has enthusiasm enough — he spends the whole show bounding from one side of the stage to the other — but I can’t help but wonder if the exuberance is to make up for his poor performance. “Okay, I can’t quite do this anymore,” he seems to be saying, “but look how hard I’m trying!”

The rest of the band is competent but not particularly impressive. Mike Shinoda long ago perfected his brand of lazy rock-rap, and he lays down a few easy-but-melodic keyboard parts on songs like “In the End” and “What I’ve Done”. Joe Hahn spends most of the concert pressing buttons on his bewilderingly large DJ setup, and I have a gnawing suspicion that he was covering for his bandmates at least some of the time. Guitarist Brad Delson and bassist Dave Farrell look more bored than anything, but Rob Bourden looks like he’s having a blast behind his drum set. (He even takes a surprising — and surprisingly well-composed — drum solo during the encore.)

Sadly, Hybrid Theory is underrepresented in the set, with only the megahits (“In the End”, “Crawling”, and “One Step Closer”) and a weird piano version of “Pushing Me Away” making appearances. The band leans most heavily on Minutes, although material from the band’s collaboration with Jay Z and from Shinoda’s side-project Fort Minor is also included. In fact, the highlight of the set is undoubtedly the one-two punch of “Numb/Encore” and “Jigga What/Faint”, both of which feature Shawn Carter in the flesh. It’s too bad that they come after a seventeen-song set that starts to sound the same after three, but hey, isn’t that why they embed chapters on these things?

My copy of Road to Revolution also came with an EP called Songs from the Underground, which is either available only at Best Buy, or only through the band’s fan club — I can’t seem to figure out which. I doubt that anyone who was actually in danger of joining the Linkin Park fanclub read beyond the third paragraph or so of this review, but for those of you who made it this far, I’ll tell you that the EP is a decidedly mixed bag. There is a cover of Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike”, in which Bennington sings Eddie Vedder’s vocal part, that manages to be even more execrable than the original. (Asked a week ago if this was possible, I would have said no.) There’s also a live version of “My December” in which Shinoda, having apparently forgotten how to play the original’s perfectly adequate piano melody, seems to simply press notes at random instead.

But there are also a number of songs from the early days of the band, some of which are over a decade old, and these songs are really interesting. Hahn’s presence is much more pronounced; his scratches and whirrs were, at that point, an almost essential part of the music. Shinoda’s rapping is leaner, and forms the backbone of the songs instead of merely being thrown into them. My favorite of the tracks is “Sold My Soul to Yo Momma”, a two-minute hodgepodge of scratches, drum hits, and faraway vocals, built upon a simple bassline. And after the song ends there’s a moment or two of silence, and someone — probably Barrington, but I like to think it’s the ever-silent Hahn — says, “This is so fun. This whole project is, like, fun.” It’s a side of the band I’ve never seen before (fun?), and if nothing else, it makes me wonder what they might have been like had their first album not sold ten million copies.

RATING 4 / 10