30 Seconds to Mars
with Mute Math, Neon Trees
House of Blues, Orlando, FL • April 28, 2010
Ask just about anyone who attended the sold-out 30 Seconds to Mars show at Orlando’s House of Blues and they’ll probably rave about what an amazing show it was. “Best show I’ve ever seen,” you’ll read on the fan blogs. These loyal fans must have been lost in the eyes of front man Jared Leto, distracted by his beauty, because the show that I saw had a little too much smoke and mirrors, and too little substance when compared to performances I’ve seen the band give in years past.
Playing precariously perched on the lip of the stage, Neon Trees used the limited tight space they were stuck with to their advantage, making their big stage set feel remarkably intimate. The animated, pink mohawked singer/keyboardist Tyler Glenn almost took a tumble or two into the security pit below because of his blind energy and desire to connect with the crowd. Their sound is an emo-ized bastardization of The Killers, but it kind of works for them – especially on the quasi-nostalgic “1983.” The colorful mohawk was only the first of its kind for that night, as Jared Leto was also sporting the pastel pointer. Who was ripping off whom, I wonder. No matter, they found adoration easily from the audience. It could’ve been the hair, it could’ve been the music, or maybe it was the skinny jeans and the big goofy smile. Glenn looks a like a pop punked Corey Haim (that’s Haim during his cute Teen Beat Magazine days).
Mute Math is a band that doesn’t quite pop on record, at least not when compared to hearing and seeing those same experimental electronic pop rock songs played live. Beneath the big lights, they’ve got a singer who can do handstands on his keyboard and defy gravity by leaping high into the air while rockin’ out on his keytar (oh, glorious keytar!), and a drummer who leaps about every bit as much without missing that ever-present beat. These guys are everything a live band should be, and then some. Taking a supporting slot, at this stage of their career, is an odd step, but one they made the most of by winning over a crowd that wasn’t necessarily there to see them.
Beginning the set, as they always so, with wild-man drummer Darren King duct-taping protective headphones onto his head, the New Orleans band torpedoed through a top-bill-worthy set that crammed in some of their best songs (“Typical,” “Chaos,” “Reset”) and allowed for plenty of spastic dance time for the hot-footed singer/multi-instrumentalist Paul Meany. He and King tried to take their show into the crowd – as is an anticipated part of their act – but security wasn’t having it. Even without the in-crowd connection, Mute Math left a lasting impression on a roomful of new fans.
Relying on theatrics a little too much has always been a crutch for the headlining epic emo rock band. Whether it’s running through the audience, teasing fans by showing a little skin, or playing the encore acoustically at the soundboard, Jared Leto has always known how to dazzle his fans. None of these stunts would I hold against the band if their music was still the main focal point. Instead the songs often feel like an afterthought, with Leto interrupting mid-verse to ramble on for ten minutes about how he’s “gonna kick every motherfucker in this room’s ass,” or “make sure that this is the greatest night of everyone’s life.” It’s a lofty goal, and he seems to sincerely mean it, but it still feels a little too forced.
Normally it irritates me when a heckler yells something disrespectful like “shut up and play,” but when it happened this time, I chuckled inwardly.
They did manage to squeeze a hell of a lot of songs into their loooonnnnng set, focusing on their most recent release, This Is War. “Night of the Hunter” was properly moody and earnest, as was “Attack” off of 2005’s A Beautiful Lie – both songs being blown right through without pause, creating an invigorating stir at the start of the night, thanks, in part, to the heavier than usual drum sounds courtesy of a bicep buffed Shannon Leto. Had the night continued along at a similar pace it may have been a much stronger show, but instead each song just kind of dragged on thanks to the aforementioned monologues.
After a solo/acoustic mini Jared set in the middle of the room (which elicited the sorts of screams usually reserved for pre-teen pop concerts) that included a little bit of “Free Bird,” a little “Message in a Bottle,” and a bit of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” the band reunited on the big stage to cap off the night with “Kings and Queens.” Dozens of lucky radio winners joined the band onstage and led the crowd through a mass sing-along, leaving the fans on the floor green with envy.
It’s those sorts of fan-friendly antics that have made 30 Seconds to Mars a continuous sell-out each and every time they play Orlando. Maybe I’m just expecting too much by hoping for some better quality songs to watch the group stage a dramatic show around.