There was a silent microphone at the Hollywood Bowl on Friday night. As the surviving members of Linkin Park took the stage, the spotlight fixed on a wreath-dressed mic stand, where singer Chester Bennington should have been.
As the band played the churning, pleading single “Numb,” the five Linkin Park members stayed in the shadows, the only spotlight illuminating the empty space up front.
Friday’s show was a difficult one for fans (and certainly the members as well) of the longtime L.A. heavy rock band. After Bennington’s suicide in July, the band was left reeling without its frontman. Their future as a group was uncertain, their personal loss profound.
“This show is probably the hardest thing we’ve ever decided to do,” singer-rapper Mike Shinoda said, as he took the mic and spoke to the silent, reverent crowd. “I don’t have the words.”
But for one last night — for now at least — the band got to be Linkin Park again, with help from dozens of friends and collaborators trying to fill the space where Bennington would have stood.
In the face of tragedy, the five other members of Linkin Park (Shinoda and Brad Delson, Rob Bourdon, Dave Farrell and Joe Hahn) kept remarkable composure, and even demonstrated sparks of joy onstage. After playing a silly vintage YouTube snippet of Bennington ad-libbing a song about unicorns and lollipops, Shinoda joked, “Y’all are really going to sing along to a YouTube clip?”
How could they not? This was maybe the last chance any of them would have to hear Bennington’s voice onstage.
“It was just total emotion for the whole concert,” said Crista Bruhn of New York, who traveled to L.A. for the show. She wore an “RIP Chester” T-shirt she bought for the occasion.
“I’m so happy to celebrate him but I’m sad he’s not here,” she said. “I wish I could have heard his voice in all these songs.”
“We went to two other vigils in New York, and the one thing that was missing was his music,” added her husband Jason Bruhn. A concert like this was the perfect, necessary sendoff for them.
“This did bring closure,” Crista said. “It was exactly what we needed.”
For a band to pull a show like this out of months of grief and loss was a considerable feat in itself. The guest list was comprehensive of Linkin Park’s influence — ’90s alt heroes, modern pop songwriters and metal gods. Alanis Morissette, Blink-182, Jared Leto, No Doubt, Korn, Kiiara, Julia Michaels, Avenged Sevenfold. Paul McCartney even showed up via video.
Linkin Park’s songs have always resonated with fans looking for heavy music with raw nerves and vulnerability. On Friday, songs like “One More Light,” “Waiting For The End” and “What I’ve Done” were obviously elegaic, but also reminders of Bennington’s uncommon sensitivity in his genre.
It was easy to see what fans and peers saw in Bennington — a sincere, generous talent who related to his audience in ways few singers ever grasp. The video clips of him speaking about empathy and kindness onstage after the Manchester concert bombing put lumps in throats around around the amphitheater. After hearing all these songs anew, it was hard not to wish that Bennington could had saved some of that inherent kindness towards others for himself in his own dark moments.
The band is obviously still struggling deeply with Bennington’s absence — as a bandmate and as a kind, troubled friend. The loss is still hard for anyone to understand, especially for Bennington’s family, including his wife, Talinda, who spoke briefly onstage about her husband’s battle against depression and his longtime charity work.
Toward the end of the set, Shinoda played a new song on piano, “Looking For An Answer,” that he said he wrote eight days after Bennington’s death. It was unfinished and riven with pain, and hearing it was like being let in on someone’s private grief.
As the near-silent crowd was ushered out to the ringing of feedback after a tear-streaked bow from the musicians, many were still processing this spontaneous outpouring of affection for a band that’s lost its heart and soul.
No one knows what the band’s future looks like yet. But Friday’s show finally gave fans a proper chance to say goodbye.
“I couldn’t have asked for more,” said Anna Camp, who flew from Oklahoma for it. Her voice trembled as she spoke about the impact Bennington’s music had in her life.
“My 3-year-old sings their songs along with me, especially on ‘One More Light’ where Chester sings ‘Flicker, flicker,’” she said. Tears welled up, and she had to pause to catch her breath before walking away, quietly, from one last Linkin Park show.
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