Q101 Jamboree: A Final Bow
June 4, 2011
Midwest Bank Amphitheatre – Tinley Park, IL
By Anthony Kuzminski
As I was getting to file this review last month, something unanticipated happened; Q101 went off the air. The station was sold to a company who chose to turn the station into a talk radio station. To those in the Chicago area, Q101 was a beacon of alternative unearthing for nearly two decades. The station itself has been around since the 1980’s where it thrived on the slick rock music of the time. During this time, the station was listened to people who worshipped at the altar of Don Johnson and Miami Vice. As times began to change, in the summer of 1992, they became an alternative radio station. To many it was viewed as a jump-the-shark moment for the station, hopping on a bandwagon and to true alternative music fans, it was an inferior choice to the superb WXRT (93.1). However, Q101 did something no one expected; it stuck around even after grunge and alternative had its moment in the sun and it thrived. While the format changed slightly welcoming some heavier and poppier artists over the years, for 19-years the radio station was one of the few in Chicago to stay tired and true to its listeners. I’ve never been a self proclaimed radio junkie. I always had far too many cassettes, CD’s and MP3’s to ever really spend much time listening to radio, but I would be lying to you if I said the station didn’t matter because it did. I can’t tell you how many people I have spoken to who discovered artists or music through the station’s playlists and most importantly, at their various Q101 Jamboree’s which sometimes occurred several times throughout the year. I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I was sent to review the Jamboree in June, it would be the last to ever wave the flag of Q101.
The ten hour affair was a celebration of the music and the fans who were loyal listeners. Early on in the show, during AWOLNATION’s feisty set, the skies opened and rain descended upon the Chicago crowd in an almost vicious manner just as the band was making its stride. “Slide” and “Burn It Down” along with the torrential downpour made the incident that much more unforgettable. A series of fans took to the mid-portion of the lawn and began a full throttle mud slide. In between sets, these people were instantly identifiable as they were covered head-to-toe in mud and yet there was no discontent on their face, in fact, there was nothing but the ardent delight of being amongst friends listening to music they loved. In a day and age where VIP sections have sucked much of the life out of the concert industry, a series of fans reminded 20,000 Chicagoans that it’s not always about being close and upfront, but in the belly of the beast experiencing the music amongst fans whose hearts are bigger than those down front. The wallets may be fatter down front but they couldn’t muster a tenth of the energy given off by those on the lawn.
One of the day’s great surprises was the pop-punk potency of Sum 41. Taking to the stage, the four piece band performed a ten song set that rippled with upbeat tempos and fuming guitars. The crowd roared during “The Hell Song” which served as the opener before “Skumfuk” slowly brewed amidst some pining guitar and Deryck Whibley’s mature vocals. Don’t let that last sentence mislead you, Whibley hasn’t so much grown up as bettered with age. “Screaming Bloody Murder”, the title track of their latest album (released in March of 2011) features mad guitar riffs amidst a cackling drum beat performed with ease by drummer Steve Jocz. The album, Screaming Bloody Murder represents the band’s evolution. While still showcasing their eclectic in-your-face influences of punk and metal paired with overpowering melodies, lyrically it demonstrates the best lyric writing to date. Some of it may have come about because of the personal turmoil some of the members endured in the four years since their last record. Regardless, it’s a record where the band doesn’t hide behind their guitars and melodies but put their pain at the forefront. It’s a unexpected record from them and if there was any negative aspect to their Jamboree performance it was that only a few songs from this rather startling album were aired. Here’s to hoping they may a return visit to show off more of this remarkable record. Despite their shortened set, they made their presence known and by the sets final two songs, “In Too Deep” and “Still Waiting”, every single person in attendance was reveling in the bigger than life riffs. For a four piece band with the obstacles of a dreadful amphitheater and poor placement in a radio station show, they owned the crowd. It may have been broad day light and Sum 41 was in the middle of a heavy set of acts, but they let their presence known, heard and above all else remembered.
One of the band’s Q101 championed in the mid-1990’s was Live and to this day they’ve remained a favorite with tracks from all of their albums garnering airplay on a constant basis. While Live wasn’t present, lead vocalist Ed Kowalczyk appeared in support of his year old solo album, Alive. Performing solo material, including “The Great Beyond” and “Stand”, he was backed by an incredibly solid backing band. Despite their penchant for performing note-for-note reproductions of Live songs, I couldn’t help or wish that it was actually Live performing. Still, he gave quite a bit of himself in the songs. He opened with a bold performance of “All Over You” and wore his heart on his sleeve for “Heaven”. The over-the-top sentiment of this song (written for his first daughter) is easy to dismiss, but when it was released in a post 9/11 world, it was hard to just ignore it. Bristling with emotions it was evident on his face that this wasn’t written as a hit but composed because he needed to express the emotions within. Closing out his hour long set was “”I Alone” which pulled some of the younger listeners closer and then when those jet-lagged guitar chords to “Lightning Crashes” began, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. One of the alternative era’s greatest triumphs, it twists and turns from a slow burning ballad into an iridescently powerful anthem of transference.
Up until this moment, Sum 41 had performed the best set of the show but when the lights went out around 7:10, there was an anticipation and hunger I had not seen over the course of the day. It became apparent that many of the 20,000 in attendance were there to see Papa Roach. “Getting Away With Murder” and “…To Be Loved” were performed amidst a bracing audience retort. During “Burn” from their Time for Annihilation...On the Record and On the Road the mosh pit in front of the main stage and on the lawn took full force as the single-syllable title cut rippled throughout the crowd. Jacoby Shaddix worked the crowd like a front man possessed. I’ve never seen the band before and was wholly impressed with not just the band’s musicianship but their ability to demolish a crowd in the process. “Forever” was assertive, “Hollywood Whore” was indulgent (where Shaddix had the entire crowd waving their middle fingers in the air) and “Lifeline” was conquering. I don’t think there is anything in the world than to watch a band come onto a stage anywhere in the world and sway a crowd the way Papa Roach did on this particular evening. Their music shifts between anger, candor, calamity and even a quixotic optimism on the wonderfully melodic metal ringer “Scars”. I may have come to see Thirty Seconds To Mars but was glad I saw Papa Roach. Without question, they may have had the largest and most receptive set of the evening. I’ve often rolled my eyes at radio shows as I would always much rather see these acts in smaller venues playing extended sets, however, as Papa Roach proved, they were a band that was pulled off the bench in extra innings and hit a grand slam. Anyone who caught their set will try and see them again when they come back through town.
After the battle call wails that Papa Roach evoked from the 20,000 in the crowd, Seether was in an peculiar position, literally and figuratively. I’m not sure anyone could have followed the set by Papa Roach, which makes their placement as the penultimate act on a full day show all that much more puzzling. While songs like “Gasoline”, “Needles” and “Broken” featured some of the heaviest performances of the entire day, they didn’t seem to connect with the audience as a whole. Seether, now a three piece, had the biggest reaction of the evening from a Nirvana cover, “Heart Shaped Box”. In a note-for-note reproduction of the song, the band did nail it and followed it with the bluesy “Country Song”. The mid-tempo “Rise Above This” was the highlight of their original numbers and did showcase the great diversity and chops of the band. There’s more to this band than most gave credit for, but having them sandwiched in between Papa Roach and Thirty Seconds To Mars was a scheduling error that above all else, hurt Seether where a spot before or after Ed Kowalczyk would have suited them better.
Headliners Thirty Seconds To Mars unfortunately had to perform an abbreviated set with only eight songs being performed. The torrential rains earlier in the day delayed the overall show and instead of cutting songs from every acts set; Thirty Seconds To Mars sacrificed a handful of their songs to meet the curfew. Despite this, they delivered a sturdy set full of unrepentant fury. The opening of “Escape”/”Night of the Hunter” was a showcase for the thunderclap exactness of drummer Shannon Leto. The tribal rhythms of the band’s records don’t fully reveal his luminosity behind the kit. Instead of merely keeping the beat or providing a jolting wallop inside arena halls across the world, his style is infused with much more than anyone could have imagined. Evoking the tribal beats heard of Peter Gabriel’s best work while maintaining rhythm as intensely as Neil Peart, Shannon Leto is wholly distinctive and has no peer in the rock world. This doesn’t mean he is better than anyone but is a testament to his original style in a world where most are merely copying someone who has come before. Somehow he manages to meld these influences. The one-two opening was a sight to behold with Leto’s kit set up at the right side of the stage facing sideways where he felt to be more than just a foundation but an primary piece of the music.
What the band may lack in terms of a deep catalog, they more than made up for with riveting force. Besides the aforementioned assault of drummer Shannon Leto, lead singer Jared Leto is a natural front man. His acting background did not guarantee this but he has made himself one of the most interesting front men in the business. The crowd was measured in their surrender to the band, but Leto didn’t seem discouraged by this, he merely worked harder to make them his own, which he did. He flexed his gift on “Search and Destroy”, an engaging track on This Is War but in concert, it becomes a breaking-bread moment. He offered physical connection (“everyone let’s jump”) to moments of solitude where the band was all but hushed as he spoke to the crowd. Ultimately, but relentless repetition of a key phrase from the song, “A million little pieces” Leto slowly but astutely wound the crowd up into a thunderous frenzy. Leto struts across the concert stage with supreme confidence the way that Mick Jagger or Jon Bon Jovi would yet his bond with his audience is more profound. Throughout out the entire performance, guitarist Tomo Miličević noodled his way through each song with great restraint and arena rock flourishes. Each song found him taking on a new role; mood maker, rhythm keeper, stoic strummer and melody man. Many of the songs are based around the textures of his six strings yet rarely was he ever up front wailing. He’s the anti guitar hero but in many cases, a far superior musician and imperative band member as few too musicians these days are willing to sacrifice their talent for the sake of a song. Alas, as the three members of Thirty Seconds To Mars are uniquely individual and talented but within the milieu of the group, they characterize greatness.
By the time they performed the burning “This Is War”, the title cut from their latest LP, they had fully won over the crowd. The bearded Leto removed his Sergeant Pepper styled blue coat and wrapped a guitar around him. Belting each lyrics like his life depended on it; even those who were jaded were swayed by his convincing and passionate stage presence. The swooping and arm-waving theatrics are old school and nothing new, but it’s shocking in today’s day and age how many musicians fail to elicit a response from the crowd. More often than not, those in attendance aren’t fans but merely there to see the radio hit. With zero promotion, Thirty Seconds To Mars sold out the Aragon Ballroom six weeks earlier (capacity 4,500) and in front of 20,000 on this day in June; they had many more who succumbed to their music. The all too brief encore featured an abbreviated version of “Hurricane” by a solo Jared Leto on acoustic before he began pulling fans out of the crowd for the triumphant farewell of “Kings and Queens” with its ready-made anthemic chorus. “Kings and Queens” found what seemed like half of the crowd on the stage with the band. Leto was picking and choosing fans one-by-one and slowly but surely, it felt as if half of the crowd was there on stage with them for the sprawling epic. Watching the band made me wish for them to play larger halls here in the US.
Its one thing to perform and another to unite; Thirty Seconds To Mars has a bond with their audience that will not dissipate with time. If anything it will grow. Their albums resonate stronger with every play and the band is at the peak of their powers as a live unit. One can only hope they’ve documented this tour and hopefully for US audiences there could be further shows in the cards. There is a hunger in their delivery and their audience is expanding with not just familiarity of their songs but awareness of seeing themselves within the songs. It is a rich experience to witness a show where there is equal give and take between the artist and their audience and Thirty Second To Mars has reached this in their relationship with their fans. The sheer size of fists flying in the air as they chanted “no, no, no, no” during the cinematic “Closer to the Edge” is etched in my brain as the crowd didn’t merely mimic Leto but transferred their dreams and desires to him on that stage. As they concluded the song and unleashed a flurry of confetti, each piece of paper had a message on it like a Chinese fortune cookie. It was merely a reminder of the effectiveness these songs have upon their fan base, each song itself is a little fortune, It’s one thing to entice a crowd with thrusting and posing and another to make them yearn and ache for your next note, the latter of which Thirty Seconds Too Mars has attained.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter