Linkin Park's Tribute to Chester Bennington Was Powerful and Cathartic
"Linkin Park and Friends Celebrate Life in Honor of Chester Bennington" at the Hollywood Bowl did exactly what it sought to do: celebrate life.
There is no accurate roadmap for grieving, no right or wrong way for coming to terms with loss. The Kübler-Ross model describes "five stages" of grief experienced in succession as one copes with death. Helpful as it may be as a template, mourning often isn't the linear process of passing from one of these stages to another. Like most things in life, it's usually more complicated. In practice, processing loss can feel like a dazed stumbling through blurred blends of emotions, a pastiche of the strongest feelings a human can experience thrust upon one all at once or in contrasting bouquets as the spirit is ratcheted back and forth between pain, love, disbelief, acceptance, and everything in between.
Permutations of all these sentiments radiated off the Hollywood Bowl's stage Friday night, washing over the 17,000 people gathered there for a tribute concert in honor of late Linkin Park front man Chester Bennington. The show saw the band's five surviving members joined by an expansive cast of pop stars from Sum 41's Deryck Whibley to Alanis Morrisette to pay homage to the memory of the departed singer.
But this event wasn't just about Chester Bennington. Billed as "Linkin Park and Friends Celebrate Life in Honor of Chester Bennington," the concert sought to not just commemorate the deceased's 41 years, but to reaffirm the lives of everyone touched by his music, to celebrate the act of living itself. It marked the first time Linkin Park has performed since Bennington's suicide on July 20 of this year and it was clear that they, and many others in attendance, needed this sort of cathartic experience.
Mike Shinoda, the event's host and Linkin Park's bandleader, fully embraced the celebratory aspect of the night. He beamed throughout the three hour event, overwhelmed with the support of fans and peers, proud that the sprawling and logistically complex tribute he'd helped organize had come to fruition, and happy to be back on stage again, working through his pain how Bennington would have wanted him to—how Bennington himself had for years. Shinoda's unwavering positivity was his way of processing the pain of loss, of celebrating life. It seemed like what he and his bandmates needed to move on.
Their fans needed it too. In August, Rolling Stone reported that on the day news of Bennington's death broke, The National Suicide Prevention Hotline received a 14 percent increase in calls. The four monitors bracketing the Bowl's stage revealed just how wide a spectrum the crowd's feelings encompassed, often contrasting the celebratory mood of those on stage. As the cameras turned to them, many fans appeared on screen singing through tears. Some screamed the lyrics of songs in a sort of exorcism of loss. Others just stared up at the stage in awed shock at a void no amount of star power, no number of special guests, could fill.
Then the show officially commenced. The lights went down, and the monitors lit up. Their screens proceeded to play what can only be described as an extended commercial for Mercedes-AMG, the high performance division of Mercedes-Benz who had cosponsored the event. A silver AMG racecar festooned with Linkin Park decals wended its way around a racetrack, Bennington whooping in exhilaration in the passenger seat. This felt—in a visceral, queasy way—like a strange beginning for a memorial concert, like a disruption of the atmosphere Z-Trip had cultivated. Perhaps I'm not alone in this, as the commercial is notably absent from the recorded live stream of the event now posted on YouTube. But it's equally plausibly that the commercial has its place in a Linkin Park show and that I'm simply out of the loop. At the very least, it explained the gleaming Mercedes-AMG display models that greeted attendees at both of the venue's entrances.
My personal connection to Linkin Park has been tenuous (read: nonexistent outside of karaoke booths) over the last 14 years. But as a preteen, they were indispensible. I still remember scratching the cellophane off Hybrid Theory's jewel case, floundering around on a skateboard with a Meteora CD spinning interminably in my Walkman. At the time, Bennington's lyrics, his exquisite growl and haunting cadence, seemed an exact aural rendering of the adolescent alienation I'd felt. But then, long before Minutes to Midnight was released in 2007, my tastes changed.
If I'd kept listening through 2007, I would have seen that Linkin Park's tastes had changed as well. This is all that happened—their tastes changed. Even given the band's relatively recent connection with Mercedes (who was one of the event's sponsors and the car company opened the concert with a 2015 commercial that featured the song "Heavy," which admittedly felt a bit strange given the context), accusations made by fans early this year that Linkin Park had "sold out"—accusations Bennington responded to with well-documented fury—seem both bizarre and tardy. The band's sound had been transitioning from nu-metal to pure pop for a decade. And is it even possible for a band whose first album goes platinum 11 times to ever sell out? With a debut that generates that much money, commercialism has always been a part of the group's life irrespective of their sonic evolution. The change in sound didn't preempt any sort of commodification. It's been there all along, as is inevitably the case when any musical act tops Billboard charts with such reliability.
I didn't recognize the first three songs they played. And yet, as Shinoda covered his bandmate's parts, the ripples of eerie resonance in the lyrics were palpable. "Weep not for roads untraveled," he sang, "Give up your heart left broken/ And let that mistake pass on/ 'Cause the love that you lost wasn't worth what it cost." Then, the mood mostly refocused, Linkin Park played a song I did recognize. The band's rendition of "Numb," performed sans vocals on a blacked-out stage, save a spotlight fixed on a vacant microphone dead center, was easily the night's most impactful moment. Some fans sang Bennington's part, but it wasn't the roar of 17,000 voices heard later when Shinoda invited the crowd to collectively fill in the vocals for "In the End." During "Numb," many sat fixed and reverent under the weight of Bennington's absence. The emotional tone Z-Trip had set before the show had unequivocally returned.
It didn't disappear. As guest vocalist after guest vocalist sang Bennington's parts with varying degrees of success (Takahiro Moriuchi of ONE OK ROCK was an accurate high point, Korn's Jonathan Davis, a nadir), just how special the singer's voice had been became increasingly apparent. The monitors were employed between songs to show videos of Bennington running through legitimately impressive vocal scales, and of big-name musicians such as Paul McCartney and the members of Metallica sharing stories of Chester's winsome character and professional work ethic.
The stirring moments built on one another as the night progressed with guest artists performing relevant selections of their own work as well as collaborations with Linkin Park. Alanis Morresette debuted an unreleased song about the pressure of suffering from mental health issues while in the public eye. Blink 182's "I Miss You" was heartfelt, apt, and performed impeccably. All of this crescendoed when Chester's widow, Talinda Bennington, took the stage to express her gratitude for the support she's received over the past few months and to speak about the importance of mental healthcare. "It is time we recognize that mental health is as important as our physical health," she declared, receiving an appreciative cheer from the crowd in response. She explained that the proceeds from the show would be donated to Music For Relief's One More Light Fund, and announced a forthcoming mental health resourced called 320, in honor of Chester's March 20 birthday. Once more, the Bowl let out a cathartic roar of support.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. The concert accomplished precisely what it set out to do. It uplifted performers and fans alike. It raised money for important charities. It was truly a celebration of Bennington's life, and of all the lives surrounding him. Many of those lives belong to pop stars. It's possible that the commercial aspects of the concert that felt so jarring to me—the display cars, that opening advertisement, and a questionably placed social media plug—are simply inextricable from the lives of chart topping musicians; that these modes of advertising had to be included in of a comprehensive celebration of those lives. Maybe it wasn't as bizarre as it had seemed.
Before the encore's final song, Shindoda addressed the crowd one last time. "You guys, we don't know where we're going from here. But we certainly appreciate your support as we get there. We'll keep sharing that stuff with you guys on the usual channels. But most importantly, keep Chester in your heart and make Chester proud!" The cameras sung around to fans. There were far less tears than before. Now nearly all seemed to share the performers' ebullience. This was the new stage of grief the tribute concert had led them to, hopefully one step closer to finding peace.
Ben Grenrock is a writer based in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter.