We went to Long Island to see a Limp Bizkit concert and it ended up changing our entire perspective on what it means to be punk rock.
Fred Durst and Wes Borland, as taken by my shitty iPhone.
What is greatness? Is greatness 40 million records sold? If so, then Fred Durst has indeed achieved greatness. Is greatness the adulation of untold scores of strangers, screaming your own words, words that you wrote, back at you while fireworks and shit go off behind you? If that’s greatness, then Fred Durst was once damn great. Is greatness being actually remembered as one of the greats? In that case, Fred Durst is not great, or even particularly good. Pop culture has a short memory, and its narratives are often written by not the victors, but instead the critics. But what’s a victor, anyways? Is it the dude who actually won, or whoever gets to say who won? In other words, why does no one talk about how (to a whole hell of a lot of people) Limp Bizkit is a way more important band than Neutral Milk Hotel? And is Fred Durst actually a douche just because someone who wasn’t him got to say so?
At the Paramount, a maybe 3,000-person upscale concert venue in Long Island where a reunited, newly Cash Money-aligned Limp Bizkit performed last night, the answer to these questions, and pretty much every other question you could have thought of, was simply, “GET THE FUCK UUUUUUUP!”
Mainstream American rock goes through epochs, as fickle and distinct as layers of the earth’s crust. Stadium rock begat hair metal, which was torn asunder by grunge, which eroded into the nu-metal and rap-rock of Limp Bizkit, which in time was replaced by emo and pop-punk, which has since fallen and been replaced by…what, exactly? Indie-leaning folk rock? That’s not the mainstream rock reality I or anyone else wants to live in, and that’s why it’s actually kind of refreshing Limp Bizkit is back—at least they had the balls to actively piss people off rather than be content to bore them.
Limp Bizkit was born in Jacksonville, Florida, fathered by a seemingly deadbeat skater/tattoo artist by the name of Fred Durst, who according to Wikipedia, told the bassist in his band Shindig that they should start a new band that combined “rappin’ and rockin’.” And rap and rock they did, aligning themselves with Korn, opening for them, and then lapping them to become one of the biggest pop acts in America. Everything about Limp Bizkit pisssed people off: the name (it’s another name for Soggy Biscuit, a game in which participants jack off onto a biscuit and whoever’s last has to eat it), the way they hit the mainstream (their label paid a radio station in Portland a bunch of money to play their single “Counterfeit” which got them name recognition and infamy, then they blew up a boat on MTV, then their first actual non-Payola hit was a cover of George Michael’s “Faith”), to the way in which Durst openly courted fame (in a 1999 SPIN profile, he explained why he liked that his hard-edged band was being referred to as “Pop,” because, “‘Pop’ means ‘pop-u-lar’, which is cool with me,” and it came out that Durst had named his dog after his own band). This is all to say that at one point, Limp Bizkit had both the money and popular enmity to come onstage at Ozzfest ’98 by jumping out of a giant toilet. Despite their overt annoyingness, Bizkit had the right combination of punishingly adequate riffs, pop hooks, and stadium-ready showmanship to attract a legion of pissed-off, baggy-pantsed teenagers and become serious movers and shakers in the world of American pop music, despite enraging many critics—that same SPIN profile was openly disdainful of everyone in the band but Borland and claimed, “Limp Bizkit have yet to write a good song.” But who was right, ultimately? The dude who wrote that profile, or the seven million people who bought Significant Other?
One thing’s for certain, that guy’s opinion hardly mattered as the Bizkit took the stage to “Rollin’ (Air Raid Vehicle),” and succeeded in whipping the entire crowd—including me—into an absolute frenzy. The band seemed genuinely honored to be playing for 3,000 people, even if they’d played vastly larger stages in their life. The crowd at the show was pretty much what you’d expect from a Limp Bizkit show on Long Island in 2013—mad dudes in their late twenties and early thirties who skewed blue collar and overwhelmingly non-hipster—and though probably a good third of them were wearing backwards red Yankee hats, Durst proudly rocked a red Trukfit hat, symbolizing the band’s newfound allegiance with Lil Wayne’s Young Money/Cash Money label.
Watching them live, you tend to realize that Limp Bizkit is more about the tension and release of the Durst/Borland interplay than anything else. They’re like a jocky, Nu-Metal Van Halen in that way, with the spazzy, bro-tastic frontman reeling in the artier and more complex impulses of the guitarist and just making the dude play the goddamn riffs. I’m happy to report that Fred Durst doesn’t actually do that weird rhythmic monkey arm-pointy dance that he did in the Limp Bizkit music videos, instead moving around like a relatively normal human being, albeit one fronting one of the biggest rap-rock bands of all time. No one really talks about it, but Wes Borland can play the fuck out of a guitar, throttling his Flying V within an inch of its life, double-tapping percussively as if he were an ungodly Yngwie Malmsteen and adding ambient instrumental intros and outros to the songs, seemingly whenever he felt like it. They couldn’t have contrasted more in the wardrobe department as well. Where Durst was wearing black basketball shorts and a white Limp Bizkit hoodie, Borland was seriously dressed like a fucking orc, his entire body painted black with a giant black wig on his head and a light-up opera mask obscuring his face. He kept spitting water his water out instead of swallowing it, which seemed kinda weird but probably symbolized nothing.
The new Limp Bizkit single is titled “Ready to Go,” and it’s actually way better than it needs to be. It’s produced by Polow da Don and features probably the best Lil Wayne verse in recent memory. It turned out that the band was filming the “Ready to Go” video that night, which meant that Durst teased a Lil Wayne appearance that never materialized, and the band ended up lip-syncing the song twice in front of the cameras while a dude in a Winnie the Pooh costume came onstage and did The Worm. That was preplanned (I think).
Bizkit closed their set with a cover of Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name Of,” and I was reminded that to so many regular Americans with busy lives who casually listen to rock music and were screaming along to Limp Bizkit like it was the last night of their lives, this is punk rock. “Punk” as a genre term and a lifestyle becomes problematic when it gets conflated with “coolness” or “exclusivity”; by privileging knowledge of social codes and access to both information and physical space, seemingly democratic and open scenes can become inherently classist and disdainful of outsiders. Enjoying a Limp Bizkit show is a no less authentic musical experience than any other. There are no barriers to entry that would impede you from enjoying them or being accepted at their concert; they are rappin’ and rockin’ out for the people, regardless of how those people are dressed, what jobs they have, what they believe in, or where they hang out on the weekends.
When it came time for the encore, Durst came back out, threw Monster energy drink onto the crowd and proclaimed, “This is our favorite show in like, ten years!” to which everyone freaked the fuck out for seemingly the millionth time. Probably a thousand people had the best night of their life last night at a Limp Bizkit concert, and regardless of what you think of them as a band, watching people experience true, unadulterated joy because of music is a beautiful fucking thing. By the time the band closed with their cover of “Faith” as well as the enduring “Break Stuff,” you could feel that not a single soul wanted it to end.
So, to reiterate: What is greatness? Is it engaging three thousand strangers on your own terms and having them all fucking love it? Is punk a pre-existing set of ideals that you have to subscribe to, or is it tearing down tradition and making your own goddamn rules? Succeeding in spite of yourself is punk as fuck. So is having a good time. So is not caring what other people think. So is pissing people the fuck off. And in that way, Limp Bizkit will always be more punk than God.
Drew Millard is blessed with a mind that'll wreck it. He's on Twitter - @drewmillard