When I found out Linkin Park were set host a memorial concert celebrating the life of Chester Bennington, I feared — more than anything — that the night would evolve into something like Linkin Park Karaoke — a slew of performers trying to imitate an iconic vocalist without much success.
Sure, I was thrilled to see some of my favorite musicians of all-time take the stage together. But this is Chester Bennington we’re talking about. His voice is one-of-a-kind, and synonymous with Linkin Park’s evolving sound. I didn’t want three hours of “Other Folks Singing Linkin Park Songs,” mainly because it wouldn’t bode well for the future of this band (a story for another time).
I started by ranking every performance of the night, but realized that, beyond my top 10, most of the performances were relatively indistinguishable from each other. There were no clear flubs or train wrecks. The song choices were strong across the board, and most performers held their own.
A couple notes before we begin:
- I won’t include songs that the band performed on its own, only Linkin Park songs featuring special guests.
- I’m taking technical vocal performance into account, but won’t prioritize it over song choice and other factors.
- Someone explain to me why Frank Zummo from Sum 41 played drums on half the songs. Rob u OK dog?
- For your listening/reading pleasure, each song title is linked to the corresponding time in the full concert video .
So here they are, my top 10 moments from “Linkin Park and Friends: Celebrate Life in Honor of Chester Bennington.”
“Leave Out All the Rest” (performed with Gavin Rossdale of Bush)
“Burn It Down” (performed with M. Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold)
“Sharp Edges” (performed with Ilsey Juber)
10.”Rebellion“ (performed with Daron Malakian and Shavo Odadjian of System of a Down and Frank Zummo of Sum 41)
Playing in their own backyard, Glendale-based System of a Down had a leg up on this banger — the only song of the night from 2014’s “The Hunting Party” — seeing as the studio version features Malakian. It didn’t disappoint, and felt like one of the more authentic tracks of the night.
9. “The Catalyst” (third chorus and bridge omitted; performed with Deryck Whibley and Frank Zummo of Sum 41)
There’s a small collection of Linkin Park songs — Crawling, Bleed It Out, Numb, Given Up — that feel tailor-made for Bennington’s voice, million-dollar safes padlocked with keyholes shaped like his vocal chords. I’d throw “The Catalyst” that group. When I realized Whibley would tackle that song, my face looked something like this:
“The Catalyst” soars to some dangerous heights, but props to Whibley for proving me wrong. He wasn’t going to coast at those peaks with ease like Bennington, but he did this song justice.
8. “Battle Symphony” (performed with Jonathan Green)
This is the part where I explain my attempts at objectivity in writing this post. “One More Light,” the group’s latest record, is polarizing, but I tried to rank these performances on performance alone, not how much I like or dislike the individual song.
That being said, I do not care for “Battle Symphony.”
But Jonathan Green (a primary songwriter) deftly tackled the uber-2017 pop tune. It was during this performance I thought to myself, if Linkin Park wanted to exclusively tour on One More Light, curating a setlist full of their pop-leaning tracks, Green could absolutely handle lead vocal duties. I think his voice is better suited to this song than Bennington’s.
7. “What I’ve Done” (performed with Mark Hoppus, Travis Barker, and Matt Skiba of Blink-182)
Of course, the one and only song in Linkin Park’s discography that features “Na Na Na’s” went to the folks who can na-na-na like no other. This was a brilliant song choice, with lower-register verses for Hoppus to croon over, an epic sing-along chorus apt for Skiba, and enough breathing room for Barker to make the song his own (including a double-time outro!).
That being said, I have yet to hear a particularly strong vocal performance from blink-182 in the Matt Skiba era (see “I Miss You,” played right before “What I’ve Done.”)
These guys are legends, and can survive on their brand and well-earned place atop the pop punk canon (both of which admittedly played a role in this review). But I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that Hoppus and Skiba didn’t sound all that great vocally.
6. “Nobody Can Save Me” (performed with Steven McKellar of Civil Twilight and Jonathan Green)
This and “Battle Symphony” were fairly interchangeable in my book, so the same commentary applies — if Linkin Park wants to try touring as a pop act, hand the mic to Green and/or McKeller.
5. “Papercut” (performed with Machine Gun Kelly)
Song choice. Song choice. Song choice.
Though Bennington’s harmonies were sorely missed in the bridge, MGK handled Linkin Park’s rap-heaviest song with dexterity. The Cleveland-based rapper was set to tour with Linkin Park this past summer, with dates schedule just days after Bennington’s death. Based on how comfortable MGK sounded on Papercut, I wonder if they had a guest appearance already planned.
We’ll never know.
4. “Talking to Myself” (extended bridge with snippet of “All Along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan; performed with Ilsey Juber)
This was the dark-horse performance of the night.
I had never heard of Juber, but she’s credited as a songwriter on both “Taking to Myself” and “Sharp Edges.” She brought the blues, and — to use everyone’s favorite American Idol feedback — really *~made it her own*~. My roommate, half-listening from the kitchen, glanced up from his bowl of pasta when Juber picked up the guitar, likely because of my audible reaction to her shredding.
Her licks were tastier than Trader Joe’s ravioli, which is really saying something.
3. “One Step Closer” (performed with Ryan Shuck and Amir Derakh of Dead By Sunrise/Julien-K and Jonathan Davis of Korn)
Once again, song choice — Linkin Park’s nu-metal smash from 2000’s “Hybrid Theory,” featuring one of the most distinct voices of the era. Another moment where I felt totally at ease watching Davis writhe around on stage, knowing he’d have no issues growling his way through a signature moment in Linking Park’s discography.
2. “Faint” (extended outro; performed with M. Shadows and Synyster Gates of Avenged Sevenfold)
I would like to take a moment and acknowledge this screenshot.
Hop in your time machine. Head to 2007. Find me, an adolescent, curly-haired head-banger living in Northern California. Show me this screenshot. Pick my jaw up off the ground, charge me thousands of dollars to travel with you back to the future, and I will oblige, because this moment would be worth every penny.
Avenged Sevenfold and Linkin Park are perhaps the important bands of my life. Getting to see them share the stage was surreal, and captured what made this worlds-collide celebration so much fun. Bringing one of the world’s best guitarists out to play one of Linkin Park’s most recognizable riffs was an acute move as well.
I loved everything about this performance. Shads harmonizing with Shinoda, his trademark hand-on-guitarist’s-shoulder move in tow. Gates ripping sweet nonsense during an extended, half-time outro.
I’m willing to forgive the screams Shadows chose not to do. This is a man who commands stadiums in his sleep, holding the mic in one hand and the crowd in the other.
You could tell this was just another day at the office for Shadows, and that was the difference between the good and great performances of the night. Some guests felt out of place, which only translated to an uncomfortable experience as a viewer, praying the performer would make it through the song in one piece.
1. “A Place for My Head” (performed with Jeremy McKinnon of A Day to Remember)
This night was meant to celebrate Bennington’s memory. And boy, was it a blast.
But the inevitable undercurrent — the one where you feel the uncertainty of a band without its frontman unfold over a three-hour set, where you brought ice cream to the party but watch it melt on the counter — was there. Hearing each performer tip-toe through the corners of Linkin Park’s discography spared a steady reminder of the man who should have been up there all night, who so tragically never will be.
A shaky melody and missed harmony here. A foregone scream and stiff stage presence there. Each solid — though far from perfect — performance made Bennington’s death even more palpable, the fact that 20-plus performers couldn’t quite capture his versatility, the element that made him so critical to Linkin Park’s evolving sound.
Then came Jeremy McKinnon.
Bomber-jacket-bobbing around stage, McKinnon was the only performer of the night who emulated Bennington’s parts without mimicking his style.
The “sick, sick, sick” whispered atop Shinoda’s flow in the first verse, the “step on people like you do” screamed in the second. The chorus, delivered with McKinnon’s signature swagger. And, of course, the guttural climax, the mad dash back to the chorus, and the Jamba Juice blender of a growl that rises to greets the outro. Topping it all off with a “motherfucker!” for good measure after the track cut out (an Easter egg from Linkin Park’s “Live in Texas” performance, for those keeping score at home), McKinnon secured the performance of the night.
This was not nu-metal karaoke or a Linkin Park tribute band. This was a seasoned frontman paying his respects, but injecting his own flavor where it felt appropriate.
“Linkin Park and Friends” wasn’t about filling Bennington’s shoes. They wouldn’t fit right anyway. This was about lacing those shoes together, tossing them up and letting them hang over the stage, swaying in the wind for all to acknowledge. A nod to a fallen icon, not an attempt to take his place.
The future is unclear, but Linkin Park now has 20 pseudo-auditions to chew on. You can buy a new dinner table, but that seat at the head will always remain, empty as ever.