With head shaven and a tattooed forearm pressed tightly against his sagging chest, Staind singer Aaron Lewis walks the stage with the labored deliberation of a monk heading toward the gallows.
He may be the figurehead of the biggest rock band in America at the moment, but Lewis is in no mood to celebrate. He plays a martyr in droopy drawers, a confessional balladeer fronting a Korn-era metal band.
As part of the five-band Family Values tour that played to a sold-out Allstate Arena over the weekend, pain once the antithesis of rock celebration was a commodity. And the power ballad once derided as the most transparent of songwriting cliches was how it was conveyed.
Pioneered several years ago by California new-metal band Korn and refined into a marketing juggernaut by Limp Bizkit, Family Values rock has turned adolescent angst and heavy chords into big business.
Though Staind's three instrumentalists merely replicate Korn's rubbery bass riffs and hunched-over stage poses, Lewis' approach sets him apart. Unlike his predecessors Korn's twitchy Jonathan Davis and Limp Bizkit's cartoonishly combative Fred Durst Lewis doesn't clamor for the audience's attention, or scream his anthemic melodies. Instead, he croons like a heartbroken coffeehouse balladeer. He is Bread's David Gates reincarnated with a pierced eyebrow and tattoos. No wonder the audience anticipated not the rockers from the quartet's two albums, but the Bread-worthy ballads. As Lewis nestled on a stool with an acoustic guitar, his bandmates were rendered even more inconsequential, consigned by the lighting designer to the shadows. Then Lewis poured out his pain in big audience singalongs such as "It's Been Awhile" and "Outside."
"Cause inside you're ugly, you're ugly like me," Lewis sang. The same ritual is replicated several times a day on an MTV video the mournful balladeer joined by a lighter-waving audience in a cathartic public cleansing and it has made Staind's "Break the Cycle" album a triple-platinum hit.
Though positioned third on the five-act bill, Linkin Park received a similarly enthused reception. The sextet's "Hybrid Theory" album is a year old, yet remains in the Billboard top 10. The band pays lip service to hip-hop, with turntable scratching and rapped vocals, especially on a new, Beastie Boys-flavored tune "Step Up."
But the key to Linkin Park's success is the emotive singing of Chester Bennington. Like Lewis, he is an Everymope in baggy jeans, and he lifts his voice in tortured sorrow and confusion. In lines that could have been directed at Staind's singer, Bennington and the audience shouted, "You want someone to hurt like you" in the midst of "Points of Authority."
Precisely the point, and precisely the reason that the Stoned Temple Pilots sounded fresher than they have in years. Here is a primping, posing gang that wears its hedonism with aggressive pride, a band of the '90s who would have fit perfectly in the glam-rock '70s, when dysfunctional childhoods were not yet subject matter for top-10 rock anthems. All of which may explain why STP's arena-rocking but typically empty-headed latest album, "Shangri-La Dee Da" has already dropped off the charts.
None of which mattered to singer Scott Weiland, who strutted like a rooster running wild in the hen house. He tried to pay homage to Led Zeppelin on an acoustic cover of "Dancing Days," but his voice clearly wasn't up to the task. Instead, he flogged the lost art of rock 'n' roll showmanship.
After his bandmates delivered a walloping "Trippin' on a Hole in a Paper Heart," Weiland gave his concert-closing I-love-America speech a demented twist. "We're free," he cackled, while wearing little more than eye-liner, elbow-length evening gloves and an American flag. After a night of self-involved power balladeers, his buffoonery couldn't have been better timed.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times