Linkin Park plays to its base

The rap/rock hitmakers' smaller crowd at the Xcel was nothing to mope over.

The nice thing about catching bands on their way down from rock's highest commercial peaks is that the fans who do hang around are the most rabid and easily excitable.

Linkin Park's crowd Friday night at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center was pretty much nuts. Mostly in a good way, too. Even though it was a far cry size-wise from the 18,000 the band drew to the same arena in the mid-'00s, the audience of 10,000 was passionate enough to make the concert feel like a mega-sized, over-the-top affair.

The California rap/rock sextet still thinks big in the production department. It played on a V-shaped stage in front of a W-shaped array of giant video screens, and there were enough swirling overhead lights and flashing strobes to illuminate the entire Winter Carnival parade.

Linkin Park has gotten more and more ambitious with its music, too, which wasn't always a good thing Friday. Songs off the group's newest album, "A Thousand Suns," featured a more melodic, mature sound that sometimes fell as flat as co-vocalist Chester Bennington's pitch range.

The 110-minute concert started with the usual dose of teen-centric, bedroom-generated tension and aggression, as heard in the hard-charging openers "Papercut" and "Lying From You." When Bennington screeched out lines such as, "I'm my own worst enemy," and, "Put me out of my misery" -- both in the stop/go rocker "Given Up" -- he had the crowd in the palm of his writhing hands.

As always, Bennington's fellow frontman Mike Shinoda offset Bennington's hyper-angst with his cool, slow-steaming rap bits in "Lying From You" and "When They Come For Me," the latter a tribal-rhythmic, onward-marching song that featured four of the band members pounding on drums.

The band really just plain wimped out, though, and not once but twice: Mid-show when they got to the moody, piano-plunked "Waiting for the End" and the power-ballad-like "Burning in the Skies," and again in the encore with the U2-ish "Wisdom, Justice & Love." All those tunes came from the new album, which carries an after-school-special-ready theme of atomic destruction but itself is pretty clearly a bomb.

Still, whether they were delivering the tepid new tunes or cranking up their mega-hits, "Crawling" and "Numb" -- both three-quarters into the set -- the ever-mobile, dueling frontmen kept the crowd on its feet and singing/screaming/moping along.

Australian techno-rock band Pendulum, the second of two openers, proved a nice fit with Linkin Park with its own pair of rapper vs. singer frontmen and dramatic rockers. Still, its best bit was an abbreviated cover of Metallica's "Master of Puppets." Now that's angst for you.

See Linkin Park's full set list at startribune.com/artcetera

Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658

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