I think I was unique among the tens of thousands present in being able to say that the last thing I did before leaving for the gig was take a communion service in a home for the elderly. American rap-rock group Linkin Park played their first South African concert at Cape Town stadium on Wednesday November 7th. It was a fierce, gale-force wind-swept early summer’s day. That carried a high price – before the concert a sponsor’s branded scaffolding tower fell (outside the stadium), injuring several people and killing one. It was a tragic accident, and as the exact facts are still (at the time of writing) being ascertained it’s best to comment no further. Thoughts and prayers remain, of course, with those affected.
Linkin Park were born in 1996, a furious blend of aggressive guitar based rock and electronically backed rap, they’re one of the few bands who have survived that music sub-set’s brief moment in the sun of chart success; achieving significant and long-lasting global success. This is a sort of music that’s often dismissed quickly by those who don’t get it – making a sound like this work in a live environment is a huge musical challenge, one to which the band rise. Battling against some of the worst sound I’ve heard at a gig (strong winds are a PA person’s nightmare at an outdoors gig), the band are in the musical equivalent of some sort of high-wire act to make it all work, harnessing the different sounds and images to at times brilliant effect. In fact, I preferred them live to on record; recorded I find the sound (with the exception of the first album) too clean, too produced. They are, after all, singing angry songs about fear, self-loathing and alienation; so the slick production that’s come to mark their sound since the early days has always felt to me a little at odds with the music itself.
This was a crowd which had waited a long time – 18 years – for the band to make it to South Africa; the set, front-loaded with older hits worked brilliantly.There’s an inherent irony here that must be touched on. Cape Town is often referred to as the most unequal city in the most unequal country in the world. So for a stadium full of the statistically richest people in the city being sung to and singing out about alienation and pain is slightly surreal. That, and this is a manufactured, slick set-up – just how angry can a band really be when they find themselves soundtracking video games and movie franchises?
But still. As I’ve alluded, this is angry, loud music about difficult emotions. (If you’re new to their music, go to their You Tube Channel to sample; I suggest starting with the exhaustingly brilliant One Step Closer from the first album, then the haunting and oddly beautiful much later The Catalyst – a prayer for God to draw close; after that, hunt around and see what you find). People, who for all the world look healthy and happy, spent an evening joyfully engaging with anger and suffering. I say joyfully deliberately. I have a memory of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke being asked about his band’s concerts – aren’t they miserable because your music is about such painful emotions and dark subjects? No, he replied – joy is shared truth, so the band’s concerts are oddly joyful. That’s not the whole of a Christian understanding of joy, but it’s certainly part of it – the catharsis of sharing, of acknowledging together dark places, shining the light on the them and so removing the fear.
The Bible does similar things. The Psalms are often referred to the church’s first prayer book or collection of hymns. It contains ecstatic shouts of praise – and not a little anger too. Psalm 139 is mostly a prayer of awe at God’s power and creativity, but in verse 19 it has an alarming turn of phrase: If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!.
Or take Psalm 116, verses 10 and 11 I believed; therefore I said ‘I am greatly afflicted.’ And in my dismay I said ‘all men are liars’.
There’s a whole book called Lamentations. The title fits well.
There are many other places in the Bible we could continue with this; there’s a consistent pattern in scripture of the expression of these emotions of anger and fear and pain leading a person closer to God, not further away. So, as a stadium full of people sang “God bless us, every one, we’re broken people living under a loaded gun”; as angry music allowed 90 minutes of joyful shared experience, I wondered … how does this translate? How do we take these emotions, in the Bible expressed towards God, into our contemporary worship? It’s a challenge – and it’s one, as I’ve touched on before, that the writers of worship songs are tentatively taking up. There is further to go, though. Which is why a lot of us – Christians or not – still need bands like Linkin Park to fill the gaps for us.
That, and they’re great live.