At the height of The Beatles‘ fame, John Lennon would threaten to leave the stage, so frustrated was he that the music couldn’t be heard above the screaming girls. It’s hard to believe that 30 Seconds To Mars frontman Jared Leto – the former teen heartthrob once named in People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People – would ever share Lennon’s concerns. Leto clearly adores the hormone-addled adoration of “the Echelon” – the legion of shrieking teens that slavishly promote the benign cult of TSTM. He runs this risk of being pin-up first, and rock star second, but he plainly loves it.
“Jared! I’ll have your babies, Jared!” holler girls incessantly through tonight’s show, striving throughout to outdo each other’s progeny-yielding promises. But instead of cowering away on a distant stage, safely ensconced from his newly-pubescent fans, Leto actively encourages contact – popping up more than once mid-crowd, and then inviting a whole bunch of bleary-eyed teens onstage for the closing number. It was the equivalent of Michael Jackson‘s Jesus moment at the BRITs – the adulation all in place, but white robes and cherubs replaced by moshing and gothic teens.
That 30 Seconds To Mars would nestle in the comforting embrace of the fans is understandable. This last year has seen the band fight a bitter, and very public, battle with Virgin to escape their record deal – a scrap that ended up in a threatened 30million lawsuit, and that now reverberates in the furious lyrics of third album, This Is War. (“It’s time to pay / You know you’ve got it coming” rumbles Leto through gritted teeth on opening track, Escape). As testament to the resulting fans love-in, groups of them even make it onto the album as choral backing to several tracks.
And thrusting Leto forwards isn’t just the vanity of the star turn. This is 30 Seconds To Mars playing to their strengths. Leto is their core asset for more than just the poster-boy looks. Their sound is built on his radio-friendly wail – full of husky down-notes, quasi-angst and a seething top-end – and his efforts as frontman to heat up a crowd, chilled by the arctic weather and cooled by the apathy of an overly large seated contingent, were non-stop.
In the stronger tracks – the swirling synth menace of Night Of The Hunter, the plaintive, hollered grind of From Yesterday – Leto goes all out for interaction, yielding large chunks of each to the baying, eager crowd. It’s a shame in parts, admittedly, as his trademark chorus peaks are less than faithfully replicated by the throng’s emphatic, but basic, monotone. But it’s symptomatic of TSTM’s anthemic appeal that so much of the setlist works as a huge singalong. However, therein lies the rub.
This is the same formula that has dredged Biffy Clyro from the hinterland to the anti-glory of being covered for The X Factor Christmas single and the same lowest common denominator ethos that streamlined the once effervescent edges of Kings Of Leon. It’s crowd-friendly chorus rock that fits all too neatly in a 30-seconds iTunes preview; that works best at a stag-do mosh; that is at its best when it can’t be heard above the screaming girls. The only thing is, Leto does it best. The choruses may be overblown, the angst over-glossed, and the frontman overdone, but 30 Seconds To Mars know their niche and work it, tirelessly, to great effect. Vainglorious? Maybe. But the fans love it – and isn’t that the point?