[Originally published 1/15/2011]
Who: 30 Seconds to Mars
Where: The Fox Theater Pomona
Amidst all the moshing, the sweating, the screaming, as rash a sold-out rock show it might have seemed, there were a few rules to abide by Friday night at the Fox Theater in Pomona: Conducted by Jared Leto, the chiseled actor-turned-frontman for the epic L.A. rock outfit 30 Seconds to Mars, every piece of the 2,000-person audience was to jump when he said so, scream when he said so, and absolutely sing its heart out when he said so. To wave their hands in the air or whip out a cell phone, camera or lighter for the slower songs. To introduce itself to the person next to it, make friends, strengthen that bond within the “30 Seconds to Mars family”. And, yes, to “go nuts” when told to too.
Sure enough, the audience obliged, giving Leto and his comrades what he claimed to be the best show yet on the 20-date tour they are now on. No matter that this night was just the fourth of such. “It's feels so good to be home,” he told his audience early on.
Staying mostly backlit, Leto remained somewhat enigmatic and was never too much in the spotlight, instead directing the focus back towards the crowd before him. There were teenagers moshing in the pit, adult couples watching from the back of the massive room by the quarantined bar area, a few drunk, a few stoned, tattoos, dyed hairdos, torn-up home-made t-shirts, piercings, young fleshy bodies moving together and against each other together in a perverse, supervised, PG-13 freakshow, hands in the air, attention forward, the liturgy carried on.
In the back of the pit, catching her breath was Kelly. A tall, teenage brunette, eager with the hugs, eyes heavy with black mascara, sweat-drenched after just a couple songs. “He sounds like a chipmunk when he talks,” she said of Leto, surprised by his speaking voice and relatively small physical stature.
Are you enjoying yourself?
“I am now that I'm back here,” she said. “I got here early and was up in the very front but they kept pushing me and telling me I was too tall to be up there. I had to get out!”
People here are pretty short aren't they?
“Well, it is Pomona,” she said like one should know.
With bleach-blond coiffed hair, a black feathered shirt and matching jeans and goggles that all gave him a birdlike appearance, at Leto's words the theater would erupt regularly. “I'm not happy until everyone wakes up embarrassed tomorrow!”, “This is the part where everyone loses their fucking mind and goes crazy!”, “Let me hear you scream!” were all lines he yelled throughout the night.
With steadfast conviction and undying persistence, Leto engaged his attentive admirers. He maneuvered the stage with natural grace, sometimes playing guitar, sometimes just belting his lead vocals out with the full force of his body, directing the audience to do this and chant that. Occasionally he would step back and bounce to and fro between his feet like a sparring boxer and then thrust himself forward and collapse onto the microphone with a passion beyond sexuality. He was more like a preacher, looking to save some kids with his miracle of music and community.
At a whim Leto could start a song with an a cappella chant-along, enter handclaps, then drums, then guitar and then continue on as described above with an erupting shared experience. “Jump, jump, jump, jump,” he would throw into songs too many times to keep count. Behind him onstage, amidst his bandmates and blaring stage lights, was a massive model of the 30 Seconds to Mars triad emblem. (“I do believe in the light/Raise your hands up to the sky/The fight is done/The war is won/Lift your hands/Towards the sun,” Leto continued onstage, during “This is War,” the title track off the group's most recent album.) What is that? With so much energy and so much excitement, one wondered what is being taught and learned here. Two thousand bodies worn down like putty, chanting, “Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!” Fight what? Where? How? OK I'll do it!
And then three large body-sized black balloons dropped from the ceiling, as the soaring refrain kicked in with absolute drama, distracting all thought. It was the sort of bliss one could deem life-changing. “Put your hands in the air, I want to see you dance like a mother fucker!” Leto roared, the stage flooded with red lights, the bass rattling body parts all over.
As the band worked its way through hits “From Yesterday”, “Bad Romance” and “The Kill”, coated in violent lights, Leto eventually dressed down to a loose black tanktop and guided the show through well-planned peaks and troughs in energy and tempo, picking up an acoustic guitar and put it down again a few songs later. Looking around, almost without exception everyone there was transfixed on the spectacle they faced.
“This is a song I want you all to reach deep down inside of yourself and find that little piece of fearlessness,” Leto told them, introducing “The Fantasy”, which like most of the bands' songs works dramatic lyrics and mesmerizing rhythms that explode into combative choruses. “This song is called 'The Mother Fucking Fantasy,'” he said. “Let's go fucking crazy!”
A little later, “How you feeling?” he asked between songs, like a friend high on drugs with which he's had more experienced than you. Ever-considerate and engaging, he would go on, “How's everyone feeling up top? You OK?” And then repeat for the people in the back, and on the right and on the left, in the middle, in the front, “You all OK?” Always keeping his fans in his favor, Leto stayed in theirs. And as he had them he toyed with them too. Conducting their cheers to be louder and louder with his arms raised. Or quiet them, bringing his arms down. Up, down, up, down, scream, shhh, scream! Boom! He pumped his fist in the air. Boom! Again, accented by a kick drum's blast. Boom! Boom!
Speeding up with syncopated drumming, there was so much noise coming from the audience it felt like there must be speakers in the rear of the balcony as well the front of the stage. Hands in the air, “Make the 30 Seconds to Mars sign!” There's a hand sign too? “Why don't you start a mosh pit right in the front?” Leto demanded, encouraging anyone without passes to the pit to “find a way” in. “I always did,” he said. And before playing the band's single, “Hurricane,” during the encore he mocked the kids' parents who might have forbidden their children for watching the explicit version of the video for the song, which features quick cuts, street violence, bondage footage and nudity. “No more YouPorn for you kids!” he yelled. “Where is your god?” he sang, repeatedly, marching up and down small risers setup at the stage's front. “Tell me would you kill to save for a life?”
Another encore later, for which the band played “Kings and Queens” to the audience's chanting behest and Leto picked audience members out of the the pit (and even some from the balcony) to come onstage and dance, the show was over before 11 p.m. and those thousands of bodies began filing out out of the art deco theater.
A throng congealed around the single merch table to buy t-shirts and posters that read, “YES THIS IS A CULT”, and at least one boy was heard to complain, “Ahh man, it's over!”