The memorials start even before you get to the Hollywood Bowl. On the freeway off-ramp, there are kids going car to car in the crawling traffic selling somber black T-shirts bearing the legend: ‘Chester Bennington 1976-2017’.
Those dates, just 41 years apart, serve as a reminder of just how dangerous we are to ourselves. Chester took his own life, as so many others do. In Britain, suicide remains the single biggest killer of men under 45.
Chester touched a lot of lives in his too-few years. Climbing the hill towards the entrance to the Bowl, the longest queue is not to get inside but to get to the memorial wall erected near the gates, where fans are signing their names and leaving messages about the impact the Linkin Park singer had on their lives.
It is difficult to get a handle on the tenor of the night. At times the fans are exuberant, sharing happy memories or marvelling at the long journeys people have made to be here. Other times emotions run high. The opening act DJ Z-Trip chokes on tears as he introduces his final tune ‘Walking Dead’, a song that he and Chester collaborated on. It is the first time in the evening Chester’s voice echoes around the Bowl, but not the last.
When Linkin Park appear, greeted by the roar of the capacity 17,500-strong crowd and watched by many more on computer screens and phones around the world, they are fittingly melancholy. With Mike Shinoda centre stage and playing piano, they open with a medley of ‘Robot Boy’, ‘The Messenger’ and ‘Iridescent’ which segues into ‘Roads Untraveled’, culminating in the poignant final line: “If you need a friend, there’s a seat here alongside me.”
After that, before anyone has spoken, the stage lights go dark and on the screens we see old footage of Chester backstage doing vocal warm-ups and a mean Freddie Mercury impression. It’s the first of many sweet, funny candid moments we’re shown on video throughout the night, letting us remember Chester at his happiest and most relaxed, a guy just mucking about with his mates.
When the familiar beat of ‘Numb’ kicks in, the crowd roars expectantly but instead of the band we get a single spotlight lighting the mic stand, wreathed with flowers. 17,500 voices ring out in unison, an early moment of genuine catharsis for the fans.
There follows a rotating roster of guests both expected and totally unexpected – here’s looking at you, No Doubt feat. Alanis Morissette – who each bring with them changes in tempo and volume. Ryan Key from Yellowcard is followed by Gavin Rossdale, before Taka Moriuchi from One OK Rock breaks any remaining air of solemnity by screaming: “Get your fucking hands in the air, come on everybody!”
It’s left to Alanis to be the first person to address the difficult underlying subject of why we’re all here: not just Chester’s death, but the nature of it. She speaks about the “isolating” experience of dealing with depression while in the public eye, before Mike invites her to play a new song of her own, called ‘Rest’, which directly addresses the same subject and she says, “of course, is for Chester.” In the song’s refrain, she asks: “Can we cut this man some slack, and let him lie down?”
The night is not short of powerfully moving moments. There’s one during ‘One More Light’ – the song which gives it’s name to the charitable fund set up in Chester’s memory – when Mike sings: “Who cares if one more light goes out? Well, I do.”
That’s immediately followed by another emotional gut-punch as Mike talks about his disbelief on first hearing the news, his conversations with Linkin Park fans, and with finding solace in playing music, before debuting a song that he wrote eight days after Chester’s death. Alone at the piano, he plays ‘Looking For An Answer’, which is filled with heartbreaking questions like: “Was there something I could say, or something I should not have done?”
One thing that is abundantly clear tonight is that we’d all be very lucky to have a friend like Mike Shinoda. It must have been almost impossibly hard to summon the reserves of energy to organise an event like this while dealing with his own grief, but the joy and sense of community that he manages to create tonight speaks of his humanity louder than any crunching riff or reverberating bassline.
After those moments of reflection, the volume starts to rise again as the old heavy hits are wheeled out. To sing them come more guests: Bring Me The Horizon’s Oli Sykes, Machine Gun Kelly and Korn’s Jonathan Davis. After playing ‘Rebellion’ backed by Daron Malakian and Shavo Odadjian of System of a Down, Mike addresses the now celebratory tone of the night: “Are we having fun? I think we are. I think about Chester and I think that guy would want us to be having fun”
More guests follow, including Sum 41, Blink 182 and Avenged Sevenfold. Chester’s widow Talinda Bennington gives a deeply moving speech that argues powerfully that “it is time that we recognised metal health is as important as physical health” and concludes: “Fuck depression. Let’s make Chester proud!”
As Mike puts it, the most important guests of the night are the fans, and there are few more affecting moments than when they come together as one again to sing Chester’s part on ‘In The End’.
The songs says: “In the end / it doesn’t even matter.” That may be a grand nihilistic truth, but if you zoom in on this moment, for this band and these fans and this music, it is not the end, and tonight it all matters.