Credit: Thirty Seconds to Mars Insta
Credit: Thirty Seconds to Mars Insta

Review: Thirty Seconds to Mars at the Hydro

By Jack Murray

What happens when a fully involved act meets a half empty arena?

Entering the Hydro on a mild Thursday night, it’s a far cry from the usual concert fanfare. The out-of-bounds upper bowl seating and slack standing crowd juxtapose the towering pyramid stage. The house lights soon go down and a three-sided spotlight intensifies on the front of the stage. Amidst the darkness, a voice becomes distinguishable, alongside some form of rock ballad acapella. Jaguar Twin emerges onto the stage as the support, with a promising set – like an low-key opening to an arena show – ultimately let down by its repetitive lyricism, and backgrounded by an impassive crowd, filtering in to patiently await the main event.

The headliners, Thirty Seconds to Mars, have spent 20 years attempting to retain relevance in the cultural zeitgeist. Frontman Jared Leto’s acting career overshadows his musical one, notwithstanding a polarised critical response to the group’s latest album, and recent controversy surrounding their dissemination of cult-like imagery. Add in the ever-rising price of tickets generally, and lack of suitable standing venues in Glasgow – with a stark difference between the 2,500-person capacity O2 Academy, and the 14,500-person Hydro – it’s risky business for tour promoters.

Before I can ponder this issue further, the lights again dissolve to black. In their place appears a countdown from 100 on the central triangular screen, with stock-like imagery of “Seasons” in a nod to the single from their latest album, It’s the End of the World but It’s a Beautiful Day. Throughout, we follow the Leto brothers on side screens as they make their way to the stage dressed in flamboyant glam-rock inspired outfits, as eventually the countdown sticks on Thirty. Thirty. Thirty.

The immediacy of the band’s stage presence is clear from the beginning, as they leap into renditions of “Up in the Air”, “Kings and Queens” and “Rescue Me”, with trademark heavy basslines and inscrutable time signatures. Within these opening songs, Leto wields a flamethrower, cementing his already infectious on-stage presence. (Perhaps a little ironic of him, in light of a previous statement he made to the BBC, saying: “It’s easy to bring up a bunch of pyro. It’s much more difficult to share a piece of who you are and connect with people.”) However, it’s hard to deny the fun in pyromania, moreso its potential to restore the sweltering body heat otherwise customary of a sold-out indoor gig.

For a setlist dominated by their older, more rock-based catalogue, the standout song had to be “A Beautiful Lie”, from the 2005 album of the same name, in which Leto makes his way through the crowd while singing – an impressive show of intimacy even within an arena floor with pockets of space. Such intimacy is bolstered by a shrewdly organised acoustic set. Alone on the stage, Leto asks for fan requests and plays brief excerpts of the songs he happens to remember off the cuff. These deft twists on the setlist alongside a willingness to improvise help in making the gig unique in its flexibility.

The band then return to play some more songs with a noticeably more engrossed crowd, and embrace the thus far underutilised backing screen. The footage shown occasionally falls down the generic route of recutting age-old music videos, or simply being rather bland, akin to some of the songs that debatably blend together in the setlist. However, the band’s stage presence more than makes up for this; approaching the end, “City of Angels” provides a slower tune whose opportunity for respite is apposite. Compare this with the pop-adjacent “Seasons” played earlier on, which struggled against the opening’s heavier elements.

After another ambiguously long wait in darkness, the encore of “Stuck”, “The Kill (Bury Me)”, and “Closer to the Edge” ensued, and while the crowd were now more invested, the proceedings still ended equivocally. As fans were brought onto the stage for the final song, Leto seemed to briefly snap at an unsanctioned interaction, whereby someone looked to fist bump him. Perhaps such perceived micro-aggression’s can seem exaggerated when they take place on stage, but Leto’s response questions whether his propensity to involve his audience is genuine, or merely an attempt to save face: an act for a front man. Perhaps the jury’s out on that one; it’s easy to become too philosophical about these things. At least by the encore, Thirty Seconds to Mars managed to defy their uninspired visuals, tonally awkward set list, and diminishing cultural relevance, battling an uphill struggle to win over the crowd.


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