30 Seconds To Mars @ Hammerstein Ballroom

30 Seconds To Mars | Hammerstein Ballroom (New York, NY) via Live Stream at VyRT.net  | December 7, 2011 |

You can say this much for 30 Seconds To Mars: they know how to go out in style. After promoting their latest album, This Is War, on a tour spanning nearly every continent over a period of more than two years, they wrapped things up in early December with a week of shows in New York City.

Dubbed “MARS300,” the December 7th show was neither their 300th nor, technically, the last on tour. Still, it was a convenient mile marker as they neared the end of a lengthy journey. Not a band to let such achievement go unnoticed, 30 Seconds To Mars made sure it would be a unique experience – up to and including accepting the Guinness World Record for most shows played during an album cycle (309, by their count) on stage.

The show began ordinarily enough, with anthems like “A Beautiful Lie” and “Search And Destroy” being sung with equal amounts of energy by frontman Jared Leto and the audience. Crowd participation was integral in recording This Is War, with tens of thousands of fans lending their voices to each track, turning live shows into massive, enthusiastic singalongs. Drummer Shannon Leto emerged from behind his set to play bowl (yes, bowl) and acoustic guitar on “L490.” An acoustic set featuring fan favorites “Alibi,” “Hurricane,” and “The Kill” led back into a full-band treatment of “Closer To The Edge,” which is nearly impossible to listen to without dancing. The band’s extensive touring was evident through their tight musicianship and well-orchestrated set as well as, unfortunately, Jared’s somewhat strained vocals.

Things got more interesting as they reached into the vault, dusting off songs from their first, self-titled album. “Buddha For Mary” merged into a rendition of “Capricorn,” after which Tomo Milicevic (lead guitar) played the intro to “Oblivion.” Jared stopped him, then decided they could at least play the chorus, saying: “I guess we might as well just fuck around. We’re playing with family tonight.”

And the night did have the feel of a giant dysfunctional-but-loving family reunion, culminating in the finale of “Kings And Queens,” where the band invited a couple dozen members of the audience to join them onstage. Like a good older brother, Jared continued to watch out for those still down below – and at the height of the final song stopped the show abruptly to ask for a medic to the front row. What followed was a somewhat tense 20 minutes as a couple of fans received medical treatment, one being taken away on a stretcher. Ever the professionals, however, the band returned to stage once everyone was out of harm’s way and picked up mid-song, right where they had left off. The mood was subtly altered, but still they finished triumphant.

Now I have to come clean: I have never attended a 30 Seconds To Mars show. I considered trying to get myself to New York for about a minute before I realized that my unemployment check wouldn’t quite cover it. The above review was made possible thanks to VyRT, a newcomer service dedicated to high-quality live-streamed concerts.

I want to take a minute to talk about the VyRT experience, because it’s a newfangled option I was glad to have. For $14.99, six thousand friends-I-hadn’t-met-yet and I watched the entire show plus extras from the comfort of our homes. In the past, I have watched short acoustic sets and Q&As from other bands streamed live, for free, but this was my first time paying to see a full concert streamed.

In some ways, watching the stream was better than being there in person. I got to sit in my pjs with snacks instead of outside the venue in the rain. I got to see backstage antics, hear a spontaneous song by Jared, meet the crew, and follow the band right up to the moment they stepped onstage. I watched the show from a front-row vantage point, minus the bruised ribs. It was all the fun of a live show with the added convenience of sitting in front of my computer, which is what I do most nights anyway.

The thing that surprised me was how much I enjoyed open chat with my fellow fans streaming the show worldwide. Personally, I don’t usually bother with chat; I’d rather just watch the band play. I expected I’d close or ignore the window during the show. Instead, it became an integral part of the experience – we reacted to what they said and did collectively. When 30 Seconds To Mars music videos were screened between sets, the crowd in New York sang along and we at home typed the lyrics at each other (which is more fun than it might sound like). We shared our respective locations, what time it was (middle of the night for many) and, before long, Twitter handles to help keep in touch after the show.

It was nice not to be watching in isolation, but rather with strangers around the world who were just as excited about the band, the songs, and the show as I was. It also made it a bit less embarrassing to be jumping around and singing at home, knowing that I was in good company. That is, up until someone walked in on me, or I strayed too far from the computer and got my ear buds ripped out. The band also made sure we felt included at home by keeping a laptop showing the live-stream on stage, typing messages to us between songs, and through Jared’s frequent injunctions, such as: “I want everyone at home to get up on their couch, or their toilet seat, and to dance like a total fucking maniac, you understand me?”

I have some minor critiques but, really, for a first try, it was an excellent experience. Having the chat window open sometimes made my stream of the show freeze or lag, and it crashed my browser altogether at one point. I’m willing to place some of the blame on my ancient computer, but I know others encountered similar problems. I would have loved to hear openers Semi Precious Weapons play their set, but rights to their performance were not secured, resulting in a long stretch of time where we could see them playing but heard nothing. In general, a countdown clock would have been helpful during “dead” time to let me know if I had time to run to the bathroom, put up some laundry, or make a cup of tea without missing anything. However, these are details that can be worked out. I still give this more affordable option a solid A for entertainment value, quality, and sense of community. Not quite the same as bumping into sweaty strangers in the physical presence of the band, but if you can’t make that happen this is a good alternative.

– Rachel Unterman