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Limp Bizkit's rage on the rebound

In Las Vegas, the rap-metal band makes a return to performing live in the U.S.

July 20, 2009|Steve Appleford

LAS VEGAS — Fred Durst was concentrating on sound, pacing slowly on stage and rapping a line or two into his microphone, but mostly just listening. In a few hours, the original, platinum-selling lineup of Limp Bizkit was set to perform its first U.S. show in eight years. That meant the Saturday afternoon sound check in the Palms hotel and casino's Pearl Concert Theater was not about bouncing or raging to the band's hip-hop beat, but getting the details right.

Standing next to Durst was guitarist Wes Borland, shirtless and wandering the stage with an expression of total abandon, slashing out a menacing metal riff or plucking a spooky, echoing pattern, igniting the band's collision of hip-hop and metal. Durst just listened, arms crossed, nodding to the beat.

"How does it feel? Pretty good?" the singer asked, wearing a black cap and windbreaker, and looking toward the sound crew. "We're about there, dude."

Of the many pop music genres to emerge in the '90s, "new metal" was often the loudest, most aggressive and (in many cases) the most intentionally obnoxious. Limp Bizkit was the band that best epitomized that scene and its audience, mixing DJ effects with metal guitars and the rhymes of rage and desperation from singer-rapper Durst.

The band was rewarded with arena tours, platinum sales and was center stage as the riot of Woodstock '99 began. The band, originally out of Jacksonville, Fla., also fell the hardest during the genre's waning days, taking the brunt of the inevitable new metal backlash. Many of the wounds were self-inflicted, beginning with the exit of Borland in 2001. While the band continued, Durst also began a career as a filmmaker, directing the well-received indie film "The Education of Charlie Banks," and also "The Longshots."

In Durst's dressing room after the sound check, the singer and guitarist were quietly excited. After a short-lived reunion with Borland and a little-noticed 2005 EP, "The Unquestionable Truth (Part 1)," Bizkit split apart again, but then reassembled this summer on more solid footing for a European tour and the Las Vegas concert, and now plans to enter a studio in coming months for a new album.

"It took us a long time to grow up," said Borland, who explored various solo projects during his time away from Bizkit. "I had to try a bunch of stuff and met a bunch of people, succeed and fail and flatline, and highs and lows of my own, and realize this is the best place I've ever been is playing with these guys."

At the time of Borland's exit, Durst expressed confidence in the band, conducted a nationwide search for a replacement and recorded 2003's "Some Results May Vary" with guitarist Mike Smith. "All along," Durst admitted, "I knew in my heart it was no longer Limp Bizkit once Wes left."

His Vegas dressing room was barren except for some bottles of water and diet soda, with no alcohol anywhere. "We've always been clean," said Durst. "We've never been drunk before shows. I think it's because we take it very seriously. We get ready before the shows the way athletes do. We say our prayer before we go on, our own little ritual."

In a few minutes there would be another ritual, as Borland stepped out to begin applying the night's red war paint, re-creating himself as flamboyant rap-metal warrior, the band's most unpredictable onstage element. As he left, Durst crossed his right leg, revealing a vivid new tattoo: Albert Einstein with Boris Karloff's "Frankenstein" creature.

He was also intimately aware of the skepticism and confrontation that has followed the band almost from the beginning. He laughed and explained that the middle finger "became our handshake."

Not everyone will welcome Limp Bizkit's return. "The skepticism is something that's always going to be there. Limp Bizkit will always be a fish swimming upstream.

"Every once in a while you get a few . . . little comments: 'You guys are still around? I can't believe it. I thought you had gone and killed yourself. Why are you going to try to ruin the world with your terrible music?' Some of those guys are out there, and they're following me on Twitter. It's weird. Why are you following?"

The sound onstage was an echo from the last decade, but raging as always, not tired, drawing most songs from Bizkit's second and third albums, 1999's "Significant Other" and 2000's "Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water."

From the latter album came "Boiler" and its words of confusion, self-loathing and anger: "Maybe life is up and down . . . I used to be alive / Now I feel pathetic and now I get it / What's done is done, you just leave it alone and don't regret it."

Durst pointed at the crowd and said, "You know what I'm talking about, don't you?"

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