Getting Older and Searching For Myself at a Present-Day Limp Bizkit Concert

At one point, the Limp Bizkit phenomenon was something akin to the Spice Girls repackaged for frat boys. Is there any power left in the tank?
January 5, 2017, 1:57pm

This article originally appeared on Noisey UK. 

I'm not ashamed to say that—as a buck toothed, chubby and nervous 13 year old kid—Limp Bizkit were my life. While other hormonal teenagers found solace in writing diary entries or booting footballs against brick walls, my pursuit of choice led me toward moshpits helmed by Fred Durst. In accordance with his vision, I started wearing reverse Red Yankees hats to family dinners and re-labelled the sex I wasn't having yet as "nookie." One time, somewhere around the year 2000, I met Durst backstage at Reading Festival. He signed my t-shirt, and I have never come close to being as happy in a singular moment since.

The millennium was a strange time for music and in general. The world was in a deep juju of the Tony Blair years; before Afghanistan, 9/11, and the start of George W. Bush's presidency. Everything was not fine, obviously, but the cloudburst of imminent doom that gathers with every tweet about the world now was easier to avoid back then. Optimism, camo print, and wallet chains were deployed without a single whiff of irony. Perhaps it was these conditions—the only possible conditions—that allowed a group of four guys from Florida, one of whom only appeared inexplicably in full body paint, to earnestly combine rap and rock to become the biggest band on the planet. As memories of me attending a house party in enormous jeans will attest, it was a time when we were all much less crippled by the cyclical paranoia of self-awareness.

But things change. We grow up, and the winding failure of our twenties replaces all previous hope and naivety. Our fashion formalizes, beards grow and fringes don't, and we stop doing the "Rollin'" dance with our fists. But not everything changes… No, almost two decades on from their hot dog flavoured peak years, Limp Bizkit—unlike my unquenchable teenage years—are still alive and well. Not only that, they are pulling enormous crowds. Just a few weeks ago they (along with fellow former favourites, Korn) played a sold out Wembley Arena—a venue with a capacity of 12,500. But who goes to see Limp Bizkit in this day and age? And what do Limp Bizkit still have to offer a former obsessive like me in adulthood? That's why I was stood, sweating, in the middle of Wembley Arena to find out.

When I arrive, it's not quite like being transported back to the year 2000, but it's close. The jeans are tighter, the crowd older and the security way more strict. But the indecipherable black metal t-shirts, leather bracelets and flashes of blue, pink, or red in aggressively waxed hair remain. As do the aloof, silent goths, the smiley, excitable nostalgia hunters, and the drunk, borderline aggressive metal heads. The world has moved on quite a lot in 16 years in terms of fashion, but metal and rock crowds rest eternally in the same place, as though they're destined to hate their parents until earth is devoured by the flaming rays of the sun.

Fred Durst, age 46, is a little older, a little greyer. He is sporting an ash speckled beard, the same big, menstrual-red trousers, and a bucket hat. He is rapping the same verses, screaming the same petulant lyrics he was all those years ago. He looks like the Steve Zissou of nu metal, journeying into the wild ocean with his loyal and ageing crew for one last shot at the bastard jaguar shark. Caked in thick white face-paint transforming his face into a horrible grinning skull, Wes Borland looks as Wes Borland has always looked—like a dad who went too far for his son's Halloween party and has upset the children of the neighborhood. Then there's me; no longer fat and puffy, approaching my thirtieth year on earth, wearing a Uniqlo cardigan. I ask myself again: why am I here?

At first, it's hard to tell. Every song they play follows the same formula: rap verse, chorus, rap verse, chorus, build up, mosh pit, end. It's easy to see why the Bizkit weren't as critically acclaimed as I thought they should have been back in the day. Yet this formula is also their greatest triumph; you know what is coming toward you, like a shot of tequila on a work night out. When they play songs like "Faith," "Boiler," or "Full Nelson," it's as though your body is willed into headbanging its way back to a different, much less aware version of yourself.

Mainstream nu metal bands like Limp Bizkit or Papa Roach were an anomaly. They were too petulant to woo the public en masse unlike Linkin Park or Nickelback, and they were too rudimentary to be hailed as objective masters of music unlike Slipknot or Deftones. Yet, they were never a gimmick, so they didn't get old either. Limp Bizkit had about five astronomical years thanks to a perfect alignment of time and place, and they wrote enough good songs that they have been able to turn those five years into a timeless vacuum anyone can enter by going to a show, throwing on Significant Other, or almost crippling yourself running across the length of the festival fields they pack out every year when you hear the opening chords to "Break Stuff."

The thing is, whether it's Bjork, Beyoncé or, indeed, Limp Bizkit, music is undeniably good for different reasons. Sure, "the captain's drunk your world is Titanic floating on the funk" may not be lyrics that tug at your heartstrings, or make you feel any emotion at all other than a bit sick, but does that make "My Generation" any less of a rager? According to me and 47 million people on YouTube: no, it does not.

The way people process Limp Bizkit is visceral. Ninety percent of their back catalogue is glorified wrestling entrance theme music, in the greatest possible way. It's playfight music, take your top off music, point your fingers at your friends in a very serious way and let go of all your inhibitions music. It's easy to forget, but Limp Bizkit were an institution. They had figurines, actions to lyrics dance moves and a namecheck in "The Real Slim Shady". At one point, Fred Durst's high-pitched call-and-response phrases of "Yeah!" and "C'mon!" were embedded into cultural consciousness alongside quotes from Friends. The phenomenon was something akin to the Spice Girls repackaged for frat boys, and – while they may have their moments of maturity in "Behind Blue Eyes" or "Eat You Alive"—in large part they got there because they struck the perfect balance between fury and fun. That was true in the 00s and it's still true now.

The reason watching Limp Bizkit is so important to me, and perhaps for everyone else still dropping cash on them two decades on, is because they bring a youthful joy and lack of inhibition that tends to go amiss when revisiting more serious bands. It's easy to look at Fred Durst and co now and think: "Grow up!" But why should they? Sure, if they were trying to break the industry now they'd be canned faster than the American reboot of Peep Show, but does that really matter? Today's landscape is bleak and we have never been more aware of it. Now is as good a time as any, if not better, to put on a shirt three sizes too large and scream some bullshit about the he-says-she-says bullshit.

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