System of a Down
with The Mars Volta
Orlando, FL • August 16, 2005
Saying you’re a System of a Down fan is like saying you’re a Rage Against the Machine fan. People automatically target you as a radical left winger. The Bush-supporters of the world would have the band tarred and feathered as much for their outspoken lyrics and connections to Michael Moore (he directed their video for “Boom!”), as for their Middle Eastern blood (three of the four bandmembers were born in either Lebanon or Armenia). All political opinions aside, System of a Down are one of the most daring, original bands of today and bring legitimacy to a hard hitting rap/metal genre that once praised Limp Bizkit and Korn.
As excited as the crowd seems to see the headliners, a large portion of the buzz surrounding tonight’s show revolved around the opening band, The Mars Volta. One half of the deceased At The Drive-In, Cedric Bixler and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez have created their own musical subgenre that combines punk, metal, funk, and free jazz. Accompanied by a half dozen other musicians on the stage, they transformed the large basketball arena into a 3-dimensional landscape of sound so pictorial in nature it can almost be seen. The centerpiece of the band’s performance was a large black and white backdrop that emitted a black-light glow when lit with the green, blue and red lights they were bathed in. Coupled with the expansive sounds and Cedric’s unique, spastic bursts of dance, their hour long set was a swirl of colors and sounds that surely confused some and floored others.
A massive black curtain was hung in front of the stage with the cover art of SOAD’s first album in a two-part series (the second half — Hypnotize — to be released later this fall), Mesmerize, emblazoned on it. When the house lights went out, instead of the curtain dropping, one lone spotlight was shone from behind to reveal the stark silhouette of guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Daron Malakian, opening the show with the powerful “Soldier Side.” As the short song came to a close, the curtain fell as the band drove straight into perhaps their catchiest song to date, “B.Y.O.B.” The song about the poor of the world being sent into the desert to fight the rich man’s war, with its chorus of “everybody’s going to the party, have a real good time,” is a perfect example of how expertly SOAD blend their strong views on politics and current events with humor and sarcasm. It was a predictable, but exhilarating, way to open the performance.
The minimalist stage the band worked its dark magic on was decorated only by a row of neon tubes hung above the band that alternately changed color, and mirrors tilted at a 45 degree angle hanging at the very top of the stage. The mirrors refleced the band as well as the crowd, giving a unique perspective, as if seeing the show from the drummer John Dolmayan’s eyes.
Throughout the 90 minute set vocalist Serj Tankian worked his tongue twisting mastery by exerting little energy on posturing rockstar clichés, and instead left the spotlights for flash on his band members, Daron and bassist Shavo Odadjian. The two of them had more than enough faces, body twists, and show-off spins to dazzle the crowd! Their energy was inescapable, and a perfect balance for Tankian’s slow-as-a-snake way of moving about the stage. Malakian comfortably played the role of host for the evening, introducing songs with his off-kilter twists, as with his childlike Sunday school intro (“everyone needs saving… you need saving/ I need saving…but until then, LET’S DANCE!“) to the night’s highpoint, “Violent Pornography.”
The night was a lesson in politics wrapped in a blanket of metal. It didn’t matter if you walked through those arena doors because you agreed with the lyrics (“why don’t presidents fight the war?/ why do they always send the poor?” from “B.Y.O.B”), or because you came to the party to have a real good time. As Malakian put it early on in the night: “We’ve got red people, and we’ve got blue people. We should all just get together and make one race of purple people.” As heads banged in unison through the grandstands it seemed, at least for one night, that we could all set our differences aside and enjoy the simple pleasures in life — like a rock show.
System of a Down: www.systemofadown.com