Daron Malakian: Guitar, Vocals
John Dolmayan: Drums
Shavo Odadjian: Bass, Backing Vocals
Serj Tankian: Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
- Prison Song
- Deer Dance
- Chop Suey!
- Lonely Day
- Soldier Side - Intro
- Soldier Side
- Kill Rock 'N Roll
- Lost In Hollywood
- Holy Mountains
- Sartarabad (Traditional, Cover)
Source Format Quality Complete Length
- North American leg of 2011 World Tour.
- As part of a contest on their official website, fans had the chance to pick six (6) songs for the band to perform each night. The winner received two tickets to the show and a setlist signed by the band.
- "Bounce" was added to the setlist.
- System of a Down Slays At Epic Forum Show
by Ben Wener, The Orange County Register
As reunions go, the return of System of a Down this spring-into-summer is hardly among the most momentous regroupings in rock history, no matter how rabidly anticipated it has been by fans who went positively berserk for Tuesday’s tremendous performance at the Forum — the best SOAD set I’ve seen, going back to the ’90s. Undoubtedly they will go nuts again tonight at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine, though I wonder if they’ll scream as loud should a sound-checking tech once again say “Daron mic … Shavo mic …”
They’re just over-excited, and who can blame ‘em? But, as was the case with Foo Fighters’ much shorter hiatus, there was never any doubt System would be back — they said as much before they split for side projects in 2006. For all those supposed tensions several years ago — they certainly were evident last time I caught the group at the Greek — this one-of-a-kind L.A. outfit remains as tight-knit as the Armenian community it often commemorates in song. They’re essentially family, much more so, it seems, than most of their contemporaries. Brothers just need breathers sometimes.
So they took five years off and pursued endeavors that were across-the-board intriguing, if also not as satisfying as a proper System effort. Each served a purpose, however, scratching respective itches while keeping one another professionally honed — none more so than vocalist Serj Tankian, who explored his nascent theatricality via solo tours and refined his dynamic, full-bodied voice with melodies (on Elect the Dead) that were occasionally richer than the maniacal barking he provides for SOAD.
Guitarist and co-vocalist Daron Malakian chiefly responsible for the sound and thematic content of the group’s last studio recordings — the erstwhile double-album Mesmerize/Hypnotize, released in two chart-topping halves six months apart in 2005 — further explored his industrial tendencies with Scars on Broadway, a far less active machine powered by drummer John Dolmayan (who also put together his own outfit, Indicator). Shavo Odadjian, as befits a bassist without a band, ventured into other grooves, collaborating with the RZA of Wu-Tang Clan as AcHoZeN and paying some dues as beat-slapper in George Clinton’s ever-rotating P-Funk lineups.
Those were all fine stopgaps that kept System of a Down away just long enough. Any less and it wouldn’t have mattered — nor would it likely have produced half as much frenzy as coursed through fans at the Forum like zaps of lightning. Never mind the surging waves of humanity that lapped at the stage — I was busy counting how many circle pits would erupt at the start of each song. Most of the time it was around six, though two kept widening into a larger one. But when “Forest” gave way to “Science,” the enormous response reached a boiling point — and nine pit flurries broke out on the floor.
As with Rage Against the Machine‘s minions, the fervency of some System fans borders on insanity.
Had the band stayed away much longer than six or seven years, though, some of us might have been left wondering if System of a Down was ultimately only a generation-specific rock giant, like David Lee Roth-era Van Halen — crucial, yes, but principally to a very distinct segment of people.
Unquestionably System is one of the most original and outspoken heavy rock bands of the last quarter-century, a not-so-bold statement (if you’ve been paying attention) reaffirmed by Tuesday night’s galvanic 30-song set. Naturally it would be a peak performance, the hometown stop on a brief West Coast swing before the quartet heads overseas for headlining festival appearances in the U.K., Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden and Finland, and then later in the year in Brazil.)
Still, outside of explosive (but inconsistent) live shows, the band’s reputation rests only on a formative debut and two masterful double albums, if you paste together the last two discs and consider the sonic breakthrough Toxicity (2001) and its bootlegged-then-released counterpart Steal This Album! (2002) as halves of a greater whole. Toss in widely circulated demo tapes dating back to 1995 and that still isn’t much quality output in the same amount of time it took Zappa (one of their heroes) to crank out four times as many albums.
But what a remarkable and increasingly relevant body of work it is. There are scarce few tracks in the System songbook that don’t jab the brain with sociopolitical subject matter: “Lost in Hollywood” and “Radio/Video” are more localized examinations of ego and celebrity, while this night’s one-two opening grenade, “Prison Song” and “B.Y.O.B.” (“why do they always send the poor?!”), was a stunning reminder of how succinctly SOAD can skewer national/global travesties of might (or wrong) over right. Just in case any unenlightened college kids turned up solely for a party that they were too young for five years ago, Tankian, in the only moment when he said much more than “hello” and “thank you” to the audience Tuesday night, made sure the overriding message was heard.
“We’ve reached the point of our own extinction,” he said just after “Science” and during the build toward “Holy Mountains,” an icy alpine backdrop (one of several draped behind the band throughout the night) giving way to a scene of infinite cosmos. We’ve approached our inevitable doom “like a horde of locusts”; we’ve been “taking without giving, reaping without nurturing … we are the Hitlers of the 21st century … we are the Stalins of the 21st century.” Yet “we are also love … we can be inclusive … we can grow … we are not just flesh, we are spirit that moves through all things.” He doesn’t believe in governments and flags, he said — just people and their inalienable right to build “a peaceful future going forward.”
All of that came through loud and clear — and was perhaps even digested by the majority of headbanging guys and their equally aggressive girlfriends — throughout System’s generous, ferociously played performance, the musicianship of which matched the lyrical sting. A colleague tells me he found Sunday’s set in Chula Vista perfunctory — he felt more passion coming from opening act Gogol Bordello, the “Gypsy punk” ensemble that was rousing as ever at the Forum, thanks to smartly revised pacing.
But Tuesday night System was anything but perfunctory. I, too, half-expected them to play like they were picking up a paycheck on the way to bigger sums in Europe; there’s no other impetus for these shows, apart from hopefully (as with No Doubt) directing them back to their mojo. “We have no master plan of sorts,” they admitted on their website when the hiatus was ended. “We are playing these shows simply because we want to play together again as a band and for you, our amazing fans.”
That isn’t falsely humble: it’s a simple aim that is now being epically achieved. Either they rehearsed for months to get this robust again, or the half-dozen dates before these Southern California shows has really tightened them. Or maybe they’re just that good. (Or maybe we’ve had time enough to forget how instinctively skilled they are at pulling off such diabolical music.) Whatever the case, Tankian has never sung better, Malakian has never played better (nor integrated his weirdo stage persona into the mix with such finesse), and the rhythm section can now hold its own against Metallica‘s.
They sounded revitalized from the break yet as seasoned as a band that never stopped touring. Apparently free from whatever was ailing it half a decade ago, a matured but no less striking System of a Down has picked up where it left off, amazingly in flawless form, marshaling their best material into a brain-rattling, body-hurling hurricane of thought bombs. I didn’t know how much I’d miss their shrapnel until they took it away.