Daron Malakian: Guitar, Vocals
John Dolmayan: Drums
Shavo Odadjian: Bass, Backing Vocals
Serj Tankian: Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
It’s been over half a decade since the four members of System of a Down toured as a band on the East Coast, but Saturday evening saw one of metal’s most unique acts rocking out like they’d never been gone.
The System of a Down/Deftones tour has easily been one of the most anticipated shows of the summer, and the seats and lawns at PNC were quickly filling in by the time the Deftones took the stage. The Deftones have dealt with tragedy in recent years, as bassist Chi slowly but surely recovers from a devastating car accident in 2008, but they seem to have bounced back nicely. After a period of inaction, the band put out a new album and opened for Alice in Chains in 2010 (read my review of their Madison Square Garden concert right here), and appear to be fully back on track, especially judging by their live show.Opening with a pair of songs off 2010’s Diamond Eyes, the group ramped up the crowd with their brash distortion and frontman Chino’s tortured vocals. The opening song were followed by a series of fan favorites, with My Own Summer (Shove It) proving to be particularly well-received as even fans stuck in their seats thrashed around and headbanged to its grooving riff.
The Deftones played against a softly glowing backdrop that throbbed through shades of pink and blue, an oddly calming visual against the fiery, feedback-drenched show taking place in front of it. Chino was an explosive ball of energy on stage, jumping on and off a riser and rarely standing still for more than a second or two. He also picked up a guitar for a few songs, rocking out his six-string between verses, then racing back around the stage again.
All the band members were clearly vibing with each other, and even older songs still sounded crushing and fresh. Chino kept his stage banter short and light, but there was no doubt that the Deftones are as potent as force as ever in 2012, and likewise appreciated by their fanbase.
The band’s final song, 7 Words, saw the lawn erupt as fans went nuts and Chino screamed his heart out. The Deftones might not favor traditional metal riffs, but when they get heavy, few bands can compare to their raging wall of sound. The acoustics at PNC were especially good on Saturday night, and the searing guitar tones and thundering drums tore across the venue and darkening sky.
The only disappointing part of the Deftones’ set was its short length. Eleven or so songs went by all too quickly, and while a brand new song called Rosemary was a nice surprise for fans, even 10 more minutes to play would’ve been nice.
But as it turned out, the headliners for the night intended to use every minute they could for their own over-the-top homecoming party.
It’s been so long since System of a Down played this region that one could be forgiven for forgetting just how many spectacular songs the band holds in their catalog, or how tight they are in a live setting. But on Saturday night, some 10,000+ fans at PNC got a whiplash-inducing reminder.
“They’re trying to build a prison,” frontman Serj Tankian whispered from behind a giant white curtain, and the crowd roared in appreciation. Prison Song’s explosive breakout was soon followed by the ultra-catchy B.Y.O.B. and it was the early 2000’s all over again, as Serj and guitarist Daron Malakian shared vocal duties over thrashing riffs and the band’s trademark Middle Eastern inflections.
There is no other band in the world that sounds anything like System of a Down, and it’s clear that time off has done nothing to slow them down. Almost every song saw members of the crowd singing along, especially on melodic favorites like Forest, Question! and Radio/Video. Serj’s booming vocals sounded as grandiose as ever, and Daron’s higher range singing harmonized beautifully. Daron also twisted his voice into quirky effects and shrill screams, a perfect counterpoint to Serj’s occasional roaring death growls.
On the flip side were the heavier ragers like Psycho and mega-hit Chop Suey! Giant clouds of dust kicked up across the lawn as fans moshed on the sloped grass, tumbling around in the dark with only the flashlight beams of security enforcers illuminating the thick and dusty air. Bounce, a raging ode to group sex, saw the wild crowd literally bouncing up and down in waves as Serj barked into his microphone over the song's staccato guitar riffs.
Neither Serj nor Daron spent much time addressing the crowd directly, instead allowing their music to speak for them. With abrupt stops and starts a trademark part of their sound, the band’s timing and rhythm was absolutely impeccable. Bassist Shavo Odadjian was tightly locked in with drummer Dolmayan and Malakian, and Serj occasionally added in keyboard to the thundering mix.
Radio hit Aerials proved to be a high point of the night, as fans threw their hands up to the sky and sang along. There were noticeable signs of fatigue in the crowd, as exhausted fans sat or lay down on the grass, but it’s hard to complain when a band of this caliber insists on playing song after song after song after song.
System played no less than 24 tracks in all, saving the best and heaviest for last. Cigaro was introduced by Daron playing a gentle, sing-song version of the melody while crooning the song’s unprintable opening lyrics, which were then shouted out in unison by thousands once the song finally kicked in at full speed. The final four songs, Suite-Pee, War, Toxicity, and Sugar all featured slow and crushing breakdowns, and the pits opened up for fans to wild out one last time to the churning guitars and drums.
No encore was offered, but none was needed with such a long and comprehensive setlist. Even considering that many SOAD songs are fairly short, the band knocked out a stunning set that covered almost every hit and fan favorite. Sounding as good as they ever have, System absolutely demolished Jersey fans with an unmatchable combo of melody, power, and sheer showmanship.
PNC was just the third date on this tour, and one can only hope that more East Coast dates will follow. It’s been way too long since metal fans were able to enjoy System in a live setting, and this first taste surely left everyone wanting more. The Deftones’ opening set made the night even better, although most would probably prefer to see them in a headlining capacity next time around.
Let there be no doubt: System of a Down is back and better than ever. The time off has clearly done all four members well, and they seem to be genuinely enjoying playing together again (unlike their final tour in 2005). There haven’t yet been any indications of new music, but Saturday night’s mindblowing setlist forces one to believe that new music isn’t even needed when faced with such a plethora of quality songs. When System of a Down plays, everybody comes to the party and has a real good time.
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of a Down & Deftones bounce back at PNC Arts Center