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The Rock Show: System Of A Down: Mezmerizing Philly
Posted on Monday, October 17 @ 03:57:21 MDT by roadrash
 ShowsOne of the most anticipated tours of 2005 brought System Of A Down to the Wachovia Spectrum in Philly. Special guests The Mars Volta and Bad Acid Trip primed the crowd for a huge night of thrashing, bashing and blasting! Then, with guitars blazing and the rhythms thumping, Serj, Daron, Jon and Shavo mopped up the mess and treated fans to a two-hour spectacle unmatched by any "mortal" band!

System Of A Down: Mezmerizing Philly
By Simon Burger
Photos by Donna Rickles

The Wachovia Spectrum is a venue somewhat notorious for being very loud. This southern Philadelphia sports complex is a fairly large indoor venue that used to house hockey and basketball games, but tonight the place was packed with classic bearded metalheads, fat Goth chicks, and a smattering of scene kids and emo fans.

Bad Acid Trip was the opening band for the show. They were awful. I've never heard them before ... and I hope I never will again. Their musicianship was weak at best, they weren't loud, their songs weren't good and the singer power walked around the stage, spitting words into the mic until he got too excited to shout similar words. Their sound wasn't clean, they didn't get the crowd going and they really had nothing at all to offer. Barely anyone had gotten to the venue yet and the ones who were there didn't seem to care. The best thing that can be said about a band like this is that the singer will kill his voice with his idiotic yelling and they'll shortly be manning a gas station near you.

There was a short break while the stage was set up and The Mars Volta's spider logo was raised across it. Then the lights dimmed. Horns began blaring Mexican style, like at the climax of a spaghetti western. The venue was still nowhere near filled, but those that were there got pumped and started cheering. Then the curtain dropped, revealing the members of Mars Volta who jammed quietly the beginning of the opener to their new album Frances The Mute, "Cygnus ... Vismund Cygnus." Cedric Bixler, the lead singer, then launched into a phenomenally high note as the band starting jamming the hell out of the song. They flew along together, pushing harder and harder when suddenly a horn solo emerged, then the drums, then into the guitar and back into the song. Every member of The Mars Volta is an extremely talented musician ... and they're only getting better.

Serj Tankian

I last saw The Mars Volta in May while they were first touring on this new album. They were good, but I wondered if their live jazz improvisations would develop any further. The answer is "absolutely yes." Percussionist Jon Theodore pounded away at crazy, fast Latin rhythms with heavy Zeppelin-like beats, while Juan Alderete de la Pena banged out solid bass lines that underlined the music well.

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is one of the best guitarists out there today, ripping out psychedelic riffs that spiral high into the sky over your head. The horn section has become an integral part of the band and the man in charge resounds above the rhythm just when it's least expected. Not only has the entire band become more skillful, but more confident. The horns are now more prominent, and the strings more ambitious. They give any dedicated jam band a run for its money and have placed themselves among the premier progressive rock bands of our generation.

"Cygnus" lasted 16 minutes, highlighted by a staggering guitar solo in the middle that left the place cheering. The song then wound down slowly, only to meld seamlessly into "L'Via L'Viaquez." This song is easily the best off of the new album and its energy sent the floor crowd dancing and jumping around as Cedric flipped out and danced around stage. He seemed to come even more alive during the Spanish words of the song ... screaming them out even louder than he already was. There were two Cuban salsa breakdowns in the song, which allowed the band, the singer and the fans to rest while it slowed down. Cedric hissed "And with every body that I find/And with every claymore that they mine/I won't forget who I'm looking for/Oh mother help me who I'm looking for..." The bass was funkier now than it had been on any album or at their previous shows. The song closed with a sweet flute solo that brilliantly faded away as Cedric passionately finished the final lyrics in a whisper. They took "L'Via" places it had never gone before.

Daron Malakian

"The Widow" was next. At the last show I saw, the band seemed obligated to play it ... and didn't seem very excited. Tonight they breathed new life into it, Cedric passionately belting out the lyrics. The bass was really funky and managed to get the crowd moving ... even though "The Widow" is a ballad and one of The Mars Volta's slower songs. This version blew any others away. The middle featured a free jazz sax/guitar duet, the two instruments graduating over top of each other higher and higher and thoroughly out there, until they calmed and melted back down into the final chorus of the song.

They bled straight into "Drunkship Of Lanterns," a fast, intense drum workout that clocked in at over 19 minutes. The curtain that had been behind the band featured two of its birdmen logos flanking a tentacled, clawed, many-eyed thing in the center. This was lit phenomenally by a perfectly coordinated, trippy light show. The tentacled beast dropped, as Jon launched into the opening Latin sequence. It revealed a triangular optical illusion, with blocks of lines in black and white. Over the course of the song, the light show got more and more complicated and intense to match the musical explorations, and created a crazy and entertaining backdrop, even for those not really high on drugs.

The Mars Volta was phenomenal from start to finish, and is one of the most exciting bands around right now. They were definitely worth the price of admission themselves, and they only played four songs for an hour. The only complaint I have is that their sound is somewhat muddled; this could be due to the venue, it could be due to their equipment, or it could be due to the second percussionist. I am inclined to think it is the latter two, since System came through very clear. I think cleaning up their sound would do Mars Volta very well as the music and vocals are incredibly powerful and will hook pretty much anyone who clearly hears them.

There was a break while the stage was set up for System of a Down. Then the lights dropped to complete darkness and a single spot shown down on guitarist Daron Malakian. He strummed his electric and sang "Soldier Side." The crowd cheered appreciatively and lighters glittered throughout the swaying crowd. The place went wild as the lights were thrown and System launched into "BYOB," the first single off Mezmerize. Everybody sang along as singer Serj Tankian ran around the stage, working the pit and screaming out the lyrics in his uniquely weird voice.

John Dolmayan

Next came "Know," a song with a sweet, hard guitar riff and even harder drums. The energy in the Spectrum was huge. While the crowd didn't know the all words to this one, they all knew it rocked. "Know" is a little known song from System's self-titled first album. The high point was the phenomenal guitar solo in the middle, when the lights dropped completely but for a single spotlight on Malakian. After that was "Revenga," from Mezmerize, which showed off the tongue twisting vocal speed of Serj. Malakian rocked with quick folk like riffs and the whole band just seemed to go into super speed for this song. The crowd never really had a chance to keep up.

"Needle" is one of the best songs off of Toxcity ... and one of their best songs ever. The whole place went nuts, as they did for much of the night, and it showed that while the new album is good, Toxicity is definitely their best. They followed with the hilarious "Deer Dance." A slight pause as the band conferred and the crowd stirred. Then Malakian opened up a huge solo to rip into "Suggestions."

Shavo Odadjian

System thrashed again with "Psycho," the band perhaps moving even faster than the crowd, who moshed like crazy all through the pit. Bassist Shavo Odadjian ran back and forth between the front of the stage and the drum kit, leaning back and jamming with a sadistic grin on his face. "Chop Suey" topped even "Psycho" and just when it seemed the band could go no higher, Serj announced a song from the upcoming Hypnotize. The Spectrum was rocked by this classically great System song, which was followed up by Mezmerize's "Sad Statue." I've never seen so much moshing and crowd surfing, but then the chorus came and they calmed and sang along to the brilliant chorus ... only to start thrashing again right after. The guitars on "Violent Pornography" were awesomely epic and eastern sounding, until the pounding beat kicked in. Serj's words flowed so unbelievably fast on this one, most rappers don't even come close, especially live and running around the stage like he was doing.

After "Pornography" Malakian didn't stop riffing. He went right into the speedy instrumental opening to "Mr. Jack." This was a brilliant version, featuring an extra drummer and some prolonged instrumental exploration. It then blew up into the final chorus, where huge lights behind the band mirrored Serj's words, "Fuck You Pig!"

Serj Tankian

"Cigaro" asserted the size and skill of System of a Down's cock and "This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I'm On This Song" has a hilarious title and kept the crowd moshing, but those not in the pit realized the weakness of the song and just hung out. Then the aptly named "Bounce" got the entire stadium moving again. They also did "ATWA," another crowd favorite from Toxicity. This one was unbelievably hard; really gave loud new meaning and, in its slow parts, made the audience sway gently. "Forest" was next ... the sick bass line showing again how Toxicity and System of a Down are both brilliant. This must have been the bass portion of the show, as Shavo was again allowed to explore the studio space on "Lost In Hollywood's" bridge. It was awesome to see the whole crowd swing with their lighters on this ballad. Serj's and Malakian's harmonies were perfect and their voices echoed across the cavernous arena.

"Lost" was followed with "Radio/Video," a chill way to keep it going. Then Shavo jumped up on his amp to blast out the ancient and phenomenal "Sugar." This might have been the crowd's favorite moment of the night, and was followed with the always-appropriate "War?" Then there was pitch darkness as Serj whispered out the beginning of "Prison Song." "Aerials" was another epic, melodic segue into some intense Toxicity. Malakian didn't stop soloing at the end and went straight into "Science," which featured a weird yet awesome vocal jam between Serj and some random guy who appeared from backstage. "Suite-Pee" was a perfectly sinister way to close a great show.

What a phenomenal night! The Mars Volta put on a great opening set. It's great to see them getting better each time they come out. It's only a shame they were somewhat under appreciated by the System fans and the empty stadium, but those who showed up weren't disappointed. System played for roughly two hours ... a huge set list that encompassed some of their best stuff. Surprisingly, they played less of Mezmerize and more of their earlier albums, especially Toxicity and System Of A Down. They needed no encores. They simply played nearly everything anyone could want. A great show through and through. Whether you're a fan or not, catch either of these bands (not Bad Acid Trip) any time they come to your town. I was already somewhat of a System fan before seeing them ... now I fucking love ?em.


Wachovia Spectrum
Philadelphia, PA


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