One 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
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.
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
"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.
"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.
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."
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!"
"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
"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.
SYSTEM OF A DOWN ONLINE