System of a Down

Allstate Arena-Chicago September 30, 2005

By Jason Koerner

Seeing America's top band (in my humble opinion) was well worth the long drive, toll roads, getting lost in Chicago and nearly missing the show due to a flat tire. Other than that, it was a smooth trip!

System of a Down was on top of their game at Allstate Arena, rocking the crowd out with new tunes from their recent release, Mesmerize, as well as some older songs from their archives. The group even treated their fans to the upcoming single off Hypnotize, appropriately called "Hypnotize." Hypnotize is the second portion of the last release and follows suit in the realm of SOAD's new musical direction. It will hit stores on November 22, so go pick it up!

One characteristic of the band's new turn is the heavier incorporation of guitarist Daron Malakian's vocals. The blend of his voice with that of Serj Tankian makes for a very interesting blend of harmonization and it brings a texture to the music that was not there in earlier days.

The concert in Chicago began with support from Hella and the Mars Volta.

Hella was not my cup of tea, but they were very passionate about their "thing." It was a jamband-oriented fusion of elements, but it was a little hard for me to appreciate the actual talent of the group through the noise. Their drummer got some spotlight at the end and pulled off a compelling closing to their set that made me give a little extra credit their direction.

Mars Volta was phenomenal, but after a while, the luster wore off for me. I would blame it on the traveling, but my attention came back around for System of a Down, so fatigue can only account for a portion of my drifting during their set. Their vocalist, Cedric Bixler Zavala, was a great performer from both an audio and visual standpoint. He can out-dance me any day of the week, so I don't want any part of that! Their hit, "The Widow" seemed to be their least-favorite song to play of the night, which is common. They had a lot of fun with the remainder of their set full of lengthy songs and put on a great show for their fans.

System took the stage from behind a giant black curtain, adorned with the cover artwork from Mesmerize. Only the silhouette of Daron could be seen as he approached the microphone, guitar in hand. Alone, he sang the opening track to the CD, "Soldier's Side," and began an onslaught of material from the band. The total number of songs for the evening? Twenty-seven. That's a whole lot of System of a Down, yet I would have loved to see/hear even more! (However, I do not feel short changed by any means!)

Serj's vocals seemed a little off at first, so there may have been monitor issues or maybe just nerves to blame, but within a song or two, things were on track. This may also have to do with the fact that B.Y.O.B. was played during this time and many bands are known to get tired of playing their "hit."

The group played radio hits "Chop Suey," "Aeriels," and "Toxicity" as well as fan favorites "Cigaro," "Prison" and, lastly, "Sugar." The band focused on the promotion of their new CD but threw in some tracks for the older generation fans to appreciate, too. Some tunes (like "Cigaro") had a "special" introduction performed by Daron, usually in ballad format. Look up the lyrics to this song and picture then being sung sensually and you will laugh, too.

The sound was pretty good for that night. They sound surprisingly thick for a one-guitar band. Daron's guitar sounded great (as did his vocals). Shavo Odadjian's bass guitar could have used some more balls, but that is usually my opinion of all shows, as a (biased) bassist myself. Serj really let loose on some songs such as "Science." John Dolmayan is just an incredible drummer, period.

In regards to the stage show, I was surprised that Serj was not more active than he was. I always pictured him as being crazy and all over the place in concert! In reality, he was pretty calm and controlled, but he sounded great. I really enjoy the presence that he does carry... it is different from most singers in that it lacks that "tough guy image." Their music speaks loudly and no additional prepping is necessary. His (and the band's) political beliefs are expressed musically and the band still has room for fun in their agenda.

The magic formula:

This band has it all - Great musical talent; songwriting that's inclusive of many different styles and influences; a political and social message; killer harmonies; unusual vocals; humor; experimentation... throw in some great hooks and rock star looks - there is System of a Down. Hands down, I think they are the best all-around band in the metal/rock genre today.

My only complaint about the concert? NO ENCORE! C'mon guys, give us more! Seriously, great show... Make the trip and see this tour soon!