I know. This is a Hip-Hop blog, and on a night where Shad was performing for free at Burlington’s Sound of Music Festival, and Dipset‘s reunion tour was supposed to reach Toronto’s Sound Academy (cancelled due to border crossing issues), I decided to branch out and cover a Heavy Metal concert instead. I don’t listen to a lot of Metal, but System of a Down is one of the few bands I’m a huge fan of, and of whom I’ve heard every single album they’ve released. I saw them perform once back in 2012 at the Heavy T.O. Festival in Downsview Park, but I had to see them again now that I have this blog up and running. While it’s been about a decade since they last released an album, System of a Down is currently on their Wake Up The Souls Tour to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in 1915 (all four band members are of Armenian descent).
For my usual Hip-Hop readers still scratching their heads, let me draw a quick Hip-Hop connection to the band. Together, they’ve covered Wu-Tang Clan’s “Shame On A Ni**a,” and most of the band members have individually been involved in some Hip-Hop projects. SOAD’s bassist Shavo Odadjian collaborated with Wu-Tang’s RZA in a group called Achozen, although they never finished their album together. Guitarist Daron Malakian collaborated with Cypress Hill on their Rise Up album, while most recently Serj Tankian provided vocals on Tech N9ne’s 2013 single, “Straight Out The Gate.” They’ve also had their classic 2001 hit “Chop Suey” featured in the promotional campaign for the new Mortal Kombat X.
This was surprisingly my first time seeing a concert at the Molson Amphitheatre. While the 2012 show in Downsview Park was one huge, muddy mosh pit, Molson Amphitheatre has a combination of assigned seating, a general admission pit up front, and a general admission lawn out back, where me and my crew were. We found a nice spot on the lawn and waited, as no one was certain whether there would be opening acts before System, or if System would come on early and perform an extra long set.
About half an hour before System was supposed to come on stage, comedian Craig Gass (famous for his voice work on Family Guy) came out to introduce them and tell some jokes. He made some jokes about Daron being the shortest band member, and about how drummer John Dolmayan apparently got laid last time they were in Toronto, which led to their decision to film a DVD/Blu-Ray of the night’s performance, without wasting time with opening acts. This may or may not have been bullsh** just to get a reaction, but it effectively got the crowd hyped.
System of a Down came out shortly after Craig Gass left the stage, and they started the show with the mellow beat from “Mind.” While it wasn’t the predictable classic opening they usually do with “Prison Song,” this was a good way to build the crowd up into the next track, “Deer Dance.” After this obscure opening that only hardcore fans would recognize, they dove deep into some highly emotional songs like “Tentative” off of their Hypnotize album, and “Aerials” off of Toxicity. They kept up the mellow vibe with “Soldier Side Intro” off of the Mezmerize album, and actually followed this album’s normal sequence for a bit with “BYOB” and “Revenga.”
It was difficult to actually see the band from the lawn, but you could hear them clearly and the crowd knew all of the songs, so this didn’t matter. After staying primarily in 2005, SOAD took it back to their 1998 self-titled debut album and performed some of my favourites with “Soil” and “Darts.” They then alternated between album cuts, performing “Radio/Video,” “DDevil,” and “Needles.” I had left to use the washroom during “Needles” and by the time I came back, they were in the middle of “Bounce.” This song made a smooth transition into “Suggestions” before moving into 2001’s “Psycho.”
From the last time I saw System, I anticipated that they would be performing their classic “Chop Suey!” after Daron’s wicked guitar solo at the end of “Psycho.” It’s become a routine where Daron takes over the stage, spinning around with his guitar during his solo and seemingly reaching the brink of losing control before gathering himself to start the classic riff from “Chop Suey!” The near capacity crowd of Molson Amphitheatre all sang along to the roller coaster of a song, riding the high-energy raps at the start of the track to the emotional decline at the end, leading into the mellow “Lonely Day.”
The “System of a Down” banner behind the band came down to reveal a picture of a mountain landscape as they performed “Question!,” tricking a small minority of the crowd with the false ending to the song. This was followed by another favourite off Mezmerize, “Lost in Hollywood.” System of a Down has always stood for justice and equality, yet they never shy away from their controversial, shock-value lyrics, as Daron kept the homophobic F-word in the bridge of the latter song, and the crowd waved their arms to the beat regardless. They went on to perform a song I didn’t recognize, although Daron made the comment afterwards that “if you didn’t know that song, you’re not alone.”
They continued going back in time with another Toxicity track, “Forest,” before moving on to the very first song on their first album, “Suite-Pee,” with the landscape behind them coming down again to reveal the cover art from their debut, self-titled album. Rather than performing the entire song, they transitioned about halfway through into “Prison Song,” with the abrupt pauses in the beginning catching some of us off guard. While Serj delivers serious, thought-provoking lyrics, Daron brings a more comedic approach to the music; as he performed a slow, sarcastically emotional version of his verse from “Cigaro,” alluding to fun stupidity of the song before actually performing it at the normal tempo. They then did the title track off Toxicity before closing the show with their first hit single, “Sugar.”
The crowd chanted “one more song!,” but the band never returned. It was still a very satisfying show, as they performed all the hits, and had a good mix of politically and socially driven songs with fun, more comedic songs. Serj may no longer be able to hit that gruffness in his vocals that he had on their earlier albums, but he’s able to adapt his aged voice to deliver a unique performance. Daron seems to have toned down his performance and may not be on as many drugs as he used to, but he’s still a master guitarist able to perform some of the wickedest riffs with this band, and his vocals are always entertaining. Shavo and John of course showed that they’re still masters of their instruments with their awesome performance.
Overall, it was an awesome show. SOAD didn’t talk to the crowd much, but let their music speak for itself, and the crowd lived in the moment with them. It was hard to see the band from the lawn, but we could hear them clearly and we all vibed out to the music. SOAD strategically planned out when to have their high-energy, mosh-pit type of songs and when to mellow out, keeping the crowd under control. The fans got everything they wanted out of the band; the hits, the comedy, the strong messages, the mosh pits, the mellow, emotional vibes, and even the mature humility they show in their older age. It would definitely be interesting to hear a new album from System of a Down after all these years of growth.
Remember to check out the SYpherSights Youtube channel for more concert videos.