Ernest A. Jasmin, The News Tribune

The News Tribune, Tacoma, WA
Oct 6 2005

Fans were reminded that there was a no moshing policy in effect
as they filed into KeyArena Wednesday night for System of a Down's
headlining set.

Ahahahahahahahahahaha!!! That's a good one.

System's sound - a freaky, agro blend of thrash metal, punk and
Armenian folk - is the sort of thing the good lord created moshing for
in the first place. And even if the band kicked off on a mellow note
-- with singer-guitarist Daron Malakian singing "Soldier's Side,"
visible only in silhouette behind a curtain that sported the logo
from System's May release "Mezmerize" -- they quickly revved things
up, thus galvanizing fans and laying waste to that moshing rule,
with anti-war blast "B.Y.O.B."

As the wild-eyed Malkian screamed the song's opening line -- "why do
you always send the poor?" -- it was like shaking a hornet's nest.

Fans bounced, pumped their fists and howled their approval, and
presently clusters of amped kids began moving in angry typhoon
swirls. Pockets of mostly male fans in the general admission floor
section continued to bounce off of one another like testosterone
fueled bumper cars throughout System's phenomenal 100-minute set.

So much for the rules. But it was all in good, clean fun, a few
visible scuffles aside. System - also lead singer Serj Tankian,
bassist Shavo Odadjian and drummer John Dolmayan - delivered the
goods from a modestly furnished stage, backed by no video clips and
a relatively simple light show, leaving little to distract from the
band's politically charged metal sound, which did more than enough
to satisfy by itself.

New songs from System's "Hypnotize" album, the companion piece to
"Mezmerize," due out next month, were among the highlights. Malakian
introduced the title track after "Revenga"(((CQ))) and "Know." It
was a soaring mid-tempo number with a pretty, melodic lead-in that
compared favorably with many of the best songs in the band's arsenal.

Later, after a spirited, sing-along delivery of breakthrough hit
"Chop Suey, Malakian eased into another new song with modified lines
from Neil Young's "Hey Hey My My (Into the Black)."

"Hey hey, rock 'n' roll is turning gay," he sang, adding "Not that
there's anything wrong with gay" during the pregnant pause that
preceded "Kill Rock 'N' Roll."

"Mezmerize" was decent but slightly uneven effort. And the two new
songs provided hope that the innovative band had saved the best
for last.

For the rest of the set System drew pretty evenly from its three
proper studio albums, which also include the band's self-titled 1998
debut and smash follow up "Toxicity." Only the menacing "Mr. Jack"
made the cut from outtakes compilation "Steal This Album."

The band wasn't afraid to stray from the album versions of its material
or inject a bit of quirky humor into the mix.

Malakian began "Cigaro" by himself, delivering the song's raunchy
chorus power ballad style. "War" was given the most radical makeover,
with Malakian digitizing his voice, Roger Troutman style, with the
aid of a Roland synthesizer. This approach took a bit of steam out
of one of the band's best songs, but System gets points for being
bold enough to mix things up.

Later, Malakian snuck a verse of Dire Straits' classic "Sultans of
Swing" into the set before "Aerials," personalizing the classic refrain
by singing "we are the System of a Down"; a fun touch that lead into

Of the new songs, ballad "Lost in Hollywood" went over best. Sure,
it sounded weird the first time you heard Malakian sing that "throw
your hands in the air" line, a cliche adopted by roughly every rapper
ever. But "Hollywood" was a great anthem in the live setting, as fans
brandishing lighters and glowing cell phone screens as they swayed
to the music.

This would have been a great walk off, and "Question" seemed a little
anticlimactic as a follow up.

The band took a bow, sans encore, several songs later, finishing with
the formidable one-two punch of "Suite-Pee" and "Sugar," two of the
most powerful numbers from the debut. This critic could have used a
couple more songs from that album in lieu of "Psycho" and "Bounce"
from the lesser "Toxicity" album. But all in all it was a pretty
impressive set.

Opening band Hella would have been the least accessible band this
critic has seen all year if not for a few excruciating minutes catching
a band called The Locust at Bumbershoot Labor Day weekend.

The Cali quartet could be interesting in small doses, but spent too
much time playing in four disconnected tangents (drummer Zach Hill,
also a member of Team Sleep, sounded like he was playing a solo the
entire time) that blended into a bunch of murky noise.

A number of forces conspired to distract your faithful reviewer during
The Mars Volta's hour-long, beginning with a drunk jackass with his
face painted like Skeletor, who kept wandering up and down the aisle,
occasionally eclipsing the stage and spouting such profound wisdom as

Then there was the girl who plopped herself in the seat directly
to your left only to sleep through most of Volta's set. (For the
uninitiated, imagine napping through Metallica or Black Sabbath.)
This may or may not have been the early stages of an overdose based
on the lack of reaction the first few times her fauxhawked friend
attempted to shake and slap her out of her stupor.

But I digress.

Volta - lead by charismatic singer Cedric Bixler and guitarist
Omar Rodriguez -- was perched near the top of this critic's best
performances list last year, thanks to a titanic opening slot for A
Perfect Circle at the Tacoma Dome.

This time around, the Volta seemed to have reeled it in a bit. Last
year's 40-minute set consisted of two discernible songs, delivered
as epic jams.

This time the eight-piece band drew its psychedelic set from The Mars
Volta's sophomore disc "Frances the Mute." That album's lead single
"The Widow" seemed over in the blink of an eye compared to fiery,
sprawling deliveries of "Cygnus ... Vismund Cygnus" and "L'Via

The afroed Bixler even seemed a bit more subdued than last year, though
still more energetic and compelling than 99 percent of the front men
in rock. He didn't do any flips or pick up the mike stand with his
teeth this time around. But he channeled the spirits of James Brown,
Robert Plant and maybe Turbo from "Breakin'" as he punctuating his
soaring vocals with a considerable arsenal of funky dance moves.

The Volta was brilliant, but just not quite as brilliant as the band
seemed in '04.

Ernest Jasmin: 253-274-7389 [email protected]