By mike usinger

Georgia Straight, Vancouver, Canada
Sept 22 2005

At the Pacific Coliseum on Saturday, September 17

For some of us-Apple-fixated laptop jockeys, stuck-in-the-'90s
shoegazers, and anyone who was ever convinced that DJs would one day
rule the world-the music is enough at a show. For the rest of us,
performers have to do something more exciting than plug in and play.

There were moments when System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian seemed
to realize that at the Pacific Coliseum last Saturday. Hell, he was
almost the most captivating person on-stage during "Needles", when
he ripped into a modified ambee dageets that should have made every
Armenian ex-pat in attendance proud. And as if to prove that little
bit of animated action wasn't a fluke, he later took an admirable
(if abbreviated) stab at the Mashed Potato at the beginning of "This
Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I'm on This Song". Mostly, though, Tankian
just stood in one place and sang, displaying all the enthusiasm of
a Wal-Mart stock boy doing an Aisle 5 tampon price check. Making his
lack of effort doubly disappointing was that his bandmates-guitarist
Daron Malakian, bassist Shavo Odadjian, and drummer John Dolmayan-were
a three-man wrecking crew, both visually and sonically.

In fairness, nearly every one of the 9,000 fans in attendance walked
away feeling like they'd seen modern metal's new messiahs. The
crowd-a genre-spanning mixture of beer-marinated rivetheads,
Mohawked punkers, corpse-white goth queens, and overweight comic-book
collectors-arrived expecting a night of turbocharged mayhem. After
kicking off the show with the muted "Soldier Side-Intro", System of
a Down proceeded to deliver just that, with even its most complex
sonic cannonballs-"Toxicity", "Cigaro", and "Prison Song"-delivered
with a deadly accurate precision.

The stage design was all about tasteful minimalism, with props
consisting of a screen flashing lyric snippets ("Fuck u pig"), and
giant Oriental carpets, one for each band member. Odadjian and Malakian
didn't spend much time on their rugs. Wearing yellow leggings and an
old-country pair of floods, the chrome-domed bassist scored serious
freak points for sporting what initially looked like a tie made out
of a live snake but turned out to be his beard.

Whether doing his best to sound like Slayer covering Black Flag
in "Revenga" or rattling off armour-piercing fills in "B.Y.O.B.",
Malakian was the unofficial star of the night. The guitarist clearly
has a sense of humour: right before the band dove into "Aerials", he
took the spotlight for a breezy, one-man piss take of Dire Straits'
"Sultans of Swing", and he actually attempted to engage the audience
with comments like "Vanc*****uuuuuveerrrrr-it's hockey season again."

Best of all, Malakian put on a show, and not just when he got half
the crowd hoisting their lighters in the air for a mesmerizing vocal
turn on "Lost in Hollywood".

The defining moment of a hot, sweaty, and rabidly received night came
while System of a Down hammered its way through "Revenga". Even though
he was playing the role of a one-man six-string army, Malakian was
flat-out captivating, staggering around like a man who'd just taken
two bullets on a battlefield. In stark contrast, a short distance away
Tankian stood at centre stage, absent-mindedly strumming an air guitar.

Given the mass insanity that was taking place in the mosh pit,
there was no disputing that the faithful were having a religious
experience. Three members of System of a Down were working hard to
give a great show. Their singer prevented them from delivering a
brilliant one.

The music was too much in the case of the Mars Volta, which
opened up. Stick-thin, Chia Pet-pelted singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala
and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez arrived backed by an army of
musicians, including a DJ, sax player, percussionists, and keyboard
players. The group's daring fusion of prog punk, Latin jazz, DIY
punk, and experimental funk was, however, too musically rich for an
acoustically appalling venue like the Coliseum. As a result, the
Mars Volta sounded like a muddy mess, which strangely didn't make
the band any less captivating. When these guys play the Commodore,
Vancouver is going to have its mind blown.