LAS VEGAS — The last time System of a Down hit Las Vegas, it was on the Pledge of Allegiance Tour with Slipknot. System held their own on that outing, but now, back in Sin City as the headliner at a more intimate setting — the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino’s Joint — System had a lot more to prove. (Click here for photos .)
By the time the L.A. foursome of Armenian-American rockers strolled casually onto the stark stage, the crowd was already geared up for SOAD’s harsh and heavy sounds. Then the thunder hit.
The opening riffs hammered across the venue — no introduction was needed for “Prison Song.” The crowd dug right into the lines, “I buy my crack/ I smack my bitch/ Right here in Hollywood,” along with vocalist Serj Tankian.
The band members slipped into their familiar roles: Daron Malakian, the flailing guitarist; Shavo Odadjian, the bass-playing savage; John Dolmayan, the ferocious yet precise drummer; and Tankian, the demented preacher frontman.
The trademark sound of System — poetic and introspective one moment, a torrential storm of emotional frustration the next — was on full display. Tankian’s chant of “We don’t need to multiply” incited the floods of excitement that would carry System through the concert. In the midst of “Psycho,” Malakian embarked on a dazzling solo, running around wildly, only to settle midstage, flop down on the ground and roll around — all without missing a chord.
System just gained intensity from there, with the hit “Chop Suey!” adding to the crowd’s exhilaration. Malakian mostly worked the mic, chatting up fans between songs. Before “Bounce,” he fired off, “This song is about f—ing!” to raucous cheers.
“Spiders,” from System’s self-titled debut, had one of the more welcome receptions. Fans shouted while a creepy reading by Charles Manson played, creating a chilling precursor to an equally eerie song.
Following the band’s contradictory styles of music, Malakian yelled out, “We are not a political band! We sing about life!” before “Needles.” Minutes later, he then took a very political stance before “Sugar”: “F— politics! F— religion! F— the system! F— the system! F— the system! Let them hear that in Washington, motherf—ers!”
Appropriately enough, they ended the show with “P.L.U.C.K.,” a song about the Armenian genocide between the two World Wars. In fact, Tankian dedicated the track to the tragedy, before he screamed his guttural “Pluuccckkk!”
After the last bit of anger was unleashed, the four men quietly left the stage, their own feedback and the strains of John Lennon’s “Imagine” providing the only encore.
Even jaded audience members were impressed.
“I saw them in Cleveland on the Pledge of Allegiance Tour,” Chris Sprinkle, 27, from Lexington, Kentucky, said. “They weren’t that impressive. Tonight this is a completely new band. It was wonderful. The last time they seemed to be screwing around too much, but that’s the difference between opening and headlining. They deserve to be headlining.”
The set list for the opening night of System of a Down’s 2002 tour:
- “Prison Song”
- “Deer Dance”
- “Jet Pilot”
- “Chop Suey!”
Read about all of the shows we’ve recently covered in Tour Reports.