System Of A Down Mezmerize NYC With Crushing 90-Minute Gig

Band touches on mostly older material during 24-song set.

NEW YORK — Fans of avant-garde metal troupe System of a Down started lining up outside Irving Plaza as soon as the venue for Monday evening’s gig — one of the last stops on the band’s 10-city road primer — was announced Friday evening.

For a handful of System extremists, sacrificing a weekend in their young lives was a small price to pay — a pittance, really — for what was without question the hottest ticket in town, even with Dave Matthews’ tour bus parked some 40-odd blocks away at Roseland.

To their credit, System of a Down made every minute of that wait worthwhile for the holdouts. They delivered a thunderous, high-octane set that mixed the fresh with the dated, but never let up, not even for a second.

The 1,100-seater was packed to the rafters, the crowd teeming with rabid fans and Italian-suit-sporting industry wheelers who gave little regard to New York’s smoking ban. Even that skeletal, womanly dude from H.I.M. made it out for the rawk show, which followed less than 48 hours after guitarist/vocalist Daron Malakian uttered the F-word during the band’s “Saturday Night Live” appearance.

“I wasn’t offended, were you?” Malakian asked the undulating crowd midway through the foursome’s powerful, 90-plus-minute set of rock and roll fury.

Surprisingly, System didn’t attempt much new material, concentrating instead on songs they’ve been playing for years — especially cuts from 2001’s Toxicity and 2002’s Steal This Album! But the band did set the tone early with one of its freshest ditties: “B.Y.O.B.,” the first single from System’s forthcoming, two-pronged attack, Mezmerize/Hypnotize. The first disc hits stores next week (see “System Of A Down Album Preview: Band Pulls No Punches With The Pummeling Mezmerize ), while “Hypnotize” is due this fall.

Pulsating, seizure-inducing strobes plastered the throbbing, pogo-prone masses, their arms collectively reaching for the ceiling. Beneath a splash of white light, floppy-fro’d frontman Serj Tankian crooned the song’s chorus, “Everybody’s going to the party, have a real good time/ Dancing in the desert, blowing up the sunshine.”

Malakian’s bulging, “crazy like your uncle’s” eyes scanned the sea of sweaty bros rhythmically swaying in time with Shavo Odadjian’s pounding, penetrating bass lines, ready to launch into ’roid mode as the funky breakdown neared its end. “Blast off, it’s party time, and we don’t live in a fascist nation,” Malakian screamed, sending the crowd into a lawless fury with hats, cups and sneakers hurtling through the air like cattle in a tornado.

“Science” was next, but as with the rest of the show, it was difficult to discern where one song left off and another began. System ripped through 24 songs with virtually no break between, blending them together effortlessly. Of course, it became more than evident why they chose to merely graze the forthcoming material: “Kill Rock ’n’ Roll,” the only track the band would touch from Hypnotize, cooled the crowd from a frantic, spastic flail to a placid body bop caused by utter unfamiliarity.

Of course, no System of a Down concert would feel complete — especially for the band’s Johnny-come-latelies — without the singles. And for System’s longtime loyalists, completely ignoring the rockers’ self-titled 1998 debut would be cause for a riot. Both sets were placated as Serj led the crowd through a vicious sonic assault that included “Chop Suey,” “Sugar,” “Toxicity,” “Spiders,” “Aerials” and “Suite-Pee,” all the while doing a haphazard onstage jig with a lopsided grin pasted across his face.

When System tackled “Cigaro,” the third and last morsel of newness, Irving Plaza was nearly leveled. The song’s crushing riffs, Tankian’s genre-defying, schizophrenic vocals, the floorboard-snapping bass, and drummer John Dolmayan’s explosive skin swatting ignited a rumbling and unleashed a wave of energy that sent shudders through the building; heard from below, you’d have thought a stampeding elephant had cut through the mosh pit. That sound was unchecked aggression, a sound the swath of security that went charging up the stairs recognized all too well.

The set list:


  • “B.Y.O.B.”
  • “Science”
  • “Kill Rock ’n’ Roll”
  • “Suggestions”
  • “Psycho”
  • “Chop Suey”
  • “Mr. Jack”
  • “Needles”
  • “Deer Dance”
  • “Aerials”
  • “Holy Mountains”
  • “Spiders”
  • “Streamline”
  • “Bounce”
  • “Atwa”
  • “Forest”
  • “Cigaro”
  • “Highway Song”
  • “War?”
  • “Prison Song”
  • “Roulette”
  • “Toxicity”
  • “Suite-Pee”

    For more on System of a Down and Mezmerize/Hypnotize check out the feature “Doubleheader”.

    For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.