LONG BEACH, California — "Hey hey, my my/ Rock 'n' roll will never die," System of a Down's Daron Malakian sang Thursday night as he strummed a few lines from the Neil Young classic.
It was a rare tender moment that lasted no more than five seconds before the singer/guitarist tore into the band's anti-"Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)," a blistering tune from the upcoming Hypnotized titled "Kill Rock 'n' Roll."
And that's how System roll. Not killing rock, per say, but bending and twisting it to its breaking point. Defying any songwriting rules, yet spitting out just enough sensible melodies and pop-art poetry to keep an arena full of fans jumping and singing along for nearly two hours.
If System's spring tour was a teaser for the first half of their ambitious double album, Mezmerize/Hypnotize (see "System Of A Down Make The Political Personal At Souls 2005"), their late-summer trek with the Mars Volta, which kicked off Thursday at the Long Beach Arena, is an outright showcase.
Compared to a couple of new tunes the last tour around, Thursday's show featured eight of Mezmerize's 11 tracks, beginning with the back-to-back-to-back punch of the album's first three tracks, "Soldier Side (Intro)" (performed behind a black curtain that dropped as the song segued into the next), "B.Y.O.B." and "Revenga."
With its screeching opening line ("Why do they always send the poor?"), breakneck verses and party-time chorus, "B.Y.O.B." is the ultimate opener, and it's been just that since the first time System played it. "Long Beach, are you having a good time?" Serj Tankian asked after singing, "Everybody's going to the party have a real good time."
Before the show, Malakian said backstage that System had only played some of the new tunes together once, at a rehearsal the night before, but it was unnoticeable during the show, as the band confidently and tightly cruised through a 25-song set. It was easy to spot the new songs System has been playing for a while, though, as the band reinvented them onstage, sometimes subtly and sometimes not.
"B.Y.O.B." featured an expanded ending, and for "Cigaro," Malakian changed the entire first verse into an opera, hilariously using his sky-high falsetto to sing, "My co-- is much bigger than yours/ My co-- can walk right through the door."
|Check out photos from the System of a Down show.|
Malakian continues to take more of a standout role in System's shows, handling most of the crowd interaction and constantly entertaining with antics like running around in a circle until he dizzily falls on the stage.
Bassist Shavo Odadjian is from the same school, and Thursday's show would have been thrilling to watch if it were just him onstage, sprinting around, shooting psychotic stares and zipping picks at his bass tech. During "Mr. Jack," he flat out got his groove on, shaking his ass to the tune's ethnic beat, while VIPs next to the stage (including Rick Rubin and members of Deftones and the Donnas) laughed along.
Singer Tankian, meanwhile, has become more of an instrumentalist, playing piano, slide guitar, electric guitar and other gadgets for more than half the songs. On Thursday, he even sat on a stool and strummed an acoustic guitar for a tune.
While System continue to take more risks onstage, the band is doing the same with its business decisions, the big one this fall being the invitation to the Mars Volta to open the tour (see "System Of A Down/ Mars Volta Tour Dates Announced"). "They make great music," Malakian said backstage. "It's that simple."
Well, not exactly. While both bands have been dubbed leaders of a new progressive-rock movement, System are still a metal band at heart, while the Mars Volta are more of a psychedelic jam band.
During its hour-long opening set — which was about two hours less than the group's typical show — the eight-piece band performed four numbers: the five-minute, crowd-pleasing single "The Widow," and three obviously extended jams, two from Frances the Mute and one from De-Loused in the Comatorium. For one of the epics, Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante strolled onstage unannounced and joined Omar Rodriguez-Lopez for a spellbinding guitar trip.
Singer Cedric Bixler Zavala only addressed the audience once ("Take care of each other out there," he said. "I don't want to see any testicles flying in the air"), but made up for it with his dead-on vocal performance throughout the Mars Volta's show. It might not be the most accessible voice in rock, but it could be the most powerful.
While there were certainly roars of excitement throughout, there were also a few boos and water bottles thrown at the stage. "They play stuff that puts you to sleep and makes you want to slit your wrists!" one bitter System fan wrote on the band's Web site after the show. "Please guys, don't do that again. It's not nice to play such cruel jokes on your fans! I'd prefer to watch Britney Spears."
Now that would be the death of rock and roll.
System of a Down and the Mars Volta continue their tour with another Long Beach show Friday (August 5).
System of a Down set list:
- "Soldier Side"
- "Deer Dance"
- "Chop Suey!"
- "Kill Rock 'n' Roll"
- "Sad Statue"
- "Violent Pornography"
- "Mr. Jack"
- "This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I'm On This Song"
- "Lost in Hollywood"
- "Prison Song"
- "Suite Pee"
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.