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LIVE: SYSTEM OF A DOWN – JUNE 17, 2015 (Clarkston, MI)

| 22 June 2015 | Reply


Venue: DTE Energy Music Theatre

City: Clarkston, MI

Date: June 17, 2015

Review by: Mike Hubbard

System of a Down has to be one of the more unique, genre-bending, enigmatic alt-metal bands of the last 20 years.  I just started to get into them when they inexplicably went on hiatus in 2006, shortly after releasing two masterpieces, Mesmerize and Hypnotize, six months apart in 2005.  They had just won a Grammy for ‘B.Y.O.B.’ off of Hypnotize and were at their artistic, critical, and popular peak.  Since then I had always written them off as a band I would never see live.  Well, that all changed on June 17 when I got to experience them live at the DTE Energy Music Theater in Clarkston, MI.  It has been a decade since they last released any new music, but their performance was as fresh and energetic as if the music was all new, along with the polish and performance that comes with years of experience.

This concert kicked off their latest world tour, and was the only date on the tour in the U.S.  Their last live performance was an emotional one, performed in their ancestral homeland of Armenia.  Those not familiar with the band’s back-story may not realize that all four members of the band are of Armenian descent, and the band has taken on the task of raising awareness of the Armenian genocide inflicted by the Turks in the early 20th century.  In April of 2015 they performed in Armenia for the first time, and the tour that led up to that performance featured three short informational films on the genocide.  I had expect them to continue that theme on this tour, perhaps even keeping the set list almost identical, but no, this was a new tour, with a new set list, and strictly focused on the music.  Ten of the 27 songs in the setlist were not played on the previous tour, including several that have not been played live in 3-4 years.  Also notable is that there were no songs in the setlist from the Steal This Album disk, although they did include an obscure unreleased track from their second demo, ‘Honey’.

The pavilion and lawn areas were packed to capacity and the band did not disappoint the crowd, which was almost as eclectic as the band themselves.  As one would expect, there was a large contingent of stereotypical alt-metal dudes who lived for bands like System back in their high school days in the early-mid 2000’s.  There was also a good representation of families there, and not just the typical parent being dragged along to a concert to chaperone kids too young to attend by themselves.  There also was what appeared to be parents that are System fans taking their younger kids to the concert to expose them to some of the best music to come out of the late ‘90’s-2000’s.

The band cut the tension of anticipation by opening with the intro from ‘Mind’ off their self-titled debut album, segueing into ‘Deer Dance’, one of their live standards from Toxicity.  The tunes kept coming one after another, and the crowd was eating it up.  One of the effects of playing a setlist of songs 10+ years old is that every song was well known by the audience.  Nearly every song was sung by the crowd.  One of the most stunning examples of this was on their sixth song, the classic ‘B.Y.O.B’.  Lead vocalist Serj Tankian led off with a viscous scream “WHY DO THEY ALWAYS SEND THE POOR?” and the crowd went absolutely nuts.  Our seats were about 2/3 of the way towards the back of the main pavilion and the sight of the crowd jamming was amazing, as was the sound of thousands of people shouting “Who the #!$@$^ are you?” in unison during the bridge.

One of the things that really struck me was Tankian’s voice.  To describe the vocals in System’s songs as technically challenging would be an extreme understatement.  The vocal range, both in terms of pitch and tone, required to cover the five album SOAD catalog is immense.  It is one thing to produce that sound in a studio.  It’s another thing to do it live as a fresh 20-something.  Yet at 47 years old, after doing this for nearly 20 years there was no sign of taking any vocal short cuts.  He nailed every falsetto, every guttural scream, and every staccato lick required in classics such as ‘Chop Suey!’.

And the rest of the band was just as tight.  One of the hallmarks of a System song is the ever changing time signatures.  The complexity of the tunes could make it very easy for the band to get out of sync live.  From the underpinnings of John Dolmayan’s drumming, to the driving bass lines from Shavo Odadjian, to the manic guitar of Daron Malakian, the band slayed song after song.

Every song stood out on its own right, but in addition to ‘B.Y.O.B.’ another favorite of mine was ‘Lost in Hollywood’.  Guitarist Malakian does most of the backup vocals, but on this tune he takes center stage as lead vocalist in addition to some superb guitar work.  Malakian generally plays the part of the goofball stoner in the band, but ‘Lost in Hollywood’ shows a more serious side, and the delivery this evening was impeccable.

No System of a Down concert would be complete without their standard closing songs ‘Toxicity’ and ‘Sugar’.  ‘Toxicity’ is not only one of my personal favorite System songs, it is one of my favorite songs, period.  As with the previous 25 tunes, they did not disappoint.  After the closer ‘Sugar’ the lights came on and the band left the stage, but hardly anyone in the audience moved.  We had all just witnessed something special and no one wanted it to end.

It’ been two days since the event as I am finishing writing this review, and ever since the concert I have had a continuous SOAD soundtrack running in my head.  It was a night to remember, and if you are ever fortunate enough to have them play near you, do not hesitate to catch them live.  You will be blown away, just as I was.  Rumors persist that they will record again soon, and if so let’s hope that they support it with a comprehensive tour so many can experience them.

Set list: Mind (Intro Only) – Deer Dance – Tentative – Aerials – Soldier Side Intro – B.Y.O.B. – Revenga – Soil – Darts – Radio/Video – DDevil – Needles – Hypnotize – Bounce – Suggestions – Psycho – Chop Suey! – Lonely Day – Question! – Lost in Hollywood – Honey – Forest – Suite-Pee – Prison Song – Cigaro – Toxicity – Sugar





Category: Live Reviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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