Words/Photography by: Adam Harrison
For just the second time in almost a decade, Armenian-American avant-garde metal spectacular, System of a Down, made a stop in Toronto on Friday night as part of their #WakeUpTheSouls Tour. Judging by the capacity crowd of 15,000 lined up outside the Molson Amphitheatre, and the 90 straight minutes of head bangin’, foot stompin’, fist pumpin’, mosh pittin’ heavy metal, it seemed as though everybody was going to the party and had a real good time.
System of a Down is an acquired taste, for sure. Their music is weird, and bizarre, and different, we get that. But if you do “get it,” you understand how undeniably and creatively genius it is. Only System can start a song as a bass-heavy thrash tune that makes you want to give yourself whiplash and turn the melody a full 180 into a classic European or circus-like rhythm that makes you want to skip, arms folded, from side to side. They have this extraordinary talent to be incredibly serious and fun at the same time. Bringing to light real world issues such as politics, genocide, drug abuse and gender roles through funky rhythms and metaphors. It’s this distinctive ability that also transcends to the live performances. The material is obviously very powerful in meaning to the band members, but at the same time you can see how much they enjoy the performance, and they tease the audience with a goofy look here and there along with some shimmy and shaking.
Singer and front man Serge Tankian, proved his pipes weren’t rusty early in the set with the powerfully operatic hit “Aerials.” Followed by the chaotic anthem “B.Y.O.B.” consisting of the iconic screams from singer and guitarist Daron Malakian of “Why don’t presidents fight the war? Why do they only send the poor?” It wasn’t until about eight songs deep, before strumming the opening notes of “Soil,” that Malakian first addressed the crowd. Informing them, “We have two songs about bunny rabbits, this is one of them…”
The energy throughout the amphitheatre stayed consistent and chaotic as the set never seemed to take a dip long enough to settle and you wanted to join in with every frantic moment. From chanting “Psycho! Groupie! Cocaine! Crazy!” in unison with Tankian to singing along with the chorus of “Chop Suey!” to raising a lighter while chills ran down your spine as Malakian hauntingly sang the opening verse of “Lonely Day.”
Despite the surprise of their being no encore, System of a Down ended with a solid slew of songs. Including the intensely creepy “Prison Song” which criticizes the War on Drugs. This was followed by “Cigaro,” which Malakian started in ballad form. Something that may be normal to your everyday rock band, but with System of a Down, that means being serenaded with the lines “My cock is much bigger than yours, my cock can walk right through the door,” before Malakian admits “Can’t you see how stupid this song is?” “Toxicity” followed where Malakian encouraged a massive circle pit to break out during the song’s bridge. System then wrapped up the set with their very first single “Sugar.”
System of a Down is something to be experienced. And if you “get it,” than they are a band that should definitely be on the concert bucket list. Even in their 40s, they know how to satisfy, electrify and challenge their audience of all ages. Which we can only hope will transition into a new album in the near future, their first together in over ten years.