By 8.30pm the chants of “System! System!” have grown so loud that you wonder if they can be heard outside the building, perhaps even drowning out the jumbo jets that roar overhead as they come in to land at nearby LAX. With no support band tonight, System Of A Down were supposed to be on now, opening their Wake Up The Souls Tour with a sold out hometown show in front of 17,500 people, but since many of them are still trying to get in, traffic gridlocked, the set has been pushed back, and the anticipation grows and grows.
There’s something very special about System Of A Down playing in LA. Hell, there’s something special about System Of A Down playing anywhere, but particularly here, where the band began their career some 21 years ago, playing the Whiskey, the Troubadour and the Roxy. Not just that, but there is a huge Armenian population in Los Angeles, and, nearing the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, there is a great deal of emotion in the building, like some vast family has come together. It’s kind of hard to explain, but it gives you goosebumps. System Of A Down are gods to the Armenians.
It’s nearing nine o’clock when a lucky and terrified looking competition winner is lead on stage to introduce the band, and before they play we watch a short and emotive film about the genocide, part one of three. There’s a palpable charge in the air, and then a deafening thunder from the crowd as Serj Tankian, Daron Malakian, Shavo Odadjian and John Dolmayan quietly take to the stage and drift into Holy Mountains. Already this is a monumental gig.
And so, for the next two hours, System Of A Down, this most unlikely of mainstream bands, keeps seventeen thousand people on their feet, mesmerized and indeed hypnotized. Aptly, given the proximity of the airport, Jet Pilot follows Holy Mountains, its first airing since 2005, then a blast of Suite-Pee that has security dealing with a tide of crowd-surfers. Already it’s madness in here and the band are only three songs in, but, that said, the band themselves seem to take a couple of songs to get fully into their stride, perhaps aware that the setlist contains songs they’ve never played live before. The live debut of U-Fig from 2005’s Hypnotize follows Prison Song, and that’s just five songs into a thirty-five song set!
Like we said, it’s one of those nights. Christ, they haven’t played Bubbles since 2003, and CUBErt since 2002! They’ve never played Dreaming before tonight! And along with those rarities come all the classics like Aerials, BYOB, Radio/Video, and the beautiful Lonely Day. The thing about System Of A Down is that, for all their righteous anger, they can touch the human soul, wake the soul on a deeply personal level, even with a crowd of this size. Daron’s grandmother would have been 109 years old today, nine when the genocide happened, and she escaped here, as did so many to this sprawling madhouse. Lost In Hollywood, dedicated to her and Daron’s family, sends chills down your spine, so lonely in this gigantic crowd, those hustling streets, Hollywood Boulevard, Santa Monica Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard only a few miles from here.
“We’ve never played this long in our fucking lives!” laughs Serj, with at least a dozen tunes to go. But it’s clear they’re enjoying every moment, with that spark of friendship far more in evidence. And for all its melancholy and anger, and all the rest of it, there’s still that quirky humour about System Of A Down, a mad genius that sets them apart from any other band. Bounce is sheer lunacy, thousands of people all leaping and down, yelling “Pogo! Pogo!” like a sea of jumping beans.
Despite chants of “One more song!” there is no encore tonight. It would be ridiculous to expect one, even with classics to spare. No-one has ever heard this much System Of A Down in one night before, a journey from those days at the Whiskey over twenty years ago to selling out the Forum with ease. Again, please!
Holy Mountains Jet Pilot Suite-Pee Prison Song U-Fig Aerials Soldier Side – Intro B.Y.O.B. I-E-A-I-A-I-O Radio/Video Bubbles CUBErt Hypnotize Dreaming Needles Deer Dance P.L.U.C.K. Sartarabad Psycho Chop Suey! Lonely Day Question! Bounce Kill Rock ‘N Roll Marmalade Lost In Hollywood Spiders Mr. Jack Science Chic ‘N’ Stu War? Im Nazelis Cigaro Toxicity Sugar