Photographs by Dale Benvenuto.
Have you ever seen children so excited that they don’t know what to do with themselves? They jump up and down, chant and scream, almost unable to fathom what’s in front of them. I say this with nothing but endorsement: System of a Down’s performance at Molson Amphitheatre was crammed with children. At 10 minutes till show time the crowd was exuberant. Behind the grungy black attire, piercings and patches it wasn’t hard to see a cluster of kids just waiting for the party to start. I mean, I saw at least 3 literal children 5 years or under, but spiritually the rest of the audience was barely their senior.
None were more amped than the guy next to me. Jumping up and down, giving everyone high fives and backrubs, punching and kicking the air, unable to contain himself. At one point he just started shaking hands, as if running for candidacy. Hell, I’d vote him in over Trump any day.
The opening chords to Mind started and the crowd collectively lost its… well, mind. My new buddy begun to air guitar, hugged everyone around him. Wearing my critic’s glasses for a second I’d say the band was a little stiff. Lead singer Serj Tankian stood around and sounded a little croaky. The band felt clunky, like the performance had muscles in need of stretching. My new pal couldn’t give two shits and by the time Aerials kicked in he’d begun serenading me on a regular basis. It was hard to hide my sincere disappointment when security removed him a minute later for annoying surrounding patrons.
It was a genuine pity, because about 5 tracks in the band loosened up. Bassist Shavo begun roaming the stage, disappearing and reappearing like a musical Where’s Waldo. Stage right, behind drummer John, atop a stack of amps, all while shaking his goatee and doing jaunty little kicks. Serj’s vocal range widened and got increasingly playful. Eschewing practiced delivery for a more eclectic tone allowed Serj to further entrench himself into the performance, lifting the crowd’s spirit out of the stratosphere. At one point he briefly forgot the lyrics and mewled like a cat instead.
Hitting its stride, the show evoked a manic carnival ambience. Songs barrelled into one another separated only by odd little skits and improvisational riffs. Opening into Psycho, Daron sung a few bars of Dead or Alive’s You Spin Me Round. Before Cigaro he plucked through a brief apology “Can’t you see how dumb this song is? I love you for putting up with it.” Needles begun with Daron’s call and response asking the crowd to “pull the tapeworm out of your ass”. The crowd echoed zealously.
The band didn’t sound as tight as they had back in their peak, but the sheer absurdity of the performance showcased their desire to foster a convivial, frenetic atmosphere above all else. Serj performed most of Forest slam dancing with a plush monkey around his neck, the band may have pirouetted around the stage more than once. It was either divine prominence or coincidence that timed an audience surge from the back bleachers to the mosh pit right as Serj sung Toxicity’s “how do you own disorder?” chorus. Whatever it was, it was perfect.
Cramming 27 songs into a 90 minute set, it’d be hard to find fault with such a vigorous performance, critic’s glasses or not. It’s a shame my new friend couldn’t stay to see it, but it warms my heart to know just how much he would’ve loved it. I know I wasn’t the only one who did. I’m sure a crowd of adult children can back me up here.