Semi-OT: System of a Down Chicago review
Shawn asked me to give a review of the concert, and so I shall. I know for a lot of the crowd around here this might be a heavier music than is preferred, but there are an increasing number of young-uns, too. :-)
The concert was The Mars Volta & System of a Down at the Alliant Energy Center just outside of O'Hare (at the end of a runway, actually, which gave us some "Wayne's World-esque" entertainment as we waited in line). There was also some local band called "Hella" which was a half-hour long drum solo with guitar & synth noise on top of it. I'll speak no more of *them*.
First off, we were lucky enough (whether good or bad) to get general admission floor access. This was bane & boon. We were VERY close to the stage (about 3 layers worth of people from the security guards). This made the Mars Volta, well, amazing to see in action. For those of you unaware of them, I'd best say they're a latin-jazz-fusion-prog-rock kind of mix with loads of musicianship. Most excellent to see live. Their vocalist has a lot of Robert Plant qualities to him, not the least of which is his dynamic vocal range. Instead of a rasp, though, his voice is a clear tenor extending into an astounding falsetto. Anyway, they were "on" last night. Everything was in sync. The solos were unique (not note-for-note from the album) and you got the sense that these guys just worked well together. The crowd was into what they were doing, but there was little to no crowd interaction. Until just now, I hadn't realized that, so I guess it shows how much I was enjoying their set. Sound quality was top notch, probably because we were underneath the barrage of the massive PA arrays. More on that later.
So then comes System of a Down.
I'll stop right there and state that I went to the show with a good friend of mine. He's 6'5" and about 220lbs. Goes to the Y regularly, and is in good physical shape. I'm 5'10" about 175lb, and given my own regimen and genetic stock, I'm even more muscular then he. On with the story...
My buddy Nate and I had decided that we'd stay up front for the first song, and then head towards the back. He's tall enough to see the show no matter WHERE he stands, but I wasn't looking forward to being in the thrashing masses. We were so close that, when the curtain went up and the frenzy started, we were IN FRONT of the mosh pit. We were in the crush. We stayed for the first couple of stanzas and I tapped him on the shoulder to note that I was getting the hell out. The only way to get away was to head in the opposite direction from the stage, and the only way to accomplish THIS was to start pushing on the people in front of me, making a small gap and then taking one of my fellow concert goers and wedging them in place like a shim. I did this all the way back, slugged it out through the mosh pit, and finally back to the more sedate areas where the smell of weed was as prevalent as the smell of cigarette smoke. Never met an agressive pot head, so I figured it would be a safe place to finish out the concert.
Yow. Never. Again. I don't think it's that I'm getting old or anything (geeze, I just turned 27 on Tuesday), but how do you enjoy a concert like that? If I wanted to fight to music, I'd knock over a few motorcycles outside of a bar and then head in to pee on someone's leather jacket. There was a cute girl standing next to me during Mars Volta wearing a pink shirt that said "Jesus did it for the chicks". She couldn't have been more than 5'1" and maybe a buck ten. I wonder if she got out all right. But I digress....
System was impressive, but the PA system was something else. Last year I saw Chevelle in a smallish local bar in an indoor vollyball court. Whether it was the sand floor or the thin sheetmetal walls or just the PA gear, they sounded JUST as good as their album work. Ever since, they have become my gold standard for live performances. Last night, though, the bass drum was so clipped and distorted that you couldn't hear the guitars, much less the vocals. I had to ease my earplugs halfway out to pick up enough treble to understand what was going on on stage.
But when I did, it was worth the 4 hours in the car. From my new vantage, the crowd was picking up the onstage energy and directing it back at the stage, as opposed up front where it all went to their fellow concertgoers. There was the requisite bouncing and singing along. System of a Down fans have a certain kind of dedication that lends themselves to knowing every song off an album, which isn't all that common. System played for dang near two hours straight, with almost no pause between songs. The only thing I didn't like about their performance was that they played all of their songs at least a full step and a half higher than anything they recorded, which (for me), made it harder to sing along. Who knows, maybe Serj had a cold or something.
But Darren hammered his guitar like a machine and Serj worked the lyrics. Shavo really interacted with the crowd, at one point standing on a rack of speakers and intentionally directing the spotlight off his bass back at into the crowd. You can see he thought it novel and was having fun with it.
So were it not for the nasty PA system and almost being crushed to death, the evening would have been a complete success. ;-)
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