System of a Down @Ziggo Dome – Amsterdam NL – 17 April 2015
Last Friday, Amsterdam was on the System of a Down’s map during their second tour after the 2010 reunion. Only that this is not an ordinary set of dates. ‘Wake Up the Souls’ Tour was designed to commemorate and raise awareness on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
Considering the topic and having in mind another meaningful politically-engaged artistic project – Roger Waters’ The Wall, I expected a fully fledged course, as this tour was definitely meant to be more than just music. But what I did not consider enough was that unlike Waters, who had to adapt and insert the message into his masterpiece, SOAD have been the message themselves. The four members are all of Armenian origins and lost family ascendants in the atrocities. Their political message has been delivered since their first album. Therefore, there was no need for blasting technology or stage effects to say what they have been always saying. And 17 000 people came to listen to them in a sold-out performance at Ziggo Dome. A concert in three parts with a 36 song setlist.
‘The Armenian genocide from 1915 to 1923 became the blueprint for modern mass-murder.‘
Before the band walked onstage, the System of a Down’s name projected on screens was replaced by an animated clip. This opening phrase comes from its graphic story which took us back to the times when the Ottoman Empire attempted to exterminate the Armenian people. The choice of cartoons made the film seem less of a history lesson and more of a presentation, although the facts were there: an entire nation targeted for death, men massacre, women and children deported to the death in the deserts, justice left to a handful of survivors forming a peaceful movement that’s working to end the world-wide circle of genocide. The main message in a nutshell: wake up the souls of our own systems.
Holy Mountain was the opening song, a straightforward choice as it’s one of SOAD’s songs with clear reference to the Armenian genocide. It also opened the way to a marathon setlist at a high speed pace. SOAD’s style is anyway fast, frantic and has that unmistakably rhythmicity that makes you wonder how come they belong to this world in the first place. But seeing them rushing through their entire discography with no sign of distortion or inaccuracy was even more impressive.
Everything that happened on stage was fluid and perfect. The theatrical voice of Tankian benefited of the venue good acoustics. A clear sound is compulsory to apprehend and enjoy the precision of SOAD music, Prison Song being just an example, with its repetitive sound/silence alternation and transitions from death growls to rapping via disturbing funny vocals. Aerials was proof for a participative and dedicated audience. The entire venue stopped the previous circle pits activities to sing along, for Tankian’s delight. With B.Y.O.B. and that reggae-style chorus everything went back to the multiple huge circular movements all over the standing area. This first feverish and very much alive hour of performance contained also Radio/Video, Hypnotize and ended with Deer Dance, another distinctive anti-war anthem.
‘Who now remembers the Armenians?’ (Adolf Hitler, 1939)
Did you know that Adolf Hitler took the Armenian genocide as an example for his own Holocaust? Probably one of the most shocking facts from the second video was that until now a genocide has been made forgotten only by another genocide. Continuing with the cartoonist style, the video explains how that was possible and, moreover, how come many other similar actions still happen in our contemporary history: Cambodia, Eastern Europe, Rwanda, Darfur as well as in many other parts across the world. The main message: the time has come to wake up the souls.
The second part started once more with another track of explicit relation with the Armenian genocide, P.L.U.C.K. (Politically Lying, Unholy, Cowardly Killers). Sartarabad was the legitimate next song, bringing on traditional rhythms.
Malakian was extremely playful on stage and in a very good mood. The mocking cover for ‘Start Me Up’ came like the most natural thing to him. Just to prove that he can enrich even a pop tune with fooling around dancing, guitar playing and even singing the chorus in Armenian. The ‘Rolling Stones’ moment’ was just an intro for Psycho which was just outstanding and brought the venue into total madness. A white bra was thrown on stage; Malakian picked it up and put it over his black shirt before ending the song in complete anarchy somewhere on the floor.
But the energy levels only started to raise, the intro from Chop Suey! predicting that more was about to come. This song was simply the quintessence of the entire concert: circle pits but also singing along, up and down bouncing but lyrical moments as well, everything that made Tankian saying ‘You guys are fucking beautiful!’. The audience was indeed fucking beautiful and highly responsive no matter the songs. Great reaction to Lonely Day performed by Malakian, not mentioning Lost in Holywood with its rapid tempo and great melody. Spider was another emotional charged moment on which Malakian guitar solo contributed a great deal. A setlist of almost one hour, with 13 songs exquisitely distributed or merged, ended with Mr Jack.
‘Genocide works because the world turns away.’
With this last part, I guess it was the time to make the intro video a bit more striking. And this was done by combining animation with archive footage and photos or by superposing petrol, money and killings imagery. Stopping the genocides will not be done by governments unless they are requested by people. Main message: join us as we wake up the souls.
The shortest set of all three began with Science and continued with more songs on complex syncopated rhythms delivered by John Dolmayan in his very powerful style. The bass was incredible, Shavo Odadjian’s signature was all over the place in sound as well as in stage presence.
Although the fast paced setlist did not leave enough room for interaction with the audience, Serj Tankian took a moment to thank everybody for coming at the show and supporting the recognition not only of the first genocide in history but of all genocides that are happening still today, even 100 years later. Main message: “Passivity is parttaking in the crime.” This moment was followed by Malakian’s screaming in the microphone: “My cock is much bigger than yours!” No, no mistake here. It’s the opening phrase of Cigaro, next song on the list, but also a sample of the SOAD’s inimitability, even when it comes to the sense of humour. Just for reference, Cigaro is not a song about cocks.
Roulette was a fine piece and the last calm moment before the explosive ending. Toxicity was sung entirely together with the audience. ‘I want a very big circle pit over there, in a very organized fashion!‘ requested Malakian. And he got three of them. Which eventually merged. An insanely appealing song like Sugar seemed like a cruel ending to a formidable evening. But any ending song would have seemed alike. So goodbyes are said, guitars are laid down on the stereos, drum sticks are thrown and it’s time to be left alone with our enthusiasm and with an incredible feeling of fulfilment.
System of a Down delivered an incredible show of high artistic quality, built up on a strong cause. Beyond the political message or their personal believes and circumstances, there’s what should have become a universal truth: tolerance to genocide is intolerable nonsense, passivity is food for killers and ignorance is trigger for their guns. Seeing how history repeats, maybe we want to ask ourselves more often: do we ever learn? Because ‘no’ is an unacceptable answer. On short term and proximity, the worse thing that can happen is that someone attending the ‘Wake Up the Souls’ tour leaves the venue without understanding anything of it. As long as this is possible, genocide can happen again anytime.
- Full setlist: System of a Down Setlist at Ziggo Dome, Amsterdam, Netherlands (setlist.fm)
- Article: European Parliament Urges Turkey to Recognize Armenian Genocide (New York Times)
System of a Down – Wake up the Souls Tour – Amsterdam Ziggo Dome – Tankian’s speech
System Of A Down – Toxicity and Sugar. Live in Amsterdam, Ziggo Dome 17/04/2015
System Of A Down “Wake Up The Souls” 2015 Tour Announcement- LA
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