In a rare occasion of perfect timing for me, I take my spot at The Warfield just as Serj Tankian takes the stage.
I am not as familiar with Tankian as I am with most artists I go to see. But there are three things I do know about him which compelled me to attend: 1) he’s considered one of the best frontmen of our generation, 2) he’s the former lead singer of System of a Down, and 3) he and Tom Morello formed Axis of Justice together.
The first thing that I become aware of is that this venue is full of fanatics. All the way to the tip top of the balcony, people are going crazy. A girl behind me intermittently yells “Oh my god I LOVE you!!!” And there are lighters in the air…which is becoming more and more of a rarity.
The band comes out in tuxes and top hats, to a slow, dramatic start. While I’m aware of metal’s symphonic influences, Tankian further adds an operatic quality to the mix. While I find this off-putting to listen to normally, it is pretty exciting live. The whole performance is a rock opera of sorts. His singing looks effortless; I realize it’s been a while since I have been to see a true vocalist.
I am standing there watching and turn my head to see a brutal mosh pit moving dangerously close to me. Because the metal is not overt in this music, the lyrics are pretty cerebral, and themes tend to go back and forth between love and constructive government criticisms, I am immediately thrown off by this mosh pit. A closer look reveals that there are quite a few girls in there. I feel like I am missing some key ingredient to this music, some brutal underpinnings that are serving as an instigator to this mayhem.
Towards the end of the set there is a phenomenal cover of the Dead Kennedy’s Holiday in Cambodia. There is one short encore, which closes with Tankian singing a beautiful piece on the piano. The entire thing is over in slightly more than an hour.
It was a unique show of incongruous elements: opera, metal, fans that everyone else could learn a thing or two from, and stage hands that were nice enough to hand out set lists to adoring fans upon the end of the show.
It was intriguing enough to want to check him out again when he tours later this year with HRC fave Tom Morello.
Serj Tankian performance: 7.5/10
venue (The Warfield): 8/10 (Where is my f-ing poster? Stop being cheap!)
value ($25.50/ticket): 7/10
Vids from other shows:
Holiday in Cambodia