System of a Down are back, playing their first set of shows in three years. Their current run of headline dates with At The Drive-In supporting was supplemented with a gigantic, one-off mini festival gig featuring Incubus, Clutch, Pallbearer and Skeletonwitch at The Glen Helen Amphitheater in San Bernardino, CA. FYI, Glen Helen Amphitheater is the largest outdoor music venue in the country…but naturally, System’s first SoCal gig in ages SOLD OUT. 45,000 people journeyed out to the desert hills to watch the biggest band of the millennium rock the fuck out; in the rain! By the way, we posted over 100 photos from this show in our photo gallery.
As one could imagine, a sold out gig of this scale could verily easily devolve into a logistical nightmare. Factor in some rare Southern California rain [the world stops when it rains anywhere near LA] and this gig could have been doomed. Luckily, the promoter went out of its way to warn visitors about the impending traffic apocalypse, weird weather, and alternative transportation options. Long story short, when you get an email blast urging you to arrive early, try to move Heaven and Earth to do so, least you get stuck in the miles long line on the freeway off ramp and miss Skeletonwitch. Another weird logistical hiccup stopped us, or anyone, from shooting Pallbearer. Take solace in the fact that Skeletonwitch and Pallbearer played to a crowd of thousands in this ginormous venue. Fans started tailgating in the parking lots around 9am. By the time Clutch hit the stage after 5pm, the sprawling lawn section was filled with a small army.
Clutch are no strangers to this venue’s massive stage, playing another big time, one-off desert gig with Tool last year. Neil Fallon’s booming voice echoed throughout the sprawling grounds like Mel Gibson in Braveheart [They may take our airtime, but they’ll never take our live show!] After taking in sets from the hyperactive Skeletonwitch and crushingly heavy Pallbearer, a large subset of SOAD fans seemed to appreciate the toe-tapping jam rock sensibilities of Clutch. Plus, they’re just fun as hell.
At The Drive-In have completed the circle of life, reforming after the dissolution of The Mars Volta [who first came into existence after ATDI split back in the day] and are currently touring with System of a Down on their brief solo jaunt. It’s weird that SOAD’s handpicked support act played what felt like the shortest set of the night, but what a fucking action packed set it was. El Paso’s wildest rock ’n’ rollers tore the stage to pieces. The amount of energy this band exudes is awe inspiring. If you’re ever lucky enough to hear the maracas and the opening drum roll of “Arcarsenal” in person, prepare to have your face melted.
Incubus, former nu-metal upstarts turned rock radio kingpins, played a marvelous set; with a light drizzle and about 40,000 backup singers helping them from the crowd. The band leaned into their vast repertoire of hits but also dug deeper, playing a few older/heavy tunes for the legions of SOAD fiends amongst them. Jumping between classics like “Ana Molly” “Megalomaniac” and “Pardon Me,” then ripping it up with underrated headbangers like “Circles” from Morning View and “Calgone” from way back in the S.C.I.E.N.C.E. days, Incubus had a little something for everyone. They also busted out a few rad, left field cover songs [INXS’ “I Need You Tonight” and Ginuwine’s iconic baby making “Pony” along with snippets of Snoop Dogg and Pink Floyd jams for kicks]. Listening to a literal ocean of people singing along to “Drive” was a surreal experience. The mood inside the Glen Helen grounds during Incubus’ was that of peaceful, joyous vibes. Then System of a Down came out…
The Glen Helen Amphitheater went full on apeshit once System of a Down hit the stage. After years of anticipation for the band’s triumphant return and hours of traffic and rain induced agitation, the sold out audience friggin’ exploded. The roars between the start stop pauses of “Prison Song” were deafening. People sang their hearts out and jumped like they hadn’t been standing out in the cold for eight hours. This author has been to many gigs at Glen Helen over the years and hasn’t seen a mob this hyped in ages [since Iron Maiden’s sold out, egg attack fiasco at Ozzfest 2005 to be exact]. During every chorus, Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian’s vocals were nearly drowned out by the rabid audience. Shavo Odajian jumped around stage left all night, rain be dammed, whipping the rows of people down front into a frenzy. Drummer John Dolmayan’s double bass and blast beats on “B.Y.O.B.” and “Cigaro” prompted multiple mosh pits down on the floor. One could only imagine what kind of chaos was unfolding up in the lawn.
The band played most of Toxicity, more than half of Mezmerize, and a handful of songs off Hypnotize, Steal This Album! And their self-titled debut. Some thirty songs and two hours later, they wrapped things up with their first single, “Sugar.” No encore, no real chit chat onstage save for a few weird/funny off the cuff remarks from Daron, SOAD just came out, played their iconic tunes to perfection, and vanished…hopefully not for another three years. There’s a reason why 45,000 people trekked out to a muddy desert mountain top in the outskirts of Southern California and sat through rain and traffic hell for hours on end. It’s the same reason why their video for “Chop Suey!” has over 753 million views on YouTube. It’s because System of a Down make the best & weirdest rock/metal/pop anthems around and they are sorely missed. If the stars align and SOAD wind up performing in your neck of the woods in the near future, get your ass down to that show on the double. Who knows exactly when or if the new millennium kings will be back?