When Scars on Broadway frontman Daron Malakian pulled an eleventh-hour plug on their debut tour two years ago, it seemed like the impish songwriter had succumbed to clichéd rock star meltdown (Malakian is also in System Of A Down). But seeing him and his delightfully robust band (including SOAD drummer John Dolmayan) deliver Friday night with passion, precision and palpable appreciation -- both for the songs and the crowd -- forgave any false-starts.
Scars performed all but two of the tunes from their eponymous 2008 album, plus a pair of relative newbies ("Fucking" and "Talkin' Shit") and a couple of covers ("Gie Mou Gie Mou" by Greek singer Stamatis Kokotas and Skinny Puppy's "Assimilate"). The rambunctious crowd was rewarded with a near-perfect mix (perhaps in part thanks to the lack of opening act), Malakian in fine voice and buoyant mood, and an outstanding display from journeyman guitarist/singer Franky Perez, whose bearded presence far transcended usual "sideman" standards.
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Malakian's oddly catchy music straddles decades and continents, nonchalantly blending Beatles-y melody and keyboards, provocative punk vitriol, death metal's tortured virtuosity and aching Eurasian echoes.
As well as being stylistically irreverent, he's a lyrical devil's advocate, littering last night's set with mentions of Iraq (where he has family), Charles Manson, the Armenian Genocide (both Malakian and Dolmayan are of Armenian descent), drugs and sex. Yet however serious, sarcastic or frankly distasteful his subject matter at Avalon, Malakian radiated a winning, boyish sense of wonder and a stoner's disarming embrace (at one point repeating "Even if you hate me, you're my friend and I love you").
Scars on Broadway's set, like their album, spanned wistful nostalgia ("Funny", "Babylon", "3005"), heads-down metal ("Stoner-Hate"), carnival rock ("Exploding/Reloading"), sneering punk (the verses of "Serious") and even sub-disco grooves ("Enemy"). And while they sailed close to the recorded versions, Dolmayan's hits seemed crisper, Perez added succulent six-string flourishes, and Malakian meandered into apparently semi-improvised guitar wack-attacks.
It speaks volumes for Scars on Broadway's stand-alone identity that, even when SOAD bassist Shavo Odadjian joined them on stage for closers "Cute Machines" and "They Say", I didn't hear a single shout of "System Of A Down!" This was the most compelling rock band I've seen in memory - and, in this line of work, I see many, many bands.