Serj Tankian

The Wiltern, August 2, 2008

By Siran Babayan

System of a Down are kaput, for now, and three of its members have splintered off: guitarist Daron Malakian and drummer John Dolmayan formed Scars on Broadway, and singer Serj Tankian released his debut solo album, Elect the Dead, last year. But looking at the capacity crowd at the Wiltern, not to mention all the SOAD t-shirts, it didn’t seem as though anyone was holding a grudge. On the contrary. Tankian is L.A. to the bone, and if prog-rock’s Pavarotti were to sing pass the salt (or in his case, “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition”), fans would ten-hut and listen.

Tankian also looks like he’s ditched the Chinese pajamas and face paint of SOAD shows past. While his entire band was clad in black, Tankian wore a white jacket and matching top hat, a look that must’ve been inspired by Jeff Daniels in Dumb and Dumber, minus the cane. He’d snap his fingers as if he were digging his own groovy beat, and dance a jig of glee as if this weren’t a metal show but a hoedown. Sure, there were piano interludes here and there; SOAD weren’t exactly your meathead’s hard rock, and as a solo artist, Tankian has even more room to experiment. But the rest was pure, tinnitus-causing metal madness.

(Photos by Rita Neyter. More after the jump.)

Like water gushing out of a fire hose, Tankian kicked off the set with “The Unthinking Majority,” which opens with typical Tankian lyrics: “We don’t need your democracy/Execute them kindly for me.” “Baby” is as close to a love song as Elect the Dead gets, if you’re serenading someone at Ozzfest, that is. And screw the Beatles cover. Tankian has the vocal chops to perfectly mimic Jello Biafra’s vibrato and breathe life back into a punk staple like the Dead Kennedys' “Holiday in Cambodia” (smart thinking replacing the “N” word with “brothers“), which he first performed with the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl on 2007’s MTV Video Music Awards.

About the speechifying. As with his old band, Tankian is a tree-hugging, leftist hippy who wears his politics on his sleeve. And if he could, he’d cultivate pot in his backyard and give it away to the homeless. But he’s also written an entire song about bananas and terra cotta. So he’s probably drinking some of that bong water, too. On blatant tracks like “Money,” he blames his servitude on the ol’ mighty dollar. But something like “Honking Antelope” might be as much about messing with mother nature as it is about, well, a honking antelope. You decide.

Politically motivated or not, Tankian is always full of good-vibe positivity: “This song came to me in a dream…Music belongs to the universe….Look at all you beautiful people….Look at all the beauty, the faces, the smiles. All that makes me think of death. Just kidding.”

Though we wimped out and chose to comfortably stand in the back, we noticed no bodies piling, no crowd surfing, no aggressive shoving. Tankian can sing about all the antelopes and secret dance of snakes he wants, but this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. Turns out the mosh pit was behind the main pit area. That’s more like it. Then, a body whizzed passed us. Yeah, metal’s all fun and games until you’ve been hurled out of a mosh pit and landed on your butt. And you’re a girl. And you’re grabbing your breasts from the pain.

Text by Siran Babayan, Photos by by Rita Neyter

LA Weekly