Monday 1st April, 2002

The Nottingham Arena, ENGLAND.

The Nottingham Arena, during its day job is normally the National Ice Centre (apparently) and home to the Nottingham Panthers (ice hockey team), but at night it can become a fully fledged concert hall. It's quite spectacular having banked seating on three sides and standing room on the floor, with the result of making you feel very vulnerable if your one of the great unwashed that are standing. Scanning around from ground zero there are a thousand eyes on you, a very strange feeling indeed. And that's just as a spectator, so it must be quite something for the bands.

The crowd was obviously warmed up ready for the two bands tonight and there were increasing rumbles of impatience as it approached 8 o'clock (doors opened at 7:30). Cheers and hoorays met the merest hint of movement on stage, as the natives became more and more restless. So, when Dillinger Escape Plan appeared on stage a great roar of appreciation greeted them. The band literally exploded into life with their very discordant and chaotic style of technical guitars, gagged rhythms and murderous screaming. At the end of the first song the crowd cheered and gave great applause, although many looked shell-shocked, as the band announced themselves then exploded into their next song.

The sound quality was absolutely appalling with very little of anything other than base notes and drums coming through with a layer of screaming vocals. A lot of the intricate guitar work was lost, but it was already become obvious that this wouldn’t really matter as they were losing the crowd. Many couldn’t understand what was going on and looking around, there were countless blank faces and even more frightened ones. By the end of the second song, the cheers had become mixed with boo’s and there was a feeling of unrest among the rucksacked battalions.

The intense mayhem being unleashed on stage was not suitable for this audience, a fact that was becoming apparent on it’s own, but mixed with a bad sound system it wasn’t going to be appreciated by anything but a small percentage of the crowd. And that was basically the way that it went with more boo’s and disquiet, as their 30-minute set unfolded. A real shame because these guys played some of the most complex and abstract metal being practised today. Being way too leftfield and obtuse for the mainstream, not offering any immediate answers but actually challenging the listener to put some effort in, this modern jazz drenched rock has extreme metal tendencies which are probably always going to be a delicacy for the minorities.

As Dillinger finished their set and in the process trashed their instruments, the boo’s became most intense, were just outrageous and plain rude. However, things soon quietened down as the lights came up and it was obvious they had finished. The crowd went back to talking about Fred Durst, spot cream and school and the pit area dispersed back to find their parents (sorry, that was cynical, uncalled for and will stop immediately, before someone calls me old).

And so it was, that System Of A Down took to the stage to a huge cheer as they opened with Prison Song. Again, particularly for the first half of the set, the sound was awful and the shape of the songs were lost relying largely on recognition and memory to fill them out in full. The speaker stacks were mounted from the roof structure and were suspended at least 30 foot in the air, meaning that the sound was passing well over the heads of the standing crowd resulting in the poor sound. It may have sounded great from other locations, but from here it was crap.

Anyway, you just had to live with that, get used to it and enjoy the gig. And the show was a great performance from the ‘System’ guys with some outstanding playing and massively high level of professionalism shown throughout. They played the majority of the best songs from both albums during the 75 minutes set and made sure all the popular ones were there, including Chop Suey!, Spiders, Bounce, Darts, Know, Psycho, Suite-Pee, Needles, Toxicity and Sugar. One thing that really had the hairs on the back of your neck standing proud was the crowd singing along to the songs. Thousands of voices singing word for word along with some of those superb choruses, it was genuinely quite moving, particularly during Chop Suey! and Toxicity. And then there’s the beautiful singing from Serj Tankian that is mixed expertly with those awesome roars that he does so well.

Oh yes, you can’t forget the naked men dancing on stage during Needles. The image just won’t go from my mind (almost nightmare-esque), and it was all happening to the shouts of "Pull the tapeworm out of your ass, Hey"!  Then, there was the quote of the night from guitarist Daron Malakian "Hey, If you don’t like Dillinger Escape Plan you either have small tits or a small dick". It was a classic.

System Of A Down seem to have the right mix of metal intensity, quirky character, majestic melody and commercial involvement to get widespread interest without the risk of isolation in a niche, and it confirmed that position with the success of this gig. But this gig took me back to the old days (in the 70’s and 80’s) when the monsters of rock ruled the land and bands were way up there on the stage, egos and all, untouchable in their super-stardom. The routes of metal in recent times has been refreshingly based in the underground scene where during the support bands set, you’re moshing with the guitarist of the band you’ve come to see. I hope we don’t end up back in the old ways where rock bands are elevated to heights of royalty, or am I just over-reacting to one gig?  Probably!  What I can be sure of was that I had been looking forward to this gig for so long (with the postponement of the original date) and definitely enjoyed it, but I came away feeling strangely disappointed. And I’m still not totally sure why...