With SOAD due to play a series of European festival dates this summer, I thought it was high time to revisit some of the band’s past live glories for this week’s feature.
I’ve focused on performances from their early years for this article, ranging from their pre-label days to the release of "Steal This Album!" in 2003. That’s not to diminish any of the band’s live output from their latter days, (indeed, if you holler about it loud enough in the comments, there’s no reason not to do a follow up) but there’s something to be said for the witnessing the young, hungry SOAD tearing it up on stage. Enjoy and, as always, play fucking loud!
Whisky a Go-Go, Los Angeles, 1997
This one from 1997 is perhaps the earliest example of live SOAD footage out there. Fortunately, it’s a corker; a professionally shot example of the band throwing down at Hollywood’s Whisky A Go-Go in the days before their first album.
The group is on fire in this video, with Serj staring down the audience like a maniacal demon and the rest of the band delivering the kind of high-wire, frenetic energy performance that would become their trademark in years to come.
Also of note is the setlist. A number of cuts are taken from their self-title debut album that would be released in 1998, while others are drawn from the band’s myriad early demo tapes.
The Whisky A Go-Go show was reportedly one of the gigs that brought the band to the attention of producer Rick Rubin. Watching the footage, it’s not hard to see why.
Mississippi Nights, St Louis, 1998
The guys from Lepers TV managed to capture some amazing footage of up-and-coming metal acts in the late 1990s to early 2000s. This clip of System live at Mississippi Nights in 1998 is no exception.
A year down the line from the Whisky performance and with the band’s self-titled album now in stores, the turnout is certainly larger than that of the previous video. But, the setting is still super intimate, and the band’s intensity shines through in the confined setting.
It’s strange watching back to think that this was one of the last times the band would play in a venue so small. With the release of their next album, Toxicity, they’d be catapulted into heavy metal superstardom.
FujiRock, Japan, 2001
Speaking of "Toxicity"...
This pro-shot footage of the band playing at the FujiRock Festival in Japan in 2001 is notable for featuring the live premieres of many standout songs from System’s monolithic sophomore effort. "Jet Pilot," "Needles," "Science" and the now anthemic "Chop Suey!" all got their first ever plays at the show, which took place a couple of weeks before the album’s release.
As for the performance itself, it’s evidence of the band’s growing prowess as live musicians. Unrelentingly fierce and suitably energetic, their energy is clearly transmitted to the crowd, who swarm in a frenzy of moshing and crowdsurfing.
Reading Festival, United Kingdom, 2003
Full disclosure. The last entry on this list was in part influence by my being there... Still, it’s an absolute behemoth of a show so you’ll no doubt forgive me for the indulgence.
This rather tasty video mixes audience, pro-shot and FM sources to create a complete video of the band’s 2003 performance at the Reading Festival, supporting Metallica (Darron and Shavo would join the ‘Tallica boyz onstage for the "Die, Die" section of "Creeping Death").
At an hour and 20 minutes, it’s packed to the rafters with absolute bangers from the band’s first three albums, including the then recently released "Steal This Album!" Perhaps the best version of Mind ever played and a humungous sounding Mr. Jack are just two of the reasons to crank this one loud. Hindsight ain’t always 20/20, but this video proves that my memories of SOAD’s live ferocity back in the day were fully justified.