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Concert Reviews

Vera and I realized recently that we hadn't been to any concerts since we moved out to Seattle. So in an effort to make up for this oversight, we recently picked up tickets to see a couple of our favorite bands live at last.

The first concert we checked out was Nine Inch Nails, which we were both really anticipating, having been into them since Pretty Hate Machine came out in 1989 (coincidentally the year we met). As seems to always happen with us, we finally ended up seeing one of our favorite bands a few tours later than we probably would have preferred to (NIN hit their peak for me around The Downward Spiral).

I have to say that the overall concert experience was, unfortunately, kind of a let down from what we were expecting. Part of the problem I think was the venue — Key Arena is a decent-sized stadium (the Sonics play there), and having bought my tickets a few hours after they went on sale, we were in the stadium part, way up in the nosebleed seats. The crowd up there was not particularly active, either: everyone was sitting down through the whole concert! I mean, Vera and I thought we might be a little on the aged side to handle the floor, but it's not like this was a Sting concert or anything. We were kind of aghast at just how placid everyone was.

The stadium crowd aside, however (the crowd on the floor was plenty excited), there was also a distinctive lack of connection between the band and the crowd. Or rather, any kind of attempt to connect with the crowd at all. Trent said, "Thank you," a couple of times and pointed out that one song was new, but apart from that, they just showed up and played the songs and didn't really do anything to indicate that they were aware of the several thousand people in front of them. And the songs themselves were really just the exact album versions, which we've all heard a billion times already. It pretty much just ended up being us sitting up in the nosebleeds listening to a few NIN songs on shuffle played really really loud. Definitely not the kind of concert experience we expected!

Technically, the band sounded, well, like the album. They played a good selection of songs, and much more early stuff than I was expecting. I was especially happy to hear Sin, Wish, and Down In It. They pretty much hit all their big singles and mixed in a few bits of the new album. There was a nice, downtempo section in the middle with a giant video projected onto a curtain in front of the band and a number of slower songs from The Fragile played live. In fact, it seemed that with all the smoke and hiding behind curtains, they weren't particularly interested in being seen, which just added to the lack of connection with the crowd. The only songs I wish they had played were Happiness in Slavery and The Perfect Drug, but I can't complain too much as I thought the overall song selection was pretty good.

The opening band, Queens of the Stone Age, were not particularly impressive. They played their three radio hits, and everything else just sounded muddy and indistinct. The lead singer was seemingly drunk and tried to get the crowd revved up, but it didn't really seem to do much. There was also apparently another opening band, Autolux, but they started and finished played well before the official concert start time. I guess there was some web announcement of it, but we missed it.

So, we were a little nervous after that concert, realizing that we had tickets to see System of a Down a week and a half later at the same venue. We had one advantage this time, however: we got the tickets very early and ended up with essentially front row seats right off the floor.

Thankfully, this concert totally rocked. It was everything we were really expecting out of the NIN concert. People were on their feet throughout the stadium, the band acknowledged the crowd's existence, it was great. Vera and I were totally exhausted after the show from dancing/headbanging. :-)

The band sounded awesome and mixed things up a bit without totally reimagining the songs. Daron, the guitarist/singer, had some great moments throwing curveballs to the audience by singing very melodic variations of songs like Cigaro as intros to the actual song. You could really tell who knew the songs well by how long it took the audience to start cheering in response. The band looked like they were having a blast, and we were as well. I still have no idea how Serj can switch between melodic harmonies and death metal growls without altering his facial expression. It's eerie, kind of like watching Trey Parker switch into his Cartman voice.

They ended up playing almost the entire Mesmerize album, a few songs from the upcoming Hypnotize album, and plenty of older stuff in between. I about lost it when they did Suggestions from the first album — that song always hits me between the eyes. The only notable omission was Radio/Video which I half expected them to do with a Russian bear dance in the middle. Oh well, you can't have everything.

I had some slight hopes that the opening band, The Mars Volta, would be worthwhile. And while they definitely had some talent, their songs just went on and on and on.... They seemed to be attempting to build up a giant wall of sound with their 8-piece band, but it really didn't impress, especially in a giant concert hall at 120dB. It was good to at least hear The Widow in concert, but sadly, that song seems wholly unrepresentative of most of the rest of their music. That said, compared to the utter cacaphony of the pre-opening band, Hella, it was a definite step up. Though I will say that Hella's drummer did the best drum machine on steroids impression I've yet to see.