Serj Tankian + Viza + The Hollywood Arson Project @ O2 Academy, Birmingham – Wednesday 10th October 2012

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Words and Pictures by Tony Gaskin

It’s been a while since I put pen to paper for a live review, so was looking forward to an evening of alternative and arty metal from the SOAD frontman.

First up though as a crowd warmer were the band made up of Serj’s backing group, the F.C.C. and Viza guitarist Orbel Babayan. Calling themselves The Hollywood Arson Project they knock out some pretty uninspiring rock for twenty minutes, although there was some decent bass grooves and drum rhythms. But it did give us photographers a chance to get warmed up!

I was really looking forward to Viza though. Having only been made aware of this group very recently, I’d checked out some of their back catalogue and liked what I was hearing. Relatively unknown in the UK, they’ve been around a number of years now touring extensively on the European circuit and are currently promoting their 5th album Carnivalia.

They literally explode onto stage, a large band with seven members which as well as the usual guitars/bass/drums, incorporate percussion and an Oud (search Bill Bailey Oud on youtube for an entertaining take on the Oud). The result is a high energy performance that combines a plethora of Eastern European, Middle Eastern and Medditeranian ethnic styles fused with the more modern sounds of metal riffs and hard hitting drum patterns.

Taking the cue from their latest album, frontman K’noup is a carnival ringmaster who orchestrates a show that is both intoxicating and invigorating, this is more a theatrical experience than a rock gig. Songs like Trans-Siberian Standoff, Carnivalia and My Mona Lisa get you hooked.

I was a little disappointed that they didn’t take the theatrical aspect one step further and get dressed up for the part, but that is a minor gripe, this is a highly entertaining group of minstrels that are winning a lot of new fans on this tour.

I was surprised that tonight wasn’t close to being a sell out, but Serj’s more avant garde solo material is obviously not to the taste of the more main stream metal fans. Released from his shackles that restrained him in SOAD, Serj lets his creativity flow out in all directions. His new album Harakiri is no exception and the tracks he plays here tonight from the new release only confirms that he is a consummate lyricist. I counted no less than six songs from the new album, all in the first half of the set, kicking off with the jubilantly bouncy “Figure It Out”, which is probably as close to a SOAD song as you get, Serj pours everything into an outstanding performance. From the highs of “Butterfly” to the morose but beautiful “Elect The Dead” he holds nothing back. He’s backed by a group of highly talented musicians (the aforementioned F.C.C.), and working with a eccentric talent such as Serj must be demanding but these guys step up to the plate and nail everything. There’s no fancy show, no huge ego boosting back drops, just plain simple musical talent.

Unfortunately I had to dash before the scheduled encore, which according to the set list I saw, was to include the SOAD classic “Aerials” , but I’ve since found out they didn’t play it much to the disappointment of many. Still a varied and entertaining set from one of rocks quirkier charecters.

Set list

Figure It Out, Cornucopia, Feed Us, Sky Is Over, Baby, Butterfly, Harakiri, Occupied Tears, Elect the Dead, The Unthinking Majority, Honking Antelope, Ching Chime, Lie Lie Lie, Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

Encore

Saving Us, Beethoven’s Cunt, Empty Walls

Check out more of Tony’s photos from the gig below