The Mars Volta
Edit this event
- ICA, London »
At a time when the rumours have been quickly spreading through the web about an At The Drive-In reformation, there has to be that little bit of a thought of "well, maybe.." in the minds of even the most ardent anti reuinionists like myself. It also seemed, then, like a good time to see The Mars Volta for the first time, having liked but not loved everything they've done.
I still remember the day that band split up, or rather went on an “indefinite hiatus”. Reading it from a dog-eared NME on a bus to Manchester in the drizzle, the bombshell came along with the news that the Stereophonics were calling Muse a second-rate Radiohead, or maybe that Muse were telling the Stereophonics that they weren't a second-rate Radiohead. Either way, it was the major news of a band that I'd eventually grow to adore to the insignificant news of a spat between bands to which I remain utterly indifferent. Perhaps that pomp and overblown stadium rock has come back to haunt me, but The Mars Volta's penchant for those extended grooves (not the over extended ones, mind) is surely incomparable to Bellamy and Co's own attempt at space-rock. But let's not get stadium rock mixed with prog-rock. There is a Venn diagram somewhere, but I'm not going to draw it.
You know the deal with Volta. No support bands, they're the only ones anyone will hear tonight. ICA in the summer equals sweat box – not of choking magnitude, but still one which has you wiping your forehead at all-too-frequent intervals. The near forty minute wait for any kind of action quells anticipation a little and the opening twenty minutes has the same effect, teetering on monumental let-down territory.
Giving any Volta material a cursory listen and then being expected to judge it is like marking the standard of a restaurant from the quality of its bread rolls, especially given that the standard of streaming on MySpace tends to be generally in between white noise and AM radio. Still, from 'Cotopaxi' you'd be either a) a lunatic or b) an extreme contrarian to be too optimistic about their forthcoming/current Octahedron, even given the above caveat. Yet, typical of their work in general, this is a band who are nothing but masters of climaxes, crescendos and dynamics – on all levels. Early ambivalence moves to cheer, the cheer moves warmer and closer to ecstasy, on a purely musical level of course. The worst thing that could've happened would have been wanky, self-indulgent, extended long-jams for which they've been noted. No flab here, thanks.
Omar's guitar RIPS, as do his fingers I'd presume. Did I mention Thomas Pridgen? Does the Taz-man move tub-thumping to a new level? Probably. There are few people who take the kit to become such an art-form, but Thomas manages to rap, tap, and bash his way into a frenzy with only two hands. Incredible.
The band's togetherness is unparalleled and that's an absolute necessity. As you'd expect from a band of this number, when each is in his zone the sound gets clogged-up, not necessarily entering the thick mud pit territory that most venues seem to provide but just a galling combination and variety of noise. Much of it goes unheard, the intricacies nearly undetectable among the wailing guitar, pounding drums and hyper-heartfelt words. On record, it is about subtlety. Live, forget it. Bassist Juan Alderete often hits a groove - massively so in 'Viscera Eyes' - but it'd be a surprise if anyone really notices. Alderete seems unlikely to be overly bothered by this. Likewise Ikey Owens – despite his exaggerated movements with which it's a wonder how he hits the keys... – rarely more than a glance is made in his direction as he writhes without end. But shit, these guys are in a whole 'nother level of tightness of which there is no applicable metaphor to do it justice, 'Cygnus Vismund Cygnus' is proof.
The Smiths? This is just the curve ball. A beautiful fucking juicy curve ball. Or is it? Cedric and Omar were known to play a very raw 'This Night Has Opened My Eyes' during their At The Drive-In days, but I'm sure those two styles are a little easier to marry than at present. A toilet break stops me from hearing much of the beginning – it's not clear how many people would've recognised 'That Joke Isn't Funny Any More' being tagged onto (or rather morphing from) their own, but the words “I've seen this happen in other people's lives / and now it's happening in mine” are fairly unmistakable when mixed with Morrisey's melancholic melody.
To be actually scared to see a band live is a pretty pathetic state of affairs, yet that's how it was. It's not strong enough a feeling to be labelled a personal revelation, as the Mars Volta's back catalogue has always been appealing. In the flesh, it's another beast, and so it should be. As someone who pretty much always detests the rigmarole and predictability of encores, that I find myself whooping, hollering and bellowing at an empty stage says a lot more than enough.
- Open'er 2012: Penderecki's violin revolution in Poland
- In Photos: Hard Rock Calling 2012 @ Hyde Park, London
- The Mars Volta - Noctourniquet
- The Mars Volta announce March release of new album
- DiS in Australia: Splendour In The Grass 2011
- In Photos: Sonisphere Festival 2011 @ Knebworth
- DiSsers recommend... Quiet/LOUD songs
- Artwork Day: Top Ten Record Covers of the '00s