The Mars Volta :: 06.03.05 :: Greek Theatre :: Berkeley, CA
This morning, I was interviewing Josh Homme when he began speaking about the musical resurgence we are lucky enough to be living. What he was referring to is the phenomenon of bands like his own, Queens of the Stone Age, who are somehow getting the attention of the public while playing incredibly exciting, experimental, crazy-as-hell music. There may be no band alive that exemplifies this rare duality that Josh spoke of more than The Mars Volta. Having grown from the tiny 800 person Catalyst in Santa Cruz to the massive 8,000 person Greek Theatre in Berkeley over the course of one tour in California, obviously people are receiving the message that The Mars Volta is transmitting. In fact, the message at The Greek was so overwhelming that to not, at the very least, go on record to state so would mean I am simply not doing my job.
The Mars Volta by Juice Krouton
It's true that the year is only half over, and there's obviously no way to determine what is in store for the coming six months, but to date, the June 3rd Mars Volta show at the Greek was the most impressive live performance of the year. Having the show take place in an open air theatre as opposed to a gymnasium definitely made an incredible difference. The Mars Volta play very aggressive, at times cacophonous music. This has at times led to inaudible areas of the performance and vocal washout. There is just so much material coming at the listener that it can be near impossible to wrap one's head around it all. But with no back wall and no ceiling to create a pinball-like sound warp, the music could escape. It could exit the space immediately around the ears and allow room for the next wall of mind-melting guitar work from band co-founder and master mind Omar Rodriguez-Lopez.
Not only was the sound considerably better than at other Volta shows, but what the band did over the course of their two-hour onslaught was just incredible - soaring, psychedelic guitars, backed by the uncompromising drumtastics of Jon Theodore, perfectly fitting yet oddly-shaped percussion work, swollen bass members, and the out of control, other-worldly performance of vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala. Crawling on the stage, slithering on his belly, wrapping his teeth around the mic-stand, and picking it up with his mouth as he rose to his feet - the crowd was in awe of Bixler.
The Mars Volta by Juice Krouton
As night began to fall over the Greek, the band moved into darker, more disturbing territory. By the time "Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus," the first track of their amazing new album Frances The Mute, touched down, the crowd was transfixed. Even for fans that have listened extensively to the band's material and seen them perform several times, it was difficult to comprehend. But where other experiences could perhaps have been simply too much, the Volta was able to blow people away and split them down the middle without sacrificing sound quality and accessibility. The music is not easy, and it's certainly not for those who aren't willing to take chances. It burns hot with a sexually-charged Latin rock vibe that is unavailable anywhere else on the planet. The band is able to incorporate aspects from other monumental bands and genres, but they do so in such a unique way that they are creating something totally fresh. Yes, you can hear Pink Floyd in the overall mind-fuck mentality. Sure, there is some Zeppelin in both Theodore's drumming and the interaction between Omar's guitar and Cedric's sexed-up, guttural cries. Can shows up as well as Iggy Pop, At The Drive-In, and certainly others, but all these names really do is grasp at straws. Writers drop names so that readers have something to which they can relate. But in the case of The Mars Volta, the names really just create limitations. They are not just elaborating on the past or rehashing their influences, The Mars Volta are tapping into something much larger, something so rare and so amazing that fans, writers, publicists, and anyone within earshot are left searching for their marbles and trying to find a way to tell the masses.
Cedric Bixler-Zavala :: The Mars Volta
By Juice Krouton
By balancing the evil, heavier-than-hell segments with light, ethereal guitar work and cascading keyboard sections by Ikey Owens, the band was able to control the huge crowd, sending them into sporadic fits of excitement only to pull the levers back and drop into highly-composed sections. There were moments throughout the night where new band member Paul Hinojos (sound manipulator) would be twisting buttons, tweaking sounds, and complementing Omar's heavily-processed guitar sounds to create noises that seemed to come from nowhere. With eight members on stage and countless effects being used, it was often difficult to determine who was doing what and just how it all tied together. Like many transcendent Phish or Widespread Panic shows, the music seemed to levitate a few inches above the band as it spread out over the heads of the crowd. Everything was happening above the stage, above the mass of people, and perhaps above the attention level of many.
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez by Juice Krouton
The eighth and final song of the evening, "Cassandra Gemini," came firing out hot around the edges. The roughly thirty-minute song was impossibly grandiose. Even when The Mars Volta come up short on execution (which is very rare), they more than make up for it with their ambition. "Cassandra Gemini" is more like five songs than one. There are very distinct sections featuring various members of the band, including the beautiful sax and flute work of Adrian Terrazas and the understated bass work of Juan Alderete. As the music bounced from chunks of angular sound and obtuse notes to symphonic orchestration, somehow it always found its way back to earth. Like a cat thrown in the air, it would always land on its feet. The evening came to fruition as Cedric held the mic ten inches from his mouth while he cried and moaned over the top of Omar's guitar slabs.
The Mars Volta by Juice Krouton
With no encore, and no need for one, both Omar and Cedric seemed happy as could be. Where Cedric normally chastises the crowd for idiotic slam dancing, at the Greek he thanked the heaping mass of people, expressing his genuine appreciation for the band's success. Omar simply bowed like a Buddhist Monk and walked off stage. As the house lights came up, David Bowie's "Life On Mars?" came over the speakers. Walking out of the Greek there seemed to be no question that there is certainly intelligent life on Mars.
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