The Mars Volta live – Eye Daily (5.13.08)

Nine songs in three hours? Ok, there was a jam in there too, and a few interludes, but still…

Let me start off by clarifying that I have no problem with over-extended songs riddled with searching instrumental sections, indulgent soloing and organic group dynamics. Coltrane’s Ascension – love it; Tool – there was a time where I couldn’t get enough; “Machine Gun” – any version will do; and even the occasional Zeppelin wank-a-thon is a worthy endeavour. And truth be told, I have been following Mars Volta since At the Drive-In imploded and have much respect for Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s righteous musical quest. So I was more than prepared for the copious amounts of music expected at Monday’s Sound Academy engagement, or so I thought. Let’s just say I spent the first two hours enraptured and the next 45 or so minutes hoping it would end.

From the opening 20-minute take on “Roulette Dares (The Haunt of)” it was clear that the all-ages audience was in for some sustained intensity. Leading the eight-piece ensemble, Omar and Cedric grabbed hold of a song that they’ve been playing since the band’s inception and shook it with the force of an unmuzzled pit-bull. An additional layer of texture from Adrián Terrazas-González’s tenor sax and the extra-ecstatic fills courtesy of drum prodigy Thomas Pridgin didn’t hurt either. Launching straight into the concise familiarity of single “Wax Simulacra,” the band began a healthy offering from their latest disc Bedlam in Goliath. Unlike the previous Toronto show, which featured even more selections from the then unheard album and I can only imagine resulted in a few sprained eardrums from trying to process the frenetic arrangements, the crowd seemed well versed in the album-length ode to the curse of ancient Ouijas.

The early highlight was an expanded version of “Goliath,” with its Rage Against the Machine-ish main riff providing the anchoring groove for endlessly inventive solos from Terrazas-González, Rodriguez-Lopez and keyboardist Isaiah Ikey Owens. This exercise in extension was topped only by Amputechture’s epic “Tetragammaton.” Clocking in way over its studio benchmark of 16 minutes, it could have easily been a fine finale to the show. The song encapsulates nearly everything that Mars Volta has to offer — shifting time signatures and break-neck breakbeats, swooning waltz grooves, a lengthy exploration of ambient noise, and a multi-layered conclusion packed with wailing saxes and ascending riffs. But no, this show is nowhere near finished; more like halfway there.

This is the catch-22 of Mars Volta — with ample songs in their catalogue and a penchant for re-envisioning every single one of them, the show could theoretically go on for days. But a succession of epic songs doesn’t necessarily make for an epic concert. After the aforementioned tracks, the straight ahead clip of “Ouroboros” and the funky swagger of “Agadez” felt more like blunt force trauma, even when bookended with anticipatory dirges. Still, it’s hard not to admire MV’s tenacious energy reserves — and I’d really like to know exactly what kind of herbal tea Cedric was drinking from the endless supply of steaming mugs — but spending an excruciating amount of time jamming on one practice-pad riff during the last third of an already exhaustive set isn’t necessarily inspiring or endearing. It’s just irritating.

Despite my impatience, this is a band that has to be experienced live in order to fully comprehend the intensity of their musical pursuance. There is no other post-punk, world-prog jam band quite like the Mars Volta, and that’s probably for the best.

Originally published at Eye Weekly 5.13.08.

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2 Responses to “The Mars Volta live – Eye Daily (5.13.08)”

  1. James Says:

    i was there what a fantastic show.. so sweet they rock

  2. 11CUPS Says:

    Just received the latest vinyl, CIENCIA de los INUTILES in the mail today 6/9/2010. Great stuff as always

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