Thursday, 31 July 2008

Life on Mars

Seriously, there is no band around that sounds anything like The Mars Volta. Their musical style is grandiose and takes in prog rock, jazz, psychedelicia and punk rock, while their fondness for indecipherable song names and concept albums baffles all but the most persistent music fan. Being of the MTV generation and having an attention span of approximately three minutes, I've never quite got on with epic 12-minute opuses that make up the the recorded work of The Mars Volta. I was sure, however, that they would put on an unbelievable live show. And having seen them recently at Camden Roundhouse, I was definitely right on that count...

Front Rows, Pits and Pavements

Coming on without any prior support band at the quite unexpectedly early hour of 8pm, the Mars Volta take to the stage in a haze of static and launch into a relentless two-hour audio assault. "Wall of sound" doesn't even begin to describe the density and magnitude of the noise this band make. I frankly have no idea what they played as there was no let-up that would in other circumstances demarcate discrete songs within a set, and many songs seemed to descend into freeform jams as the musicians saw fit.

The stars of the show were without a doubt co-founders singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala - a whirling dervish who leaps on speaker stacks, does handstands and generally throws himself around the stage with abandon - and guitarist Omar Rodriguez Lopez - who wrestles and cajoles his guitar into making the most amazing sounds, all the while gurning and writhing with the effort of it all.

The Mars Volta's ever changing roster of musicians and band members has encompassed the likes of Flea and John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the past. On this occasion Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez Lopez were joined by the most ferocious and indefatigable drummer I have ever seen, a couple of guitarists and a keyboard player tucked away in the wings, a dedicated percussionist, and, of course, a multi-instrumentalist wind musician, who whipped out a saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, trumpet...

At times the music rose to epic clamorous crescendos with all the musicians furiously beating away at their instruments, but never quite descended into complete chaos, although the lack of clear song structures sometimes made it feel that way. A few quieter moments interspersed throughout tempered the otherwise frantic assault until both fans and band were exhausted and the Mars Volta wrapped it up.

Having procured wristbands from some lackey simply by standing around wondering which bar to go to, my friend and I stroke past several rabid fans haggling with bouncers and into the backstage area to rub shoulders with the Mars Volta. Yes, I have stood next to Bixler-Zavala, admiring how his hair is indeed as luxuriant and voluminous as it seems, and spent no less than 40 minutes trying to think of something less-than-idiotic to say to Rodriguez Lopez, a guitar hero of mine since my geeky sixth form days in which I had very little cool about me except for the fact I loved At The Drive In.

This show was unlike anything I have ever heard, and certainly nothing like a traditional gig. Maybe I'll be giving their albums another go now, and perhaps you should as well.

1 comment:

Richard said...

Awesome stuff helen,
knocked me sideways