I knew what I was going to. It wasn't going to be as nascent as the Echoplex. It wasn't going to be as intimate as the Troubadour last April. It wasn't going to be as exploratory and primal as the Catalyst last March. But it also wasn't going to be like seeing them open at a SOAD or RHCP show (I must confess/toot my horn, in 12 shows, I've never seen them as an opener). It was somewhere in the middle. Like the RIMAC arena. That was my first live experience with them way back in April, 2005. People who were excited-not always for the best reasons-to see the best live band, the best studio band, the best band for your brain today and maybe ever, The Mars Volta.
The Mars Volta played the UC Irvine Bren Center last night. It was broadcast live on Indie 103.1 which, despite being commercial radio was pretty damn cool. I wasn't sure if they'd be subject to censoring due to the live broadcast but Cedric's frequent dropping of the f-bomb between songs assured me there was a slight radio lag and they would be able to perform the show they were meant to perform.
The floor was packed and the security were enforcing the "You gotta be on the blue or get outta here" law. I stood tippy-toed on the blue until the passed then straddled the line separating the floor with the walkway till the show started. They must have been taking some lessons from the El Rey.
Their long-standing intro, "Fistfull of Dollars" (recently given a brief vacation) began around 8:45 pm. The crowd rushed the front as I knew they would. Omar's ring mod kicked in and those who knew, knew what was coming. Roulette Dares opened the show. I think that song has been played at ever Volta show since the Druids built Stonehenge. And Stonehenge is still fucking there too. Drummer Thomas Pridgen (it's been a year and a half now so we should all stop calling him the "new guy") breathes new life into the song particularly at the jam section during the 6/8 second half. And no, he doesn't use a double kick.
I was most pleased to hear that Omar was still taking his sweet time between songs and indulging in his loop pedals with the show being broadcast on the radio. Nearly two minutes passed between the end of Roulette Dares and song number 2.
Viscera Eyes gives me chills during the second half. I can't stop dancing. Watch my videos from the other times I've seen them play that song, they suck! I uncontrollably move too much! PT II from the EchoplexThe Orpheum Theater 4/3/2007
Up next was their new single Wax Simulacra. This song took a while to grow on me. I didn't like it last year when it was played under the moniker Idle Tooth. It felt like an etude then. It's evolved into one short mother though. I was glad to hear Cedric reprimand the crowd between songs about the aggressiveness. "Save that shit for the Warped Tour." As I mentioned earlier, a show like this draws equally from people who wish to experience the cerebral Volta experience and those who hear spastic drums and fast tempos and think it's their golden ticket to take their shirt off and throw their fists around.
Goliath, aka Rapid Fire Tollbooth was the first real new jam highlight of the night. This song just keeps progressively getting better and better (and faster ad faster) every time it's played.
New song time! Ouruboros!!! "Don't you evah, evah, evah,..." Oh my god. The "and all you ask is why" section currently boggles my musical clockworks.
The 16 minute suite, Tetragrammaton was next followed by new song Agadez then the only song from 2005's Frances the Mute opus, Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus. For how intense their music is (read: "Intense", not "heavy"), I don't think there is another band out there with as many genuine smiles as this one. It was during the jam section of this song Cedric decided to make some friends in the audience and ran up the bleacher stairs. One fan who had apparently been waiting for this moment all his life ran down the stairs and gave Cedric a bear hug. I don't think Cedric knew he was there. Cedric rocked on the barricade for a few seconds then returned on stage as the safety leader of the Bren center with his emergency exit sign and all. He placed it on top of Omar's amp where it remained the rest of the night (was Thomas tired of losing his cymbals to Cedric the gnome?). Cedric then ran up the other side of the event center and returned sporting a ratty FuBu-esqe sports shell from some generous member of the crowd. That man definitely knows how to work the audience. from where I was, right up front, I was getting more of the bands acoustic/non-house system sound which helped make the show feel like it was at a more intimate setting-with 4,000 people pushing some guys elbow into your back.
The highlight of the night for me was their next song, the second of the new album Bedlam in Goliath, Metatron. The verse kicks into an austere double-time feel that just says dance. And I'm pretty sure that when J.S. Bach was working out counter-point way back in the 1500's, his biggest mistake was not making 5 the the standard for all music time signatures. Listen to the second half of this song and you'll see what I mean. Second guitar man/sound manipulator Pablo Hinojos-Gonzalez brings Cedric's vocals into another dimension on this song.
Back to the classic Drunkship after Metatron. This song, like Roulette Dares is constantly being worked on but I personally think it's time to trade it out for another oldie. But then gain, listen to Adrian's accents on the block. Perhaps this one can stick around for a while longer. The crowd definitely got a little out of hand for this one-mustered up their flagging energy and got a little pushy.
One last new song, Ilyena was next. Reminiscent of...nothing comes to mind it's so good. Baphomets, the closer of all closers ended the night. This final moments of this song, when Omar's brother Marcel begins his bongo run, gives me chills every time I hear it.
The Mars Volta, like no other band today, did all this with smiles across their faces. The dynamics in the band appear to be the best they've ever been as the music pushes new boundaries and the musicians push themselves. The energy of their live shows is something that is hard to find anywhere else and see this band at any/every opportunity possible. But take your dancing shoes, not your steel-toed boots because as Cedric notably said early in the show, "There's too much testosterone here, it smells like balls."