What can you say about The Mars Volta? I first saw them at Reading in the summer, where they came on for 45 minutes, played two songs, climbed the rigging around the stage, lay on the floor lots and went off to rapturous, if a little bemused applause. London’s Astoria, which for the uninitiated is a fantastic, intimate venue, is packed to the rafters on this Sunday night to see Omar Rodriguez, Cedric Bixler and their fellow space cadets.
Formed from the remains of the much celebrated At The Drive-In, who broke up in a haze of lost creativity, boredom and alleged drug abuse, The Mars Volta have hardly had an easy ride. Their sound effects / samples man Jeremy Ward died in May before the release of their first album, the extravagant and exhilarating De-loused In The Comatorium.
Given this background, restraint is not part of the band’s vocabulary and so it is that, following an extended period of the obligatory concert reggae backing music and an interesting Western intro, the band explodes onto the stage with more energy than an unstable supernova.
Launching straight into Roulette Dares (The Haunt of), Bixler is immediately grooving away like a man possessed, flicking his microphone around, performing handstands, and lying on the floor as roses arrive on the stage from a fervent crowd. Rodriguez is similarly animated, jumping around, twisting and turning and rinsing out searing riffs. They are simply breathtaking and it takes a while for the crowd to close their gaping mouths and notice the other members of the band.
The tune is fantastic, one of the album’s best, and the audience sing it back as Bixler makes full use of the stage, jumping over the amps, running from side to side, and belting out his Martian vocals. The band break for the first of many extended musical interludes which punctuate every song. Jamming on stage, they are all lost in what they are doing, even the bongo player who intermittently bashes away but mostly joines the front two and dances around.
Like a loud prog rock jazz band (if you could imagine such a thing) The Mars Volta consistently blur the edges of each song, leaving one another to indulge in their own musical fantasies through a loosely based structure of a tune that they periodically return to. Drunkship of Lanterns is electric, as is Eriatarka, and the theme from Doctor Who even makes a guest appearance. But, as the gig goes on, the audience become more and more restless as each song stretches past the 15 minute mark.
There is nothing worse than going to see a live band who simply come on stage, play their album and go off again thinking job done. The Mars Volta are the very antithesis of this, giving their audience something different and showing off their musicality without restraint, even if it leaves some in the audience scratching their heads at 10 minutes of previously unheard music framed in a song that they thought they knew like the back of their hand.
The Mars Volta live is a tiring, yet rewarding, experience, bemusing but brilliant.