Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Mars Volta @ Brixton Academy, London

14 March 2008

The Mars Volta

The Mars Volta

The Mars Volta make albums of nerve shredding intensity, musical complexity and sheer uncompromising volume. Transferring that to the live environment makes for an unmissable, completely sating spectacle – and so it proved here. First time Volta viewers would be recommended to bring a few things though. First up, an overnight bag. The band crash landed on stage well before 8:30 at Brixton, and were still hurling down massive musical gestures and solos two and a half hours later.

In that period there was no let-up, no reason for the crowd to take their eyes off the stage. In front of them, eight people were playing their musical hearts out, and, in the case of stick man Blake Fleming and his occasional rhythm section, drumming for their lives.

Most eyes were on two people, however – the wiry singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist / band lynchpin Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, who conducted his band’s frenzied outpouring with frenzied strumming and nods of his bouffant hairdo. Cedric, meanwhile, sang through what on first glance looked like a large food whisk but turned out to be a microphone, which he hurled around but which came back to him, boomerang-like, just in time for the next piercing vocal.

Seeing the band live confirms a more striking similarity to King Crimson and Rush in their 1970s heyday. The moments of tense repose were especially Crimson-esque, with odd sounds from Rodriguez’ guitar complemented by percussive parps from the saxophone and off-beat but stunningly assured rhythms from Fleming.

As the big bass ostinati grew in stature and length so did the music above, which broke into frenzied ensemble passages without warning. At one memorable rush of adrenalin the powerful sound was suddenly extinguished, the lighting effect akin to turning off the loudest television you’ve ever set in front of. The shocked crowd surveyed the blackness ahead, then roared their approval.

Where the Mars Volta find their energy from is anyone’s guess, as to keep this level of intensity up night after night is nothing short of extraordinary. And while the set may have dipped a little towards the middle, the way in which they leapt into latest album Bedlam In Goliath’s opener Abinkula was thrilling, the ensemble every bit as tight as it had been two hours hence.

In that time they hardly spoke to the crowd – but their music did the talking instead. Exhausting, yes – but strangely exhilarating too.

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