Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Mars Volta @ Somerset House, London

13 July 2009

The Mars Volta

The Mars Volta

“It wouldn’t be a Mars Volta gig without something going wrong!” notes singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala, 20 minutes in to the band’s marathon set. It’s taking a while for their equipment to catch up with them – Thomas Pridgen has bust one of his drums, and the sound levels are still being tweaked. The group themselves are kicking into gear though, and Cedric is in talkative mood. Actually, make that a full throated roar by the end.

Yet by all accounts this feels like a gig the Mars Volta have needed to get out their system for a while. “Thanks to those who followed us around the European festivals, we had a real hard time – it’s no fun doing that shit”, he acknowledges.

That’s the price the band have had to pay for short set times and dodgy sound. Tonight they’re back at home though, in front of their own fans, unsupported and with two hours on stage to really cut loose. The set peaks as it should, the group’s formidable virtuosity again evident, their energy unsurpassed. Omar Rodriguez Lopez could play guitar all day. The instrument seems welded to his fingers, yet in the thousands of notes he plays through the night, none are self indulgent and all contribute to the ferocious impact of the band’s music. Pridgen, meanwhile, is fast becoming one of the finest drummers around, some blistering fills executed with a complete lack of fuss.

Somehow the pair manage to take a back seat to Bixler-Zavala, who’s really up for the fight. Dedicating Ilyena to Helen Mirren (it’s her birth name) his searing vocals sit at the top of a performance of raw funk and near abandon. Cotopaxi is taken at a blistering lick, too, powering into a brick wall at the finish.

It’s not all bluster with the Mars Volta though, despite the impact of the big rock guns. Cygnus, the centrepiece, is drawn out to nigh on 20 minutes of ever increasing intensity, stripped back in the middle to just lower guitars and bass drums, holding its audience captive throughout. It’s in these quieter passages that band and venue seem closely aligned, soft blue hues bathing the Somerset House stones in an otherworldly light. When they opt to use strobes, as they do in one particularly vicious ending, the place goes into a spin.

Then suddenly, with a furious performance of Wax Simulacra, it’s all over, and the band leave the stage positively wreathed in smiles. They’ve played for three times as long as The Enemy three nights previously, yet are still fresh faced and ready to do it all over again.

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