The Mars Volta — which formed nearly two years ago from of the ashes of the late, great At the Drive-In — served convincing notice at this very sold-out Hollywood show that the group’s well poised to take its place as the next great American hard-rock band.
The quintet (plus an unseen sixth man who added dub effects and other sound manipulation) roared through a super-inventive, 70-minute, eight-song set that more or less re-created the group’s ambitious new “De-Loused in the Comatorium” (GSL/Universal) album, which hit stores last week.
Fronted by singer Cedric Bixler and guitarist Omar Rodriguez (both ATDI alums), the Mars Volta offered an unlikely yet exciting mix of musically challenging progressive strains (Can, Yes, etc.), Led Zeppelin-influenced mood-making and ricocheting Fugazi-influenced punk rock. Over-the-top effect drew thunderous response from the packed house appreciative of a major-label band willing to stray so far from the usual commercial rock format, minor keys and all.
Most impressively, each member of the band was able to find the mutual groove in each song and remain locked into it, despite the cacophonous end result. Bixler windmilled his microphone into the drums, Rodriguez was in perpetual schizophrenic motion, and keys player Isaiah Owens –often in his own musical world –could be seen slapping at his instrument as if he were playing bongos. Yet the songs always held together.
Tracks like the epic, 13-minute “Cicatriz ESP” — which seemed to contain numerous, divergent mini-songs — are creatively head-and-shoulders above what can be heard on rock radio these days and, despite the band’s undeniable hip factor, probably will not make it onto many playlists.
However, the overt nonconformity of the music, as well as the intensity and skill with which it is delivered (no working hard-rock band today has a better rhythm section) will soon propel the Mars Volta, like Led Zep before it, from the rank of buzz band to the heights of mainstream appreciation.