Following the unexpected split last year of rising Texas rock band At the Drive-In has come the recent emergence of two compelling and distinct new groups in its place, the fusion-minded Mars Volta, led by former ATDI principals Omar Rodriguez and Cedric Bixler, and Sparta, featuring the three other ATDI alumni.
Of the pair it’s the El Paso-based Sparta, surprisingly, which adheres most closely to the guitar-driven ATDI template of fractured melodies and crashing crescendos, and at the sold-out Troubadour on Friday, the second of two shows at the club, the band delivered a solid though ultimately unspectacular introduction.
Sparta is fronted on guitar and lead vocals by ex-ATDI guitarist Jim Miller, whose aggressive attack is similar to that of his former band but without the unbridled physicality. Miller’s voice alternated between spacious Robert Smith-influenced passages and howling, near-punk utterances that packed a lot of attitude but which failed to light much of a fire under the curious crowd.
Fifty-minute set comprised music from Sparta’s new “Austere” (DreamWorks) EP, like the creepy thrasher “Mye,” which recalled Fugazi, and the comparable mellow Cataract, as well as tunes destined for group’s upcoming full album. The 3-guitar assault of “Collapse” echoed Helmet, while “Glasshouse Tarot,” named for the Pomona club, featured a Rush-like musical break.
However there was little on offer at the packed Troub, the last stop on Sparta’s first U.S. tour, to suggest the group possesses either the inventive songwriting skill or exceptional onstage chemistry to begin to fill the large shoes left by its missed predecessor.