Archive for the ‘The Mars Volta’ Category

[ATTENDED: September 27, 2022] The Mars Volta

Back in 2000, I loved At the Drive In.  I was bummed when they broke up.  However, they split into two bands: Sparta (the more streamlined guys) and The Mars Volta (the wacky prog rockers).  I was pretty psyched to hear TMV and their debut album De‐Loused in the Comatorium was amazingly weird and cool.  I also really liked the follow up Frances the Mute, but kind of lost track of them after that.

They broke up at some point and that was that.  Guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López went on to do a million projects (like playing with Teri Gender Bender) and singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala has appeared all over the place in bands and as a guest.  i didn’t really give them much thought until they announced a new song and tour.  So I pulled out De-Loused and remembered how much I liked them.

This tour was apparently designed just for me, since most of the songs were from De-Loused and Frances, with one song from the other albums and two from the new one.

The light show was pretty great.  They had squares of light bulbs that illuminated shapes and showed various LED colors.  Not to mention super bright strobes and lots of searching beams of colors.

More impressively, Omar Rodríguez-López’s guitar was even better than I had remembered.  He did a few segments were he just soloed for two or three minutes that never felt showoffy.  And, actually, even more impressive than that was Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s voice.  He can still hit those incredible high notes.

They opened with a song that has a lengthy moody opening.  Omar played soundscapes and solos and then Cedric started singing the slow trippy opening.   And after about ten minutes of that and me thinking…huh, is this the kind of stuff they are gonna play, they shifted gears and launched into the ferocious 7 minute “Roulette Dares” from De-Loused.  This song has more shifts and turns than you can count.  As well as the super catchy “Exoskeletal junction at the railroad delayed” impenetrable lyric.

They jumped to later in the album for “Eriatarka” a slower (at first) song that jumps and pounds with frenetic energy. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: September 27, 2022] Teri Gender Bender

Teri Gender Bender is the lead singer for the band Le Butcherettes who I know from an amazing Tiny Desk Concert nearly a decade ago.

I was supposed to see Le Butcherettes a few times.  They were supposed to open for Chicano Batman, but had to change as each show was rescheduled.

So I was pretty excited to see Teri Gender Bender who has put out a lot of music in addition to Le Butcherettes.  I wondered exactly how she got involved with The Mars Volta for this tour, then I found out that she was in a band with Volta guitarist Omar Rodriguez-López, called Bosnian Rainbows.   Indeed, he was also in Le Butcherettes.

As the set wore on and she introduced the band, it turned out that he was on stage with her during her set as well!  (In a pink suite with his hair in a wild pompadour).

Her band was set up in a kind of old school trio–bass and guitar behind little podiums with shiny fabric on them and a drummer behind her.  She introduced the other two musicians, but I didn’t catch their names.

The band came out and started jamming and after a minute or two Teri Gender Bender came out on stage.  She is a true performer, standing in fascinating poses, screaming intently her passionate lyrics and stalking around the stage.

The music was kind of dancey but with flairs of anarchy.  But it was all in support of Teri.  She was focused and intense as she got on the floor, contorting he body while she sang.

Between songs, she addressed the audience in Spanish (she was born in Denver, but her family moved to Mexico when her father died).

Her energy was unmatched and I wnjoyed the show.  Although I would have enjoyed it more if I knew the songs better.

  1. córtate el pelo
  3. action
  4. talking about you
  5. ya no soy
  6. MJ Ø

Ø olivia, she wanted me to leave her alone (2022)
∏ madre would not allow it though (2022)
∞ you were truly the one that made us laugh (2022)
⊗ leaving her to be was just not an option (2022)
¶ pestering became a virtue (2022)
⇑ The Get Up (2022)

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[CANCELLED: JULY 18 & 19, 2020] Sparta / Emily Davis and The Murder Police [rescheduled from May 1& 2]

indexWhen At the Drive-In broke up, they split into two bands: The Mars Volta and Sparta.  The Mars Volta went in a wild, psychedelic/prog metal direction and Sparta maintained a more tradition heavy rock sound.

I enjoyed the first Sparta albums but I hadn’t heard anything recently.  I considered going to this show because I’d heard they were really good live.

Emily Davis and The Murder Police [EDMP] are an alt-folk-punk band living in the desert southwest with an affinity for writing aggressive, introspective music.  I’ve listened to a few songs and I like what I heard–I feel they are a bit more folk-leaning, but there is a punk edge.

These newly rescheduled dates wound up conflicting with a Ministry show on the 18th.  I probably wouldn’t have had the energy for this show, so maybe when they come around again, I’ll be free.

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[POSTPONED: May 1 & 2, 2020] Sparta / Emily Davis and The Murder Police [moved to July 18 & 19]

indexWhen At the Drive-In broke up, they split into two bands: The Mars Volta and Sparta.  The Mars Volta went in a wild, psychedelic/prog metal direction and Sparta maintained a more tradition heavy rock sound.

I enjoyed the first Sparta albums but I hadn’t heard anything recently.  I considered going to this show because I’d heard they were really good live.

Emily Davis and The Murder Police [EDMP] are an alt-folk-punk band living in the desert southwest with an affinity for writing aggressive, introspective music.  I’ve listened to a few songs and I like what I heard–I feel they are a bit more folk-leaning, but there is a punk edge.

I had tickets to see …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead on the 1st and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard on the second, so the postponement worked out nicely.

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CV1_TNY_06_10_13Schossow.inddSOUNDTRACK: BOSNIAN RAINBOWS-“Torn Maps” (2013).

bosnianBosnian Rainbows are the collaboration of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (At The Drive In, Mars Volta) and Teri Gender Bender (Le Butcherettes).  Interestingly, I normally think of Omar as being the dominant force in the music he makes, but for this song, it seems to be all Teri.  Teri is a Latina singer who takes no shit.  In her Tiny Desk concert, she is fierce and intense, and that comes across here as well.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is how synthy this song is.  It has a very retro feel–like a lot of 80’s bands (Missing Persons and ’til Tuesday’s darker moments and of course, there’s an element of Siouxsie in her voice as well).  But there is something especially intense that Teri brings to this song that takes it out of the realm of safe synth pop (perhaps it the dark bridge).  Omar peeks through a bit during the instrumental break which has a pretty wild guitar solo and some intriguing effects that I wish were more prevalent.

I’m fascinated by this song (although I wish I could hear the vocals more).

NPR is streaming this whole album as I write this, although I’m not sure if it will still be available as of this posting.

[READ: June 17, 2013] “The Ripper”

The second in the “True Crimes” series is from David Peace (an interesting name, hmmmm).  In this one, the year is 1977 and young David is obsessed with Sherlock Holmes (and I would assume Encyclopedia Brown, but he doesn’t mention the boy detective).  Peace was ten years old and set up his own detective agency, intent on solving all local small crimes.

And then he learned of the Yorkshire Ripper.  In the piece he says “I was a lonely ten-year-old boy who found the Yorkshire Ripper” which proves to be untrue.  That was a real bummer because that would have made a great story.  As it turns out, he thinks he has found the Yorkshire Ripper, but he hasn’t.

For those of us not following English serial killers, the Yorkshire Ripper was a man who killed dozens of women from 1977 to 1979.  Peace spent his time poring over clues, certain that he could find what the police could not.  And then came the breakthrough—a tape sent in to the local police station stating “I’m Jack.  I see you are still having no luck catching me.”  Peace listened to that tape (which was available at the local police station for the public to see if they could identify the voice) dozens of times.  And his prime suspect became his science teacher “Jock” Carter.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MARS VOLTA-The Bedlam in Goliath (2008).

I’ve liked Mars Volta more in theory than in actuality for their first few albums. I enjoyed them, but they didn’t make me want to listen all the time. I had heard good things about this new one, so I gave it a shot and WOW. The Bedlam in Goliath is off the charts in its craziness and its masterfulness.

Bedlam has most of the same components of a Mars Volta disc: chaos, noise, fantastic instrumentation, bizarre lyrics, jazz-like elements and metal, sweet metal. But for some reason, Bedlam seems to cohere into a masterful project. I haven’t listened to the first two discs in a while (but I’m sure going to check them out again), and I never got the third one, so I can’t really compare them. This one just seems to have something special to it.

The overall sound makes me think of someone tuning in a radio. Some parts are (deliberately) fuzzy, some are crystal clear. As the sound of one segment fades out a new, entirely different section blares in. Anyone who channel surfs can appreciate the sound of this.

All of the literature about this record talks about their use of a Ouija board during their tour and while recording. They bought it in Jerusalem and they say it had a horrible impact on the recording process. (Check out this NPR story…yeah, that’s right, I said NPR.) And, in many respects, rather than a radio, you could think of the album as the voices and sounds from the Ouija board coming through. Some are crystal clear and other are mechanized and ghostly. Spooky, eh?

But what of the music? It is fast, fast, fast. Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s voice is a powerhouse of high-pitched, operatic notes. And the music keeps pace. And yet, despite the speed the album isn’t thrash metal or speed metal necessarily. It doesn’t all have that heaviness, it just has a lot of speed. It lets up once in a while, but for the most part in every song something is going fast: drums, bass, voice, something.

One of the perplexing things about the record is how each song seems to have multiple parts that are unrelated to each other…some songs even have longer breaks within the track than between them. For instance, tracks one and two, the nearly 6 minute “Abernikula” and the over 8 minute “Metatron” blend seamlessly into one long track. However, midway through “Metatron” the song stops for a good second or two and then begins with a brand new, wonderfully catchy riff, which runs through the rest of the song. Truly masterful, and yet impossible to know what track you’re on, half the time.

The album is about an hour long, and it’s such a roller coaster of rocking guitars and high speed chases.  And yet it doesn’t wear out it’s welcome, because the catchy bits are so incredibly catchy. I was amused to see that there is a “single” on the record called “Wax Simulacra.”  It’s the shortest song, possibly that MV has ever done at under 3 minutes, which makes it an ideal single.  Except that the last twenty or thirty seconds are taken up with a mind blowing saxophone solo that could be lifted from Ornette Coleman or John Zorn (and this is a single?).  In fact, the horns come into play a lot on the record.  There’s one or two motifs that sound like they could be taken from a Zappa piece (the Zappa song “Sofa” kept popping into my head during this record. And you can’t ask more from a record than to make you enjoy it while it makes you think of other great music too.

[READ: July 20, 2008] Do the Windows Open?

I read an interview with Julie Hecht in The Believer (some of which is available here). And boy did she come across as an unlikable person. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OMAR RODRIGUEZ-LOPEZ-Calibration (is Pushing Luck and Key Too Far) (2008).

Typically a solo album means indulgence. But how can you be more indulgent than Mars Volta? They have fifteen minute songs with twenty-seven sections and operatic vocals and lyrics that are bizarre at best (they’re fantastic, don’t get me wrong, they’re just…out there!). So, if you’re the guitarist in a freak flag waving band, how do you let your freak flag fly on your own?

This solo album actually does prove to be more out there than Mars Volta. Primarily because whereas Volta stays more or less within the realm of their prog metal, this record sets no limits. There’s ambient noodling, there’s chaotic noise, and there’s beautiful extended pieces.

Omar (I’m not on a first name basis, his name is just long) plays a bunch of instruments on the record (he gets help from a bunch of folks throughout as well), but primarily he plays guitar. And I can’t help but think that Omar doesn’t understand how to play the guitar–he knows how to play, and frankly, he’s pretty amazing at it, but I’m not sure he understands it. His melodies are bizarre, he sense of what should come next is totally askew, it’s as if he learned how to play guitar by listening to vinyl records that were a little warped. It’s pretty fantastic.

In one song he sounds like Jimi Hendrix–not so much like a Jimi Hendrix song, but that he achieves the same sonic freakout sound that Jimi achieved in his live recordings–squalling feedback and amazing density. There’s another track where he channels Carlos Santana. (This track features John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on vocals. It is singularly bizarre because it cuts out right in the middle of a line–freaks me out every time!) The next song “Sidewalk Fins” ends with some of the noisiest, loudest, most crushing sounds. It sounds like an amplifier getting smashed by a giant microphone–feedback and thuds–repeated about 4 times before it’s over.

And yet the first few songs are amazingly restrained for Omar. They are short, ambient and, if not a little weird, then certainly quite pretty. But as the album moves along and the songs get longer, his freak flag comes out (see “Lick the Tilting Poppies”). And yet, the disc ends with a beautiful 11 minute instrumental song. it’s beautifully arranged, with intertwining guitar melodies. If there was any doubt about Omar’s skills, this track will knock down all questions. It’s also pretty clear that Omar respects Zappa, if not for his guitar skills, then certainly for his compositions.

This definitely isn’t for everyone–there’s a lot of weirdness afoot–but if you’re looking for something interesting or different, and you’re not afraid of something out there, this is a good disc to check out. Oh, and you don’t need to like or have even heard of Mars Volta to appreciate this record.

[READ: June 27: 2008] The Turtle Moves!

When I saw this book on Amazon, it never occurred to me that it was an “unauthorized” account. It seems that whenever someone or something gets popular someone else tries to make a buck off of it with an “unauthorized” publication. I never know how accurate they are, if they have dirt that the subject doesn’t want out or if “unauthorized” is just written there to sell copy. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MASTODON-Blood Mountain (2006).

As I was in a metal/Black Sabbath kick, and Mastodon is always mentioned as a fantastic metal band, I figured I’d give them a try. As with The Sword, I saw no resemblance to Black Sabbath, and at first I was afraid it was just another sludgy death metal record.

[DIGRESSION]: I just read a great article in The Believer about the USBM (United States Black Metal) scene, and how it compares to the black metal in Norway and other European countries where the bands take the music seriously enough to burn churches and such. The article was really interesting. I knew some of the bands that he talked about, but the only ones I had heard were the “grandfathers” of the genre, like Venom and Bathory. Any of the new bands that he focused on, if I’d heard of them at all, I certainly hadn’t heard them. Regardless, it was a great read, and really got me hankering for a band like Mastodon, even though they’re not really in the genre at all.

Anyway, after two listens, I really got into the Mastodon album. I don’t know anything about their previous releases (except that they are heavy), but Blood Mountain is all over the map. It is a fascinating mix of thrash metal, hardcore, beautiful melodies, prog rock, and total chaos. In fact, the song “Bladecatcher,” is three and a half minutes of total insanity. I haven’t heard anything lie it since John Zorn’s Naked City. There’s a beautiful melody which progresses into a screaming guitar riff, which morphs into a headbanging thrash part which basically just unravels into a noisy spasm, wherein the high-pitched noises might be voices, or might by keyboards, or might just be the machine melting. (more…)

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