For a city currently under siege from talk of rebellions and insurrections, it took At The Drive-In to show what a latter-day Rising looks like. “This is a re-ignition,” brayed top-heavy frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala halfway through the set as a mush of sweaty bodies panted with euphoria on the floor of Vicar St.
Part of this mass exhalation must surely be down to relief in light of the dreaded “comeback tour” spectre. At The Drive-In have occupied a particularly deified corner of rock fandom since imploding under the weight of hype, artistic differences and hallucinogen abuse 15 years ago. It came shortly after their Temple Bar Music Centre date, a gig that has now become a kind of GPO for Irish gig-goers in so much as about four times the capacity of the venue claim to have been at it.
And like the GPO, the band’s subsequent demise would go on to stir a revolution. The possibilities of how guitar rock could be configured saw a sea change. At The Drive-in demonstrated new routes to hard-rock thrills without the need of distortion pedals or gym socks. Their demise gave birth to countless numbers of Bloc Parties, Foals, Battles, Richter Collective champions and DFA funky punks, even if it never seemed obvious at the time. Maybe there was something in that “new Nirvana” tag after all.
Fears that the 11th-hour departure of guitarist Jim Ward and the customary expectation levels would mar the evening are immediately shit-canned with the maracas-and-hurricanes intro to ‘Arcarsenal’. It all goes heavily against script from there on in. Unlike those Coachella gigs a couple of years back, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez looks charged by the whole experience, writhing the angular riffs of ‘Quarantined’, ‘Catacombs’ and ‘Ursa Minor’ into life and shouting the replies to Cedric’s William Burroughs barks. Super-sub Keeley Davis looks fundamental to the power play. Cedric may no longer quite stand on his head but the 41-year-old still flails and whirls the length and breadth of the stage.
The citizen army genuflect with frenzied slam-dancing and karaoke wailing, and are not admonished from the microphone as that night in Temple Bar. In fact, this has been the definitive Irish outing for At The Drive-In. Chaos and petulance have made way for generosity and focus. With this first night of their huge 13-week tour triumphing, the quintet genuflect back to the troops with sincerity. Both parties walk away feeling tonight had no right to be this good.
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