Think too much about The Mars Volta, and you could end up becoming very confused and frustrated. From the immediacy and comparative conventionality of At The Drive-In came one of today’s foremost exponents of prog-isms and extended jam interludes. For the creative duo of vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar RodrÃguez-LÃ³pez, every gig is an afternoon slot at Woodstock. How many bands would kill to be able to indulge themselves that much, to test the very limits of patience of their audiences and still retain their feverish ardour.
But there’s no such thing as a bad genre – only bad songs, and no matter how iconic At The Drive-In may have been, no matter how much you love those afros, The Mars Volta would not be on studio album number five if they didn’t know a thing or two about songwriting. The point is proved in the opening brace of tracks at this first-ever Irish headline show (they have appeared at Witness and Oxegen). -Inertiatic ESP’ (incorporating -Son Et Lumiere’) is beloved by many fans for being the first tune they heard by the group, and its thrilling Morse code crashes are enough to bring the expectant crowd to boiling point. The second track is -Cotopaxi’, a three-and-a-half minute slab of hard funk off this year’s Octahedron. Bixler, flailing and whipping the mic lead like a hirsute lion tamer, is an arresting frontman – snake-hipped, mysteriously non-communicative and odd-looking – which is a relief because Rodriguez is not going to give us one of his famous over-the-shoulder-and-back-again guitar flips.
Despite the kaleidoscopic rhythms, hairdryer volume and spooky, shroom-tinged pre-Columbian visuals, this most uncompromising of groups served up the crowd pleasers. We were treated to ‘The Widow”s Led Zeppelin lament, the salsa-metal of -Roulette Dares’ and, in -Cicatriz ESP’, a fucking huge goosebump grenade. As far as favours went, that was it. They never draped a Tricolour from the mic stand, or told us how great it was to be back in Dublin. There was no tolerating requests from the crowd and we didn’t get an encore either. We hope they never change.
Photos by Julie Bienvenu.