Friday, September 19, 2008

Review: The Mars Volta @ Orpheum Theatre, 9/14

Say what you want about The Mars Volta, but they can make some music. Despite losing longtime drummer Jon Theodore and taking a much more intense approach with their new album, The Bedlam In Goliath, Sunday's show at the Orpheum Theatre proved that they are still a world-class band.

Make no mistake; the entire feel and sound of the band is different with new drummer Thomas Pridgen on the throne. However, the spirit of The Mars Volta remains the same. From the opening twenty-minute "Goliath" jam to the closing song "Ilyena", the band kept the whole crowd on its feet. The Mars Volta were unrelenting, firing on all cylinders for over an hour and a half with no breaks, maintaining constant hard rock fueled by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's hypnotic guitar riffs, Cedric Bixler-Zavala's melodic wails, Pridgen's onslaught of drums, and a wall of sound created by keys, guitar effects, saxophone and percussion.

Singer Bixler-Zavala was superb, hitting every mind-blowingly high note in "Goliath" flawlessly, all while performing his usual mic stand-destroying and throwing in some "Dirty Water" lyrics to the bemusement of the fans. Lead guitarist and creative center Rodriguez-Lopez was reminiscent of Miles Davis; he is undoubtedly the brains of the whole operation, changing a song with a glance or a flick of his hand, even going too far as to duel with Pridgen during "Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus", starting and stopping simultaneous machine-gun riffs with him and lengthening them until you could see Pridgen grimace and grunt with strain. It's an exciting stage trick, and if it was improvised, that's even more impressive.

However, The Mars Volta is not a band into crowd-pleasing; the only words said to the crowd were a short "thank you" at the end from Bixler-Zavala. There was no encore, and mostly songs from Bedlam were played. Fans were disappointed that there was nothing at all to represent the stellar De-Loused at the Comatorium, although they did include in their Cygnus jam their mainstream breakthrough "The Widow", preserving the order from Frances the Mute. But The Mars Volta is about the music anyway, not about the show. No one leaving the theatre could complain about having heard a poor band that night. The Mars Volta truly put on one of the best concerts I personally have ever heard, and I feel bad for those that missed it.

--Dan Cardillo

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