The progressive, exploratory rock juggernaut sometimes defied description and didn’t play it safe during Friday’s tour stop at GLC Live at 20 Monroe. The review, photos and set list at Local Spins.
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“Adventurous” does not begin to describe the artistic explorations of The Mars Volta, the avant-garde rock outfit fronted by Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and while there’s no denying these musical expressionists are an acquired taste, you will find little argument that their Daliesque dalliances are often challenging in wonderful ways that go way beyond normal rock or pop conventions.
As evidenced by the band’s dynamic 105-minute show for the highly captivated crowd inside GLC Live at 20 Monroe in downtown Grand Rapids on Friday, The Mars Volta likes to color outside the lines, alternating frenetic, finely tuned bombastic splashes of sound with slow, extended pieces of spacey surrealism.
Caveat emptor – buyer beware – could have been the directive of the night, but the audience seemed to delight in all the umbilical syllables and sub-cranial bleeding induced by the band’s unpredictable stylings.
Opening with the almost-prayerful “Vicarious Atonement,” the six-piece band from El Paso, Texas, was hardly taking a gamble when it upped the ante with “Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of),” a rocking number that had the crowd singing along to lyrics about “midnight cabooses from boxcar cadavers” and “exoskeletal junction at the railroad delayed.” These are not the ramblings of your average rock ’n’ roll raconteur.
The Mars Volta’s set relied heavily on songs from the band’s 2003 release, “De-Loused in the Comatorium,” as well as selections from “Frances the Mule,” “Amputechture,” and the band’s latest – a self-titled release that seemingly tones down some of the band’s characteristic histrionics in favor of more melodic fare.
Bixler-Zavala’s voice sounded great through the entire night, showing little sign of the wear and tear that one might expect from 30 years of fronting a rock band. Rodriguez-Lopez, meanwhile, let his guitar do all his talking, and while he did not fade into the shadows in pure Frippian fashion, he was content to let his musical partner command center stage.
The show was not without its missteps – the band has a peculiar habit of testing the patience of the live audience with protracted ambient sections that seem designed to be ostensibly obtuse and, frankly, be real buzz-killers. Maybe their purpose is to give the drummer a break.
Even so, The Mars Volta is a band that is never going to play things safe. And so while some might find fault with the show’s uneven pacing, there is no question that they take pride in challenging their listeners, which in the end is always more interesting than playing the same old song and dance that everyone has heard and seen too many times.
Opening the night was Teri Gender Bender, the stage name of Teresa Suarez Cosio, a founding member of Guadalajara-based rock band Le Butcherettes and a frequent collaborator with Rodriguez-Lopez in various band incarnations.
Dressed in matching rainbow unicorn costumes, the band ably supported the singer with the hand-drawn mustache and wild-child personality. A performer of endless energy, her spastic gyrations put her somewhere between a tripping Patti Smith and a mental Suzi Quatro.
The band’s 30-minute set was well-received by the audience that took delight in her animated antics and genre-defying mix of crazy cabaret punk-styled pop – “Like No One Else,” “Kendall,” and “Get Your Money Straight With Me” – that seemed the perfect prelude to Mars Volta.
PHOTO GALLERY: The Mars Volta, Teri Gender Bender at GLC Live at 20 Monroe
Photos by Anthony Norkus
SET LIST: The Mars Volta at GLC Live at 20 Monroe
Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)
Cygnus… Vismund Cygnus
Drunkship of Lanterns
Son et lumiere
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