Story and Photos by Andy ArgyrakisEver since At the Drive-In called it quits, it seems like Mars Volta has exploded into public view at near meteoric speed. Much of that acceleration can be due to a jam packed 2004 tour supporting A Perfect Circle, along with a prior European and American stadium run with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But with two albums under its belt (2003's De-Loused in the Comatorium and the brand new Frances the Mute) the unclassifiable group has finally earned headlining status. In fact, so welcome was the band's return to Chicago that they sold out not one, but two shows at the relatively sizeable Rivera Theatre, a remarkable feat considering there's absolutely nothing even remotely accessible or radio friendly throughout its genre-jumping catalogue.
Though it's impossible to truly put The Mars Volta's sound and subsequent concert approach into words, imagine a world where absolutely anything goes and all rules are thrown out the window in favor of whatever the hell a musician wants to play at any given time. On this tour, there are seven members on stage who rotate through a sea of instruments- from the standard guitar, drums and keyboard to an array of wind instruments, maracas and percussion devices of all shapes and sizes. It's part Pink Floyd psychedelia, Yes/King Crimson prog rock and raucous At the Drive-In all wrapped up in one, yet there's still tons more noise, noodling and doodling then even all those potential muses could ever merge into even their most tripped out sessions.
It's that very premise that made The Mars Volta unlike anything ever really seen before (so props go out for originality) though equally patience trying, tiring and pretentious. Take for instance the conceptual stories they told (or rather screamed indecipherably off the new album) relating to "Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus" and "Cassandra Geminni." Both multi-movement epochs supposedly told the tale of diary entries their since departed band mate Jeremy Ward randomly found one day. The mildly intriguing sentiments were performed with chaotic struts and spastic strolls from singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala, but all the cymbal crashes, guitar slashes and organ bashes dragged on with a seemingly incongruent blend of jumpy jazz and stoned out classic rock.
The front man continued carousing chaotically throughout older material as well, including "Drunkship of Lanterns," "Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt" and "Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)." At times he seemed to be having a seizure, while during other moments he raced around with soulful speed that mirrored James Brown. Either way, Bixler-Zavala unfurled so much energy that had he been the Godfather of soul, he could've clearly escaped that infamous high-speed cop chase by foot! However, even in that heightened state of showmanship, the band's undirected compulsions weren't enough to yield an experience worth repeating. And though attendees appeared pleased with what they encountered, chances are much of what was disclosed passed entirely over their heads.
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