red lights


Pushing sonic boundaries

The Mars Volta
Eagles Ballroom
Milwaukee, WI
Sept. 23, 2006

The Mars Volta The Mars Volta

Story and Photos by Matt Schwenke

A huge chunk of progressive rock to process, The Mars Volta were monolithic with a total of eight musicians pushing sonic boundaries at the Eagles Ballroom, but by only providing a few moments of silence in their two-hour plus set, the show was not for those with sensitive musical stomachs. Led by the powerful voice of Cedric Bixler-Zavala, who can scream with the best of 'em, and the guitar of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, who can shred with the best of 'em, The Mars Volta opened with two tunes off their new album Amputechture before going into their radio-friendly and arguably best known track "Widow," from their 2005 release Frances the Mute.

Amidst complicated song structures, mysterious wanderings gave way to noise bonanzas on a moments notice, and the band created a tumultuous tonal sea with Bixler-Zavala becoming the crowd's seawary captain, as evidenced on the to and fro "Tetragrammaton." With the echoes of the ballroom adding to the chaos of noise-filled interludes, the band was at times nauseating but at the same time compelling enough to make the crowd wait out the storm.

Stopping only to tell the audience to stop crowd surfing, Bixler-Zavala was energetic and animated throughout, and made it hard to turn away from the stage. At one point in the show, he even gave the crowd a Jim Morrison moment-- getting down close to Rodriguez-Lopez's guitar much like the classically alleged "simulated fellatio" way with Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger. But flamenco-style guitar playing there was not, and besides the stage antics, the band's best doses of relief came by way of interesting song structure as in "Vi scera Eyes," mixing their affinity for Led Zeppelin-like guitar riffs with saxophone, blistering drums and a voice that wails with an intensity worthy of comparison to Robert Plant but far exceeds it in raw power alone.

Ending the show with "Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)," from their 2003 release De-Loused in the Comatorium , the band left stage with many a fan sweaty, exhausted and seemingly puzzled as to what they just witnessed.
The Mars Volta The Mars Volta

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