The Mars Volta
Carling Academy, Glasgow, Tue 11 Mar
Amalgamating widdly solos, psychedelic soundscape wig-outs, inscrutable lyrics, heroin abuse and big hair is bound to conjure up some Frankenstein’s monster of the worst excesses of (whisper it) prog.
Yet, despite these attributes, The Mars Volta, having risen from the ashes of 90s hardcore kings At the Drive-In, have somehow managed to stay faithful to the originally exciting blueprint of pioneering, technically superlative and intelligent heavy rock. Concept albums? Check. Stunning debut De-Loused in the Comatorium tells the story of a friend battling his demons while in a drug-induced coma; follow-up France the Mute was inspired by a diary found by the band’s late ‘sound manipulator’; while new long-player The Bedlam in Goliath relates their dalliance with supernatural figures conjured up by a ouija board. Natural proficiency? They’ve got the double-barrelled surnames to prove it: Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s octave-busting vocals range from whispered lullaby to banshee shriek; guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez boasts bombastic riffs and finger-shredding solos; while both have to keep up with the furious jazz and Latin rhythms (and arhythms) laid down by restless drummers past and present. Pioneering? Well, it’s difficult to find comparisons. Rather than cosying up inside a pigeon hole, they’ve gone and torn the pigeon a new one. Live, TMV’s intensity is expanded into epic improvisations, demanding even more concentration from the listener. It’s difficult to say who leaves the auditorium more exhausted: the sweat-drenched musicians or their mind-warped fans.
As the name suggests, it’s alien, electrifying. But intelligent? Hey, these geniuses have only made prog acceptable again . . .