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We wait in this classic cavernous venue, staring at a stage backdrop adorned with a scrum of rainbow-colored crow wings and feline eyes floating in a space blanket. We expect an uplifting odyssey of pure sound divinity, described by some in the crowd as unclassifiable and uncanny. The Mars Volta, in all of their wordy pretention and technical ecstasy, have retained their standing as one of the most spectacular live acts of this last decade and anticipation is relentless.
The band arrives and bludgeons the tension with “Interiatic ESP,” a Latin dance through hot coals of almost criminal speed and emotion. Front man Cedric Bixler cocks and glides like an anorexic James Brown, sliding on the stage like it’s a galaxy in shift. The players waste no time stunning the crowd with hot flashes of sound. This could be a night where fans’ senses overload in a black hole of songs and they are sucked away, never to return.
Even sandwiched between screaming mimis who seem to impossibly know every word, the conundrum of sound manages to transport every fan into the rush of “Roulette Dares,” a hypnotic number that sends shockwaves of snaking familiarity to the writhing front rows. Guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez conducts his constituents through wavy layers of feedback and melody. His compositions are breathtaking when there is no time for a breath, caustically on call when you beg for an explosion.
That explosion comes with “Drunkship of Lanterns,” as Bixler screeches like a caught chupacabra above the touchable storm of churning notes and drummer Thomas Pridgen’s massive blur of beats. Songs from the new album Octahedron, like “Luciforms” and “Halo of Nembutals,” are punched seamlessly and anonymously into the set, and the crowd has no time to process the taste.
The Mars Volta are not for the typical concert attendee, who enjoy a deep cut or ballad and some room to breathe or pee. Most who come with no expectations end up standing feverish and shaky, drowning in the playlist. The band’s set is impenetrable and incendiary and the fire is steadily stoked for 2 straight hours, until the last ember fades. Weeks from now, we will still be feeling the burn.