Posted by: Phil | October 14, 2009

The Mars Volta at the Electric Factory Review

I could post the crappy cellphone pictures of have of the concert, but it wouldn’t serve as a true memory of the event for two reasons. First, they are far too blurry to even get a sense of what’s going on. If you want some decent photos of the concert, check out rights_reserverd’s flickr gallery. Second, and more importantly, a photographic memory is only half the experience.

The Mars Volta live at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Photo taken by mrdoubtfire.

The Mars Volta live at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Photo taken by mrdoubtfire.

When I first walked into the Electric Factory, I started to think about the set list that had been circling and how I wouldn’t want to hear some of the songs off of the new album. I looked upstairs at the bar section and thought about how it would be great to be 21 and drink after the show. As I looked out on the public admission crowd, I was worried about how this relatively young crowd would act (Although, I’m glad their age contributed to their height). The showtime on the ticket was at 8 PM (In my head it was an 8 o’clock show anyway. Later found out it was an 8:30 show). At 8:29 PM, I started to get impatient and started to wonder how fresh the band was going to be, whether or not they wanted to be there and maybe, just maybe, they had cancelled the show last second. All these worries continued to pile up as that 30-minute wait started to weigh down on me and, presumably, the rest of the crowd.

Then, Isaiah, Marcel, Juan, ThomasCedric and Omar all started to file out of the back room to what sounded like the soundtrack to an old western movie, and all the doubt and impatience washed away. As the prelude to “Intertiatic E.S.P.,” “Son Et Lumiere,”  from De-Loused in the Comatorium (their first full length) began with the ominous keyboard intro and Cedric first emoted those almost nonsensically complex lyrics dripping in his acidic version of a male-singing soprano, there were no doubts.

From Intertiatic E.S.P. on, it was obvious that “the Mars Volta” came to play. I could go on about how well each song was performed. There were some noticeable moments, including one mishap at the end of “Roulette Dares” (Also from De-Loused) where it seemed like Juan Alderete couldn’t get a bass loop to stop and Omar was forced to take an already slow, moody jam and stretch it out even further. I could complain about how I wanted them to bring the jam that they did at Bonnaroo of “Cygnus Vismund Cygnus” to this concert. But, after having experiencing what transpired between the hours of 8:30 PM and 10:05 PM, complaining would sound like needless bickering.

Now, what I said before about the Mars Volta’s new album is true. Out of the four songs from their new album they were on the set lists circulating online, I was only looking forward to “Cotopaxi,” one of the singles off of the album. However, the performance was able to supersede any of the problems I had with the songs previously. Originally, I thought these songs felt lifeless and they felt like fruitless attempts at trying to create pop songs that were still distinctly “the Mars Volta.” Basically, the whole “their old stuff is better” argument just re-purposed. But their performance of these songs was with so much vitriol and confidence, it was hard to not to believe in these songs.

The live show did for me what many punk shows do for new fans; it opened my eyes. After being a  Mars Volta fan for a little under two years and really preferring the tracks off of De-loused in the Comatorium and Frances the Mute, this was the live show I needed to see. It wasn’t a two and a half-hour jam session (outside of that Roulette Dares thing), but everything was tight and well put together. Perhaps it was because their secondary guitarist, Paul Hinojos, and their wind performer, Adrián Terrazas-González, weren’t with them, but something about the show struck me like I was watching Cedric’s and Omar’s previous band, At the Drive-in, back in the mid to late-90s and I was going to get a demo CD after the show. They didn’t play with the same amount of energy, as that what opiates and age will do to you, but they still have the same amount of enthusiasm when it comes to performing.

Cedric was his normal, insane self doing hand plants and generally just gyrating around stage like a mad man, although it wasn’t exactly At the Drive-in at Big Day Out 2001. Also, his vocals were the best I’ve seen in a while as he was able to nail pretty much everything, including the stuff off of De-Loused. Omar was relatively reigned in compared to his other live performances, but he still had his moments like the solos to “Drunkship of Lanterns” and “Goliath“. What was more surprising was how confident he seemed in everything that he was doing; constantly stepping to the front of the stage during his guitar solos and walking with the swagger that you expect more out of Cedric. The standout of the night was Thomas Pridgen, the drummer. It might have been the fact that the acoustics of the Factory were way too far in his favor, but he dominated the set and has become far more in tune with the band. He was  the driving force during the more aggressive songs yet knew when to settle down during the softer songs unlike his previous performances like those during the Nissan Live Sets. During this set, he was noticeably excited with his mouth wide open during the more aggressive parts that showcased his skills and during his solo towards the middle of the performance. He’s a technically proficient madman and has really found his own sound within the band.

If there was one complaint I had, it’s that the last two songs of the set, “The Widow” and “Wax Simulacra,” gave the set a crowd-pleaser feeling rather than the raw dynamic the band is known for. With the rest of the performance so captivating and full of energy, by having both “The Widow” and “Wax Simulcra”, both very pop-oriented songs, it seemed to create this weird contrast with the rest of the concert. Ultimately, it didn’t matter which songs they played, as the way they were selling themselves to the crowd would have made any song more than acceptable.



  1. Phil, I have mixed feelings when reading this post. As a huge Mars Volta fan, I was extremely disappointed when I saw them open for the Red Hot Chili Peppers a few years ago. I swore I would never see another one of their shows live because it was that bad. I usually love concerts and have nothing bad to say about them, but they sounded like a bunch of teenagers playing together for the first time. Maybe they were intoxicated, who knows…they lost a lot of fans that day. Son Et Lumiere and Intertiatic ESP is my favorite, I love how they blend together. The Mars Volta did not play either during their concert. I’m glad you had a good experience because it’s the worst feeling leaving a show feeling like you’ve been robbed for all the times you listened to the band.

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