The Mars Volta

Liam McGrady 11/03/2005

There are two fairly distinct schools of thought on the music of The Mars Volta, and they are: inventive, boundary-pushing and gobsmackingly brilliant, or pretentious and tediously dull. In other words people seem to love them or hate them; you get it or you don't. Tonight in Glasgow, those who get it are packed into the Barrowlands ballroom, and those who don't are across the other side of the city watching Conor Oberst whimper and whine in an alt-country style. Us believers though, are witnessing a special band at the height of their performing powers, touring their rather fucking fantastic new album, 'Frances The Mute'. Now if you've never heard of this band then a basic description could be something like, a flamenco band playing jazz tunes with big distorted guitars, moogs and synths, but even this could be seen as pigeon-holing after watching a gig like this.

It'd be pretty futile to try to recount the songs that The Mars Volta played 'cos if you know anything about this band you'll know that they don't do anything as downright boring as just playing songs. Omar, Cedric and Co. (that includes a saxophonist/flute player and two keyboardists/sound manipulators) take album tracks and rip them apart, tearing them to pieces, weaving passages together, keeping several songs going at the same time, like spinning plates.

The crowd hardly move a muscle all night, but this is purely and simply because The Mars Volta have us all awestruck. Omar in particular is fascinating to observe. There's no way someone should be able to wring all those sounds from one instrument, and you know, he's not just standing stock still deep in concentration, he's really going for it, writhing around and freaking out. Then you've got Cedric, side stage screaming larynx wrecking lyrics like, “exoskeletal junction at the railroad delayed”, “One day this chalk outline will circle this city” and “WHO DO YOU TRRRRUUUUSSSTT!!!!”

From bone crushing, Led Zeppelin shaming riffs to ambient breakdowns, wailing saxophones and thunderous grooves (at one point I was sure that the bass guitar was somehow hooked up to a device that was literally moving the floor around) this isn't just another gig, it's a demonstration of why The Mars Volta are possibly, no fuck possibly, THE most forward looking and wondrous band on the planet.

This review is probably one of the most patchy and fractured pieces of writing I've ever produced but then that's because every time I think I've got The Mars Volta and their live show nailed, I realise that it's damn near impossible to quantify how amazing this gig was. It's just musical overload, my brain can't compute their sonic majesty; I want to see them every night, of every month, of every year for the rest of my life.

Travelling back from the gig, listening to the radio, I started to wonder about something, I started to wonder how the rest of the bands in the world can carry on; knowing that The Mars Volta are making the sort of mind blowing music they couldn't even dream of.