The Mars Volta, Hordern Pavilion, 20/1/10

July 25, 2010

Because that’s the sort of schedule we run to around here. Six months gestating with all the other rats, their performance on Live from Abbey Road brought me to spit this out. That episode was recorded 2009, with the stripped-back line-up touring the more “accessible” Octahedron. Cedric joked of having “given the whole record a hair cut, that’s all it is really, but there’s still a lot of hair there.” Thomas Pridgen was still drumming and there were smiles all round. Fast forward to January this year, and Pridgen has been hastily replaced for the second leg of their tour. Fill-in Dave Elitch played manfully in the circumstances, with a style somewhere between Pridgen’s jazzy flow and original drummer Jon Theodore’s dynamic brutality. I was more concerned about the deliberate simplification, relatively speaking, of course, given that for TMV minimalism still demands a six-piece. I most missed the wind and percussion stylings of Adrián Terrazas-Gonzáles, whose saxaphonic duels with Omar’s guitar were highlights of previous gigs caught in Melbourne. It’s not a matter of nostalgia, as I relish their prolific evolution. But I did wonder how much of the previous two albums (for me their best) could be played (or played well) with this line-up. The answer, as I suspected, was “not much”—only one song from each (the singles “Goliath” from Bedlam and “Viscera Eyes” from Amputechture, in which the sax’s absence was obvious)—with the majority of the set being from the first two records and the latest.

This new litheness did seem to disencumber the old material, of which there was a lot. They opened lost and perforated at the neck with “Inertiatic ESP,” and returned to the well often, with “L’Via l’Viaquez,” “Eriatarka” and a rendering of “Cicatriz ESP” in which their notoriously extensive improvisation (including a well-received drum solo) was balanced by a satisfyingly heavy chorus. Trackmarked amoeba landed craft, a plague dawned, lakes were dragged, and Omar rocked out erratically in his dapper brown waistcoat all the while. For his part, Cedric seemed under the weather, perpetually sipping on some boiling brew; I pitied the roadie of the week replacing that concoction with Fordist efficiency. From the dark they played “Miranda”—though again, I couldn’t help but miss the sax in the bridge—and closed it out (no encore) with “Roulette Dares.” TMV with a haircut was certainly a different vibe to past manic shows. While something of their trademark density and convolution was sacrificed, it was in the performance of the new work that the mutation proved adaptive, particularly with “Since We’ve Been Wrong,” “Halo of Nembutals” and “Teflon” (with Omar on backing vocals). Maybe it was just my three-beer buzz, but the extra elbowroom revealed dimensions to these songs unheard on the album. Hopefully at a future date, Terrazas-Gonzáles will return to the line-up, and I will raise my entrails as an offer; but at this junction, the pared-back ensemble had its own distinct ambience.

There was certainly still a lot of hair anyway, particularly when compared to this short back and sides:


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