This is the kind of show that happens only a few times in one's lifetime. I see a lot of shows, and I assure you that this one was one of my favorites of all time. I've seen The Mars Volta at Bonnaroo in 2005, and I was intrigued by that performance, but by no means did it compare with what I saw at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia on September 20th.
It was one of only a handful of shows that I've gone to by my lonesome. It was important for me to attend this sold out show, and for some crazy reason, none of my friends were going. It didn't matter. I was on a mission. As I walked into the Electric Factory, I noticed that it was already filling up fast. I found a spot on the floor near the front, and that's where I stayed for the entire night. I didn't get a drink. I didn't go to the bathroom. I didn't move. I saw history.
From the minute they came on stage till the last note the crowd was dumbfounded. Literally, there were people with their jaws dropped for songs. There wasn't that much dancing, but I suspect it was because of the shock that people were in. I could tell that most of the crowd was new to The Mars Volta. There were times that I know the crowd wanted to scream, jump, or dance, but it was difficult for even me to take part in these usual concert activities.
Singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala could be one of the greatest front men of all time. His James Brown type moves and really high pitched voice in "Aberinkula" the first song off of the album The Bedlam in Goliath, displayed his snake like stage presence to the crowd. There was a lot of controversy and supposed "bad luck," which transpired after the band's trip to Jerusalem where guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez bought Bixler-Zavala a really old ouija-type talking board, which they were addicted to after every show opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They nicknamed it "the Soothsayer," and the more they played with it, the more awful coincidences happened to members of their band. Their drummer at the time, Blake Flemming, quit mid tour. Bixler-Zavala himself needed foot surgery due to the shoes he was wearing and had to relearn how to walk, and Rodriguez-Lopez's studio flooded and experienced freakish power outages. To make matters worse, the album's engineer went through a nervous breakdown and refused to work on this album. This all adds to the magic that they create on stage that cannot be translated through video or film. On this night, Bixler-Zavala's posture and microphone play resembled Robert Plant. He also sang one of my favorite songs from them "The Widow." It was introduced with a very spacey, haunting, and ambient jam, and it finished with a killer guitar solo.
Guitar genius Omar Rodriguez-Lopez sounded like a combination of Prince and Jimi Hendrix. His guitar tone is very unique and his timing is impeccable especially on "Eunuch Provocateur" and "Ilyena". It is difficult to describe how they capture an audience unless you're there, even for a writer. To me, it felt like being at a Led Zeppelin show. It was that impactful and full of unexplained sorcery. At one point, Rodriguez-Lopez did a call and response with drummer Thomas Pridgen that was unlike anything I've ever seen. He would lift his guitar, and a second later Pridgen would play this super fast machine gun type drumming while Rodriguez-Lopez strummed just as fast. They did that for a while and amazed the crowd. Then, during "Viscera Eyes," Pridgen's drum solo was mind bending. He mixed in the craziest and fastest beats that worked so well throughout the song.
All in all, the show was one two hour set of the most amazing music that I've heard in a while. Trust me, when I watched the youtube clips, they didn't translate at all the experience they produce at a live show. I was so hyped up about this concert that since I went alone, I didn't know if it was just me or not until I ran into a friend on the disc golf course a month later, and he confirmed my intensity for this show. If you haven't seen this band, then you need to. Their cds and videos are not the same. The trouble is you'll probably have to catch them next year since their tour is almost over.