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The Mars Volta - January 27th, 2006 - Sydney, Australia @ Enmore Theatre

By: Kev Truong

Given the fairly unmarketable type of music The Mars Volta play, it’s all the more impressive that tonight’s show sold out in little more than a day. Even though from all reports the band have been wowing audiences across Australia as part of the national Big Day Out Festival tour, these guys are not a band suited to outdoor events, squeezed into 45 minute slots. The Mars Volta are a band that need to be unfurled in their own time and space, and after tonight’s gargantuan two and a half hour performance, I doubt many people were left unconvinced of this fact.

De-Loused In The Comatorium, the band’s first album, opened with a track called ‘Son Et Lumiere’, which is French for “sound and light”. I can’t think of a more appropriate subtitle for tonight’s performance, because this was one of the best stage productions I’ve seen a band put on. They had two different backdrops that glowed and shifted eerily depending on what light was shone on it. They had synchronised strobes, timed spotlights, and a strange spinning light thing that came straight out a science fiction movie. The best though was that they used darkness and shadow to full effect, letting it accentuate the dynamics of the music and the changing moods the band purveyed. It was as much a visual as it was an aural experience, and when something like that is done properly, there’s no way it can fail.

With a total of eight members onstage, it was often hard to know where to look. So when Jon Theodore’s weighty drumming steered in ‘Cygnus… Vismund Cygnus’, and the band launched into their characteristic paroxysms of movement, it was very much a case of look at one thing, miss another. The visual aspect was so powerful in fact that at times I felt I was watching a theatrical performance that was rehearsed and timed to perfection.

Deftly leading their faithful through labyrinthine arrangements, be it the ridiculously extended instrumental jam in ‘Drunkship Of Lanterns’ complete with guitar and saxophone call-and-response, the mournful wailing of ‘The Widow’ or the fire then tripped-out psychedelia of ‘L’Via L’Viaquez’, The Mars Volta could not be faulted. Admittedly, some of their improv noodling stretched the limits of the audience’s patience. But to watch how uniformly the band ebbed and flowed through their countless crescendos, and considering the logistics and difficulties of getting eight people to lock into the one groove, it was still captivating to behold. And when they brought it all to a monumental, heart-stopping halt with ‘Cassandra Gemini’ by cutting all the speakers and lights on the exact split-second the song finished, there was euphoria in the air.

It’s probably clear by now with all this busy prattling that I’m a Mars Volta fanboy – I won’t deny it. But the chances are good that about 90% of the crowd there tonight were in the same league as me, if not for the simple fact that the lesser-known ‘Frances The Mute’ title track, which was released as a B-side only, was still met with a roar of recognition and elation. No one highlight can be pulled from the show (even though I have a particular soft spot for ‘Eriatarka’, and tonight’s version was damn near life-affirming), and it’s next to impossible to pick out any one detail and harp on about it (frontman Cedric Bixler Zavala handing the audience a stagelight was funny, though). So, really, all I have left to say is that the performance tonight only served to strengthen my devotion to this band, and that in itself is one of the best things a live concert can do. [END]

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