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The Chop House: The Mars Volta Rattle London’s Electric Ballroom in 2003

The Mars Volta

The Mars Volta broke up back in January, marking the end of a brilliantly weird era. Led by guitarist-producer-musical director Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and vocalist-lyricist Cedric Bixler-Zavala, TMV were arguably the most progressive and polarizing “rock band” (a borderline inapplicable term) on the face of the planet.

Formed in 2001, rising from the ashes of the duo’s previous project, At the Drive-In, Volta immediately forged a new, indescribable sonic identity. Rodriguez-Lopez’ arrangements were strikingly vivid, blending elements of Latin-fusion, salsa, symphonic prog-rock, punk, Zappa-esque avant-garde, and electronica. Meanwhile, Bixler-Zavala’s lyrics were surreal mazes of gallows humor, epic poetry, and surrealism. It was a giant fucking mess, and we lunatics liked it that way.

Using a rotating cast of some of the greatest musicians on the planet (chiefly bassist Juan Alderete, keyboardist Ikey Owens, and a rotating cast of drummers including Jon Theodore, Thomas Pridgen, and Deantoni Parks), the band birthed one EP and six excellent LPs, never once genuflecting to commercial gains or the muddled impatience of critics. The sad irony of their break-up is that Rodriguez-Lopez, always recognized as a relentless musical dictator, broke away to form a more collaborative project, Bosnian Rainbows (who released an excellent debut album this year). Meanwhile, Bixler-Zavala, his true musical partner, was left hanging to dry.

But picking sides is pointless. Perhaps we’ll never know all the reasons why this spectacular run ended so soon — but we should ultimately be thankful it happened at all.

To celebrate the legacy of this singular band, we offer a glimpse at their early days. The following concert was filmed at London’s Electric Ballroom in 2003, the year of their debut LP masterpiece, De-Loused in the Comatorium. This quintet line-up (detailed below) is the most explosive and versatile in the band’s history. (Theodore’s bombast and Owens’ funkiness were both sorely missed after their respective exits).

The Mars Volta may have been a two-man project at its core, but they never sounded more like a band than they did here.

Full Line-Up: Cedric Bixler-Zavala (vocals), Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (guitars), Juan Alderete (bass), Ikey Owens (keyboards), Jon Theodore (drums)

Setlist:

1. Son et Lumiere – 00:50
2. Inertiatic E.S.P. – 02:18
3. Roulette Dares (The Haunt of) – 06:40
4. Drunkship of Lanterns – Cygnus…Vismund Cygnus – 17:40
5. Eriatarka – 26:44
6. Cicatriz E.S.P. – 35:13
7. This Apparatus Must Be Unearthed – 49:54
8. Televators – 54:26
9. Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt – 1:01:34
10. Concertina – 1:16:23

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