THE MARS VOLTA with SAUL WILLIAMS and RYE COALITION at the Opera House, July 21. Tickets: $18.50. Attendance: 750. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
since their new debut disc, de loused In The Comatorium, is based on the hypothetical hallucinations of a pal who tried to off himself, maybe it made sense that the Mars Volta 's packed Monday-night show at the Opera House seemed pieced together with some trippy form of dream logic. Nervous about the all-ages show, the promoters called in beefed-up security - a nice thought, but entirely unnecessary for this crowd. Rather than the bristlingly aggro spiky-haired punk kidlets you'd find at, say, an AFI show, the Mars Volta draw an underage emo shoulder-bag-and-vintage-T-loving crowd. Really, all you've gotta worry about is a brief tiff over band pins or obscure 12-inchers.
The high proportion of straight-edgers in the audience meant that skinny fans grinned and held their fists up for black Xs while the thick-necked security crew scoured cigarette packs for contraband.
The addition of spoken-word poet Saul Williams to what seemed to be an avant-punk rock bill was perplexing - especially 'cause the Mars Volta's psyched-out guitar swirls and indecipherable lyrics are far from what you'd deem agit-prop. Surprisingly, Williams's anti-hegemonic diatribes came off stunningly.
As his resonant voice echoed off the walls, the crowd stayed near-silent. Riffs on racism, sexism - a bit on his imagined female Holy Ghost was particularly great - and the manipulation of the American media elicited cheers, and I saw more kids snag his poetry book from the swag table than any of the two bands' merch. Impressive.
When the Mars Volta finally took the stage to the soaring strains of a cinematic military march, the polite audience finally went wild - in a respectful way. No stage-diving, no drunken hollers; just ecstatic applause.
The foursome plunged into intense prog guitar pyrotechnics situated in a strange place somewhere between free jazz, emo and Led Zeppelin.
At first their amorphous soundscapes wowed, punctuated by yelper Cedric Bixler 's castrato yowls. But after a few too many "Dude - look at what my effects pedal can do!" moments, Omar Rodriguez 's Rushy guitar solos grew tiresome, and the weirdo sound effects just seemed self-indulgent.
Respite from the proggy wankery came in the form of intermittent dissonant emo-punk freakouts (when the Volta are on, they're really on) and Bixler's continued attempts to twirl the mike stand like a baton.