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Published: 2005/05/26
by Holly Isbister

The Mars Volta, Riviera Theater, Chicago- 5/17

Seeing The Mars Volta live is a lot like getting beat up, if you can possibly imagine that as a good thing. The hour and a half long performance at Chicago's Riviera Theater left me feeling bruised and battle-weary, but most of all awestruck by the power of music in its most invasive form. It won't just make your neck sore; it'll make you feel like your internal organs survived their own mosh pit.

Supporting one of the most ambitious albums of this year, and possibly this decade, The Mars Volta brings the fury of their studio work on Francis The Mute and Deloused in the Comatorium to the live stage in a performance that is perfectionist in nature, but still full of wild abandon. Lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavales is a physical performer who jumps, dances, shimmies and hurls his mic this way and that throughout the evening. It’s captivating to watch, considering the man is singing his lungs out whilst performing these antics. Equally compelling is Omar Rodriguez-Lopez on guitar, who brings a vintage electric guitar sound reminiscent of Jimmy Page. In fact it’s hard to avoid comparisons to Zeppelin – both bands share common dynamics; vocal range, thunderous drums and searing guitar to name just a few. But the comparisons end there unless you want to count influence, and it’s still too early to say if The Mars Volta will make the kind of impact on rock and roll that Zeppelin did, though they’re certainly poised to do just that.

Watching them propel through epics like "Cygnus…Vismund Cygnus" and "L’Via L’Viaquez" is mesmerizing. "L’Via" included an extended jam with flute and organ interplay. For those of you who have heard the album, this is the rocker tune of the night without a doubt. "Drunkship of Lanterns" opened the show, almost sarcastically asking "Is anybody there?" to the sold out crowd. The stage was bathed in an eerie purple and blue light throughout the first couple of numbers, adding to the already surreal feeling of the evening. And I should add my props here to their lighting guy and set designer. They say god is in the details, and there wasn’t a single detail overlooked aesthetically speaking.

In short, if you want to see the best rock and roll show touring today, you really needn’t look farther. The Mars Volta are performers in the truest sense of the word; they mix showmanship and musical prowess as if they were born for the stage. My guess is that there’s going to be a lot of freaked out hippies at this Bonnaroo late night show, and I just can’t wait to witness it.

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