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The Mars Volta, Lupos Heartbreak Hotel, Providence, RI- 1/12

The Mars Volta is an enigma to say the least. The group utilizes intensive, technically intricate arrangements that work far outside of the standard boundaries of a jamband. But at the same time, in their live performance, they take those arrangements and build extensive, avant-garde free-jazz jams around them in a way that isn't exactly commonplace in the world of prog-metal. In short, The Mars Volta is an extremely difficult band to categorize, and their performance in Providence Rhode Island drove this reality home.

New Englanders were stoked for the Volta’s first headlining tour since they were on the road supporting 2005’s Frances The Mute. The line outside Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel wrapped around the block, and consisted of hippies, hipsters, and every music loving demographic in between. Given the eclectic genres the Volta pulls from, it’s no wonder their audience was as diverse as it was.

As the lights dimmed and the group took the stage, their audience went nuts as the group opened the set with an intensive take on “Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of).” As the crowd thrashed about, what stood out was the challenge their music posed to any fan wishing to get his or her groove on. The Mars Volta has long been known for utilizing bizarre rhythmic signatures that would even make it tough for a music major to head bang. As a result, those wishing to express themselves were left to more abstract, less rhythm-based forms of dancing.

Following “Roulette,” front man Cedric Bixler-Zavala led his group through a version of “Viscera Eyes” off of 2006’s Amputechture, before plowing through a handful of tunes slated to appear on their new release, The Bedlam in Goliath. Of all the new songs they tried out, “Aberinkula”, the albums opening track, stood out as the strongest. As Bixler-Zalava flailed aggressively like a venomous snake, the group's lead guitarist, and musical mastermind, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez went wild on his 6-string with a free jazz/prog-rock style that channeled the late Frank Zappa.

As intensive and multifaceted as groups sound was, one thing that stood out was the degree of excess that exists in their lineup. On the road, the group performs with eight members on stage, utilizing multiple loop-stations, and an array of effects set-ups, which are often played as though they’re instruments themselves. In addition to the almost robotic perfection of their new drummer, Thomas Pridgen, Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez, Omar’s younger brother, was on board as a synth player and auxiliary precisionist while Adrian Terrazas-Gonzalez added horns. The two members often cluttered the intricate sounds of the group’s brain trusts, and as a result, watered down the intensity of the tunes.

Still, by the end of the evening, The Mars Volta walked off the stage, sans encore, to a crowd that hadn’t had enough. True, many the effects on stage felt unnecessary, and their membership seemed excessive, but the bottom line is that The Mars Volta did exactly what they came to Lupo’s to do: dish out a solid two and a half hours of Latin-laced, jam-heavy prog-rock that left everyone in attendance half-deaf and 100% impressed.

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