It was quite a shock when earlier this year Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodríguez-López re-grouped to form yet another band, especially considering the very public disintegration of The Mars Volta.
Discarding the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink prog odyssey approach of their previous band, ANTEMASQUE are a much more accessible prospect, especially for those afraid of 11⁄8 time signatures and songs that last the length of the latest Martin Scorsese epic.
With a stripped-back sound and more conventional song-structures, many are curious how tonight will compare to the duo’s other projects. At just ten tracks and a pithy 35 minutes, the self-titled debut doesn’t give much away, especially in terms of how this band will sound in a live environment, but based on the incredible music we’ve heard from these two virtuoso musicians in the past, anticipation is at fever pitch.
In fact, it wouldn’t be remiss to mention that the crowd tonight are somewhat partisan, with certain sections of the audience responding to the band’s entrance with a ‘we’re-not-worthy’ bow before they’ve played a single note. Thankfully, ANTEMASQUE deliver from the off, firing on all cylinders and giving songs such as In the Lurch and 4AM a ferocity that is ever so slightly lacking on record. The rhythm section (made up of Dave Elitch on drums and Marfred Rodríguez-López on bass) are absolutely monstrous, Elitch in particular putting in a stunning performance, breaking several drumsticks during the bands 70 minute set.
The band sound so much more powerful live than the recordings on their debut album would suggest. Cedric continues to prove that he has an absolutely astounding set of pipes, often sounding like a demonic Robert Plant ,and somehow manages to make dancing around the stage as if being riddled by machine gun fire look like the coolest thing in the world. Omar, as usual, absolutely owns his instrument, attacking the fretboard with gusto and generally melting minds around the venue (figuratively, thankfully). He’s certainly having way more fun tonight than at the recent At The Drive-In reunion shows and the band as a whole are an incredibly tight unit.
Cedric gives a touching dedication to one-time Mars Volta keyboard player Isaiah ‘Ikey’ Owens, who tragically passed away the previous day from a heart attack. The resulting performance of Providence is electrifying, especially during an extended guitar solo where Omar plays with blistering intensity, taking his already frenetic thousand-note-a-minute style to incredible new heights.
Sadly, after this stunning highlight, there is a crash back down to earth as the band descend into a self-indulgent extended jam, the more meandering kind that occasionally blunted The Mars Volta’s ferocious attack, but this is a small blip in an evening that, on the whole, has proved a remarkable starting point. Where they go from here is anyone’s guess, but considering the duo’s legacy, you would be foolish to bet against them.