There was a point in my life where The Mars Volta were, in my opinion, the most interesting thing in rock. Those first three full length records, De-Loused In The Comatorium, Frances The Mute, and Amputechture were all in heavy rotation while I moved from my early to mid 20’s. These records were the perfect balance of heavy and creative. Insane records filled with intensity that drew from influences as wide ranging as Fania All Stars, Pink Floyd, Fugazi, and Stockhausen. Delicious albums that I listened to almost daily. Before long, however, it felt like the band kept losing the plot. The records seemed stale, and the live shows also seemed to like some of the “Oomph!” of their earlier sets. When they decided to close up that chapter, it made sense to me. Both Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala found themselves exploring music apart from each other, and made for some awfully compelling records.
The year that they parted ways was 2012. Now, a mere two years later, Cedric & Omar quietly started putting out new material on the web. Under the name “Antemasque.” These were some great, concise tracks. So, the moment they announced a tour, I decided it was worth my while to see if they’ve really re-inspired themselves.
Before I get to their set, I can’t ignore the opener. Les Butcherettes are, simply put, one of the best live experiences one will ever have. Teri Gender Bender is the absolute greatest frontperson you will every see. I once saw them open for Iggy & The Stooges, and she may have actually put Iggy to shame. She came out wearing a bloodied apron, holding a broom. The set began with her aggressively sweeping the stage and complaining loudly in Spanish. They then proceeded to perform the song “Dress Off,” an intense, pound piece that is just drums and vocals, with Teri writhing around stage like a maniac while singing a dark and intense piece of lyric. The band live is simple- bass, drums, and Teri. Teri sang, played keyboards, and guitar. The keyboard based songs were this frenetic pieces of cabaret punk reminiscent of Dresden Dolls, only somehow significantly more intense. The guitar based songs took on sort of a gothy garage vibe. No matter what the song, you simply couldn’t take your eyes off Teri. Not when she screamed into the mic with it wedged in her mouth while playing guitar. Not when she “crucified” herself later in the set with the aforementioned broom.
I see a lot of bands. Les Butcherettes could very well be the best live act in the business today. Their far too brief 45 minute set was one of the most impressive pieces of performance any human being will bare witness to this year. The sold out crowd was fully converted by the end of the set, and I find it hard to believe that these folks will remain in the “opening” slot much longer. I can’t wait to see the sort of antics that we will see when the band gets to perform a full 90.
Antemasque played their first ever live show on August 2nd, 2014. Shortly after that, they released a full length record in a digital format. No physical release. This show was a mere ten days after that first show, and less than a week after people first got to listen to the album. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from the show or the crowd. Would people be expecting the band to play The Mars Volta tracks? At The Drive In? Will people even know the new material. I was certainly only mildly familiar with it.
Well, from the very first notes, it become very, very clear what we were going to expect from this show. They opened with “Hangin’ In The Lurch.” A concise, aggressive piece of music. This wasn’t “experimental music.” Or “prog rock.” It also wasn’t really punk or metal. It was the sound of pure heaviness. Omar played riff after riff with effortless ease. Cedric’s voice still retains the soulful passion and unbelievable range that he is known for. The set was filled with nothing but this quick, passion filled bursts of pure heavy.
The crowd was equally as passionate as the band, moving in a frantic wave, belting the words to every song as if this record that was only a week old had been with them their entire lives. This was the sound of both a band and an audience that have been revitalized. Cedric sang with the ferocity of a punk rock James Brown, and still has those insane dance moves that he is well known for. Unlike The Mars Volta or At The Drive In, Cedric also made sure to take the time to talk to the crowd. He told incredibly goofy and surreal stories. He discussed a Kiss Halloween Special that he once saw. He informed the crowd on numerous occasions that the band does, and never has, played “progressive rock.” The band was fleshed out by Omar’s brother, Marfred Rodriguez-Lopez on bass and Volta drummer Dave Elitch. The rhythm section was tight as can be. The whole set, which clocked in at an even 60 minutes on the nose, felt like a perfect well oiled machine that’s been playing these songs for years.
There was only one mis-step in the set. The second to last song, “Providence,” did meander a bit too much drifting into “jam” territory. With such a focused and precise set, this bit of noodling in the middle of the song ended up feeling like “filler.” I’d much rather a cover tune thrown in for good measure than stretching a perfectly good four minute song into the 8-10 minute range. However, this was really the only lull in the set, so maybe the band simply needed to take a breath.
Nonetheless, it was a nearly perfect set that proved that one of the most important duos in the history of rock are back and better than ever. Antemasque was a treat, and I hope they return many times over.