A big musical vision is hard to squash into digital bits. So it was easy to feel Mars Volta's riotous triumph at UC Irvine's Bren Events Center on Wednesday. When this SoCal rock team plays live, it's out of the box.
Take "The Bedlam in Goliath," the group's new concept album and its fourth full-length studio blurt. Its canyons of reverb, along with guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's obsessive packing of the sound field, scream for wide-open spaces. The rhythms hit like hatchets. Melody takes a back seat after the first few songs. And the continuing edge in the voice of Cedric Bixler-Zavala, the other half of the band's main creative duo, is unmistakable.
A high yelper in the tradition of Geddy Lee (Rush) and Perry Farrell (Jane's Addiction), Bixler-Zavala knows something about thralldom to forces beyond his control. The album and its accompanying online game, both built around the saga of an overmastering Ouija board, follow that skein of frustrated aspirations.
Though the aesthetic pushes Bixler-Zavala away from the more sensitive croons that eased Mars Volta's 2003 masterwork, "De-Loused in the Comatorium," it's an idea most anyone can grab -- a connection borne out by the group's thronging fan base. But when the Mars Volta hit the sold-out gymnasium's stage to the roar of several thousand young enthusiasts, frustration dissipated like a collective sigh. From the bombastic, epic lilt of the opening "Roulette Dares (the Haunt of)" to the tortured torchery of "The Widow" to the intensely skewed bolero of the new "Metatron," the eight-man army hurled the '70s progressive gnostications of Yes, Led Zeppelin and King Crimson into the 21st century.
Skittering across the stage on spindly legs, the wraithlike Bixler-Zavala shook his Louis XIV mane, dived into the audience and climbed atop a speaker while his voice floated out to fill the gym and realms beyond. The left-handed, bubble-haired Rodriguez-Lopez tangoed with his guitar like a hyper toreador, keeping up a ceaseless commentary of obbligatos, solos and noise eruptions. Longtime keyboardist Isaiah Owens gushed into the sonic crevices with an array of effects and dusky watercolors.
The 2 1/2 -hour set (which was broadcast live on Indie 103.1-FM) divided up into songs, noise and rhythm breakdowns, with songs hardly hogging the majority. Although the Mars Volta often gets spanked for wankery, and some of the riff-based extensions did ramble too long, its many noise segments reeked with primo quality -- loud, proud and liberating.
The Latin beat busts made for another party within the party, as multi-instrumentalists Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez and Adrian Terrazas-Gonzalez often clicked in on percussion along with the masterful tumult of traps drummer Thomas Pridgen, who totally killed.
Hallucinatory illustrations made for appropriate backdrops, and the stagefront crowd, though admonished by Bixler-Zavala for overabundant testosterone, roiled continuously, now and then tossing up a body like shipwreck flotsam.
Toward the back, some of the audience looked puzzled, but few looked bored.