Sometime around the new millenium, when prog rock emerged from a long, disjointed and uneasy sleep to re-claim a place among the living, there would, by necessity, need to be a standard bearer: a band that would carry the banner and carve a legacy for a new generation of sub-mainstream audiophiles who had perhaps realized that the "Alternative" music of the past decade had been little more than cleverly disguised corporate rock. Fastball, Silverchair and Candlebox may have looked the part, maybe even sounded a bit like it too, but were little more than processed, radio ready, DefWarrantRoses in blue jeans and thrift store t-shirts.
And then along came bands like Refused, At The Drive In, The Dillinger Escape Plan and Muse and all of a sudden a genre that languished and was seemingly forgotten for the better part of two decades was more than alive, it was positively thriving. Though Muse quickly embraced a conventional song structure (while maintaining their Rush-esque roots) and both Refused and At The drive In opted to ride the lightning as opposed to claim almost assured super-stardom, the movement away from power chords and yarls had begun. And from the ashes of At The Drive In came The Mars Volta: a band seemingly at odds with their fame from their inception to their recent demise. This, their first live album, offers a fractured, drug-addled world view and a gut check to the brave few who followed Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala from the Drive In to this parallel, writhing, and richly rewarding universe.
The four tracks here, all live interpretations of tracks found on the band's first LP, 'De-Loused In The Comatorium', so wholly and completely embrace 70's prog rock demetia that this manages to come off sounding like a street fight that Syd Barrett picked with Emerson, Lake and Palmer... which Robert Plant and Jeff Lynne had to break up. Cedric's vocal range, which floats and ascends and dives somewhere in the impossible realm of not quite Geddy Lee, not quite Robert Plant, delivers mostly unintelligible, spastic rants that are as disquieting as they are undeniably engaging. Omar's maniacal chord progresions are completely reimagined on this EP and manage to sound both improvised and deliberate, casual and perfectly ordered. Weapons grade distortion and feedback are tumble dried with percussive bursts that are equal parts wanton destruction and zen-like peace; creating a sound that is simultaniously anchored and completely unhinged, like a flag that is held on by a single ring in the middle of a raging storm.
Is this for you, then? At $180, this isn't for anyone except for a wealthy, devoted completist. Many of these tracks (and if I'm honest, even some better interpretations) can be found on the youtube. Should this gem ever see a proper reissue at a price us meer mortals can swallow, it is an absolute must have for fans of progressive rock... fans who perhaps wrongly assumed that the best days of this genre were long dead and rotted. The Mars Volta, I think, would gladly offer this as a counter-argument.