Live at Cockpit on Monday, 3rd March 2003
I arrived at the Cockpit at about 8.00 pm and was pleasantly surprised to see the venue very busy for that time of night and on a Monday. Happy too, that the audience seemed very diverse both in age and dress.
The support act ambled onstage in quite a relaxed manner and I was shocked to find myself thinking that the singer/bassist looked like a hybrid of Elvis Costello and Rivers Cuomo.
Fortunately, Bilge Pump delivered a sound, which can be confidently described as organised noise, full of angular, abstract rhythm and frequent time changes. If comparisons had to be made, I would say that Kyuss and Dinosaur Jr come through in their meaty, though not too heavy riffs, much like Shellac in fact, but with a more abrasive and random tone.
Dirgy, dirty and not overtly grungy, their raw and guttural riff-rock consisted of inventive songs that were quite brutal, both sonically and melodically. The vocals, although reduced to near incessant rambling at times, were charismatic and not without humour, with attempts to yodel quite melodically at the close of one song.
The percussion was superb, the drummer playing with a fiercely independent style and powering the songs with periodic bouts of Bonham-esque bulldozery.
I liked Bilgepump, because they were more than competent musicians and hailing from this country also, I am pleased to know that we still have bands who are looking to further the boundaries of rock music altogether.
They have adopted the atonal idiom of progressive alternative music, limited perhaps by the fact that they are only a three piece, but providing an entertaining set which the audience loved.
Formed from part of the shattered remains of post-hardcore revolutionaries At The Drive- In, The Mars Volta came to Leeds tonight with the purpose of redefining not just one, but many genres. When I saw the band this time last year, they were touring as a support for Les Savy Fav and re-asserting their association with the underground scene.
Tonight, with a fresh bass player who sports a tramp-like beard, the band take the stage amidst rapturous applause and fervent anticipation. The atmosphere inside the Cockpit had remained at a moderate temperature until the opening song, which descended upon the cavernous room, unleashing blistering torrents of energy into the air.
Both frenzied and graceful, Cedric Bixler omits an explosive aura, with intermittent eruptions of enchanting intensity. His voice retains the urgency and passion it has always had, but a more bluesy and sexual articulation now endures and a more mature tone has developed. Throttling himself with the mic lead and stalking the stage with a feline prowl, Bixler ensnared the audience with a relentless display of enthusiasm and near- zealous conviction.
The music is equal in its ferocity, an amalgamation of freestyle jazz and fiery punk rock, smelted together with samba fuelled rhythms and far-reaching dynamics, that never simmered throughout.
Even at their most subdued, the creeping fretwork of Rodriguez' mechanical improvisation, expresses fragmented sincerity, seething with electricity.
The blissful arpeggios of the keyboards, supersede all of their prior explorations into the realms of organ accompaniment. Eerie and yet soulful, the sound is one of bewitching beauty, conjured by the pianist who writhes and struggles like a preacher possessed.
The new songs contain vast experimental elements, with the guitar sounds maybe too reliant on effects, but this can be seen as part of the bands endeavour into the musical unknown. The finer elements of ATD-I have worked their way into The Mars Volta's sound, but none of the songs have the same arrangement and orchestration, which made ATD-I both so ground breaking and accessible. The Mars Volta are not pretentious, but they aren't easy to listen to either.
In the midst of his classical style fumblings, he manages to create dislocated melodies of a neurotic quality, but his control of both the guitar and the effects he uses, to create a myriad of sound is phenomenal, given the limited sphere of the live situation in which to work.
The Mars Volta perform with an unparalleled standard of musicianship in comparison with bands who are being pushed as 'the new rock and roll' in contemporary music magazines. Bass and drums provided a unified assault upon timbre, combining pseudo-syncopated rhythm with unfailing precision and thundering barrages of dub influenced funk. A suitably forceful drum solo received the reverence of all persons present. The bass player lurked at the back of the stage like a dormant volcano, releasing tension through gradual crescendo and subtle power.
All the while, and as if he were the subject of some painful exorcism, Cedric shifted around the stage in a trance-like stupor, pausing only to hold his mic stand aloft like a medieval sage, making crazed offerings to the skies.
Last year, The Mars Volta were more space-rock than sex-rock, but the fact remains that Cedric Bixler still has his head in the clouds. If The Mars Volta were to be awarded stars, they would surely encompass the entirety of the cosmos and beyond.
I can't help thinking however, that the sound they so obviously strive to perfect, will be spoiled, even lost, when they tour with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers later this month.