There was a time when rock bands mattered. They topped charts, outlined trend traits, and formed the tradition. The largest bands had been so huge that, as a tradition, we had room in our hearts for each member, turning guitar gamers, drummers—even bassists!—into icons in their very own proper. Being a rock star meant extra than simply trashing lodge rooms and conspicuously consuming cocaine. It meant that folks all around the world knew what Eddie Van Halen’s guitar appeared like, that the drummer for Mötley Crüe was stalked by the paparazzi, and that the bassist for the Purple Sizzling Chili Peppers may run a facet gig as an occasional film star.
That period is lengthy handed. If you happen to’re sufficiently old to recollect it, and also you have a look at the lineup for a lot of the main American music festivals today, you’ll have to carry out your studying glasses earlier than you begin seeing the names of any rock bands. It’s not a tragedy—tastes evolve over time, and nothing lasts endlessly—however the period of the rock star as something aside from a metaphor for a life lived to extra ended greater than a decade in the past.
Final week, the final rock band that mattered reunited in Dallas for its first present since 2012. The Mars Volta headlined a two-night stand on the Manufacturing unit in Deep Ellum to launch a tour that runs by November. The El Paso group performed the best way it did earlier than its ten-year hiatus—a sprawling set, luxuriating in atmospherics, guitar solos, and complicated rhythms because it performed solely fifteen songs through the two-hour efficiency. Regardless of coming only a week after the discharge of the band’s self-titled reunion album, the set listing was closely tilted towards its early days; a 3rd of the set got here from the group’s 2002 debut, and in whole, it included simply two The Mars Volta songs. It was, in a phrase, thrilling.
The gang, largely made up of oldsters who remembered the band from its preliminary run, shouted together with singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s largely inscrutable lyrics. Throughout 2005’s “The Widow,” the band’s highest-charting single, Bixler-Zavala tried so as to add a pause earlier than delivering the music’s remaining line, however he didn’t get an opportunity—the viewers sang “. . . Cuz I’ll by no means sleep alone” for him, prompting amusing. “That’s good,” he mentioned, “since you constructed this for us. Thanks.” The band’s chief, guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López—whose bored-looking stage demeanor has been the source of fan speculation up to now—appeared downright delighted by the reception, grinning beneath his fedora all through the evening. On social media, the place followers had agonized about whether or not the reunion tour would characteristic the psychedelic freak-out model of the Mars Volta or the brand new, poppier incarnation of the band that confirmed up on the brand new album, the response was rapturous. When somebody shared a photograph of the set listing on the band’s unofficial subreddit, a fan in New York posted, “I simply received an adrenaline rush,” one of many extra printable expressions of enthusiasm.
Earlier than the band took the stage, the sensation within the packed room was extra certainly one of trepidation. The dude subsequent to me, a bald man in a classic Mars Volta T-shirt, struck up a dialog. “I wanna hear old shit,” he instructed me. “I don’t need to chill. I need to leap on folks.” He requested me if I knew who was within the touring lineup—the band, outdoors of Bixler-Zavala and Rodríguez-López, has at all times had a rotating forged—in search of clues as to what they may play. “Have you learnt who the drummer is? As a result of that issues,” he declared. (It was newcomer Linda-Philomène Tsoungui.)
The Mars Volta, in different phrases, is the kind of band for which it’s cheap to count on that the random stranger standing subsequent to you at a venue in Dallas would possibly have the ability to rattle off the names of the touring rhythm part or multi-instrumentalists, and that these names can be a clue as to what kind of set to count on. If I had mentioned Jon Theodore, who performed on the band’s first albums, the dude within the classic tee would have misplaced his thoughts with anticipation; if I had named Willy Rodriguez Quiñones, who performed on the newest album, it might need muted his enthusiasm. There haven’t been quite a lot of rock bands this millennium that encourage followers to have such sturdy emotions in regards to the touring and session musicians sitting in with the group, and nearly none who’ve achieved the heights that the Mars Volta had throughout its preliminary run.
The Mars Volta had been at all times an unlikely group to turn out to be superstars. The band was born out of the 2001 dissolution of the epochal El Paso hard-core band On the Drive-In, a bunch of childhood associates whose bonds buckled beneath the burden of rising stardom. Its rhythm guitarist, bassist, and drummer fashioned the emo band Sparta, whereas Bixler-Zavala, its singer, and Rodríguez-López, its lead guitarist, experimented with facet initiatives earlier than signing a significant label deal because the Mars Volta. The band rapidly grew to become recognized for Rodríguez-López’s otherworldly musicianship and Bixler-Zavala’s uncommonly elastic vocals and evocative, over-the-top (usually downright pretentious) lyrics. (Pattern lyric: “Within the River Ganges, God damns my title.”) That stage of artifice labored to the band’s benefit, creating an aura round it that made it clear this wasn’t simply one other indie rock group. Different well-known musicians cited the band as their favourite younger act—Metallica, the Purple Sizzling Chili Peppers, Rush, Device, and different bands whose followers spent quite a lot of time desirous about guitar pedals paid homage to what they created. (Flea and John Frusciante of the Chili Peppers served as occasional session musicians on the band’s albums.) The music nerdiness of the band grew to become one thing of a pop-culture joke—within the 2010 comedy Get Him to the Greek, the younger document exec performed by Jonah Hill tries to woo his girlfriend with the prospect of an evening in town culminating in a Mars Volta live performance; she declares that she’d quite go to mattress early.
Nonetheless, the truth that the group permeated the tradition to the extent that the joke seems in any respect is proof of its success. In 2022, a band with the Mars Volta’s pedigree would possibly fall into the class of “extra influential than common,” however when it emerged on the tail finish of the period of rock stardom, the group was each—its second album, 2005’s Frances the Mute, peaked at quantity 4 on the Billboard 200, and every of its subsequent albums landed no worse than the highest twenty. (2008’s The Bedlam in Goliath was its highest-charting launch, peaking at quantity three.) We’ve seen huge, dumb rock bands emerge through the present pop period—assume Greta Van Fleet—and that sort of music is a vital a part of what makes rock and roll thrilling. However the Mars Volta might need been the final huge sensible rock band.
Throughout that run, the band carved out an indelible legacy. Superstars from all genres are recognized to drop its title—Lizzo’s “playlist of my life” consists of the band’s 2008 single “Wax Simulacra,” and in 2020, Kanye West tweeted on the band that “we have to end the album” (Bixler-Zavala told New Musical Express this month that the group has by no means even met him). And it mattered, after all, that the arena-rock band being heralded for its artistry was the venture of a Puerto Rican guitar participant and a Mexican American singer who each grew up in El Paso; who wore their hair pure and curly; who started utilizing their full names, within the Spanish conference, as quickly as On the Drive-In broke up; whose songs had verses and titles in each English and Spanish. The fan within the classic T-shirt subsequent to me on the Dallas present, as he gushed about Bixler-Zavala’s stage presence earlier than the present, instructed me, “I need to see him be the Latin James Brown.” A former bandmate of Bixler-Zavala’s from certainly one of his pre–On the Drive-In initiatives, Beto O’Rourke, told me in August that simply realizing the band was again and representing El Paso was significant to him. “The truth that El Paso can produce these guys with that stage of creativity, and that a lot success, simply makes me so rattling proud,” he mentioned.
The band spent its remaining years coping with numerous complications. It toured in 2011 and a part of 2012 because the Omar Rodríguez-López Group (together with a high-profile SXSW gig), rumored on the time to be a part of a contractual dispute. Rodríguez-López began one other facet venture known as Bosnian Rainbows with a musician and efficiency artist who had just lately relocated to El Paso, which consumed a lot of his time. Bixler-Zavala started exploring Scientology and publicly bashed his longtime collaborator, criticizing Bosnian Rainbows on Twitter. Issues cooled off after a 12 months or so, and the 2 reunited for a brand new venture, 2014’s Antemasque, which put out a lone document. They reunited On the Drive-In with 4 of the 5 authentic members the next 12 months, and spent the following a number of years touring and releasing new music beneath that title earlier than coming into one other hiatus in 2018. Rodríguez-López spent the COVID-19 pandemic rereleasing the Mars Volta discography on his personal label, Clouds Hill, and, in the summertime of 2022, opening an artwork set up themed across the band in Los Angeles. Shortly thereafter, The Mars Volta was introduced.
Its first single didn’t sound very like the band followers had gotten used to, although. The group had beforehand been outlined by its unwieldy music lengths and indulgent instrumentation (Frances the Mute is barely 5 tracks, solely certainly one of which is shorter than ten minutes; its remaining music, “Cassandra Gemini,” runs greater than half an hour). “Blacklight Shine” clocks in at a tidy two minutes and 56 seconds. The subsequent single, “Graveyard Love,” is equally compact, at simply over three minutes. I despatched the third single, “Vigil,” a hook-laden ballad, to my good friend Cindy, who had been the largest Mars Volta fan I’d ever recognized. “They virtually sound like Maroon 5 at this level,” she exclaimed.
She wasn’t the one one who was confused by the brand new route. The band had disappeared for a decade, and Rodríguez-López and Bixler-Zavala had recorded music collectively beneath a handful of band names—so why come again with a totally new sound and name it the Mars Volta? On some boards, followers accused the duo of chasing traits, which appears unlikely; the songs could also be shorter and extra hook-centric, however they don’t precisely sound like Harry Kinds or Put up Malone. Extra possible, they’ve discovered that initiatives with names reminiscent of Antemasque or the Omar Rodríguez-López Group don’t curiosity their followers as a lot as music they launch because the Mars Volta.
Within the small handful of interviews the band has completed to advertise the album and present tour, Bixler-Zavala has addressed the brand new route. “It’s protected to say we’ve made a pop album,” he told NME. “It’s there within the title, Volta. It’s nearly like a warning to folks: don’t get too comfy along with your favourite period as a result of by the point you prefer it, we’re already transferring on.”
Based mostly on the set listing in Dallas, the stay model of the band hasn’t moved on fairly as a lot because the one which turned up within the studio, which appears a good compromise. “The Mars Volta” belongs to Rodríguez-López and Bixler-Zavala, and so they can do no matter they need with it—however for followers to pay huge bucks for live performance tickets, they ought to provide them what they consider after they consider the band. Of the fifteen songs they performed on their first evening in Dallas, solely two got here from the brand new album. Sandwiched between songs from the group’s traditional period, although, they seemed like they match proper in. Rock and roll may not be the chart-topping sound anymore, however the Mars Volta nonetheless issues.