Over a decade on from their last London performance, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala didn't hold back on the classics in a career-spanning set at Troxy
“Thank you for melting in our swamp, London,” wrote Cedric Bixler-Zavala on his Instagram after coming off stage at Troxy in East London. Few bands could turn the chic, Grade II-listed Art Deco venue into the cosmic and cerebral swamp it is tonight as The Mars Volta.
The Texan prog-rockers’ final show before drifting their complicated hiatus was here in London in 2012. In the intervening years, Bixler-Zavala and his creative partner Omar Rodríguez-López grew apart but then rekindled to reunite At The Drive-In, keeping Mars Volta fans on tenterhooks until they finally returned in June 2022 with ‘Blacklight Shine’ and then later their self-titled seventh album.
With such a trajectory as context, it would be tempting and reasonable for a band in this situation to try to assimilate their latest material into their live set, however much it depends on the classics to appease the old-timers in the audience. And yet only two songs from The Mars Volta appear tonight, ‘Graveyard Love’ and ‘Shore’, both of which sound more caramel-like than on record, sludgy and sweet in their proggy delivery.
Yes, the rest of the band’s two hour set is a career-spanning set that’s not afraid to indulge in its proggy origins, with fans able to hold on to all 12 minutes (or more?) of ‘L’Via L’Viaquez’ that ebbs from frenzied, scratchy verses and flows into its mysteriously cool Latin phases.
I’ve been to a lot of gigs in my life and Mars Volta just made it into the top 3 all time at Troxy tonight. Holy shit! Couldn’t have picked a better set list myself. I’m so grateful these incredible musicians have returned to bless us with their music! 🙌— Dre ⚡ ROLLERDROME (@dreofthedead) June 18, 2023
For a long while, the band lean into the enigma that their sound has always so vividly produced, until halfway in when Bixler-Zavala interestingly acknowledges the “haters” among their fanbase in contrast to the many that are here for them tonight. He is clearly appreciative, later on acknowledging that despite their perceived personas, he and Rodríguez-López are still “just two awkward stoners.”
Bolstered by some of the best live sound you can find in London, the band are sublime – notably the recent addition of drummer Linda-Philomène Tsoungui, who seems to perform just as tight and vigorously as some of the big names that have come before them. But the two founding partners are still a real force to behold. Rodríguez-López can still rip holes in your consciousness with his left-handed shreds, as on the likes of ‘Cicatriz Esp’, while Bixler-Zavala’s wails are still pitch-perfect and purging.
The Mars Volta close on the seamlessly connected ‘Son et Lumiere’ and ‘Inertiatic Esp’ from their debut Deloused in the Comatorium, released twenty years ago almost to the day. Many of the 30-and-40-somethings here tonight probably spoke together on the early blogs and forums after its release and would continue to as this peculiar act continued to shapeshift, and that creates a feeling of fulfilment. But more so, it makes the fact that this band remain in many ways unchanged and still at their best all the more special.