21SEP08 – The Mars Volta

21SEP08 – It’s hard to imagine modern life without a lot of things, but I’ll stick to the miracles in my immediate vicinity – cellular phones and text messaging, the Global Positioning System, and the cool, alien glass sensation of moving gracefully through this late summer night… riding shotgun in a high-speed automobile with a seemingly endless library of music at our disposal, faces lit by the interior glow of the dashboard lights, an onboard computer system directing us along the complicated concrete bow tie of the highway system, and the comfort of coffee close at hand.

To hell with the Jetsons. This is the future I was waiting for.

Despite being a lover of all things computerized, electronic and obscure, as well as being kind of a geek, I feel ashamed to admit that I am still utterly fascinated by the most basic examples of physics and technology. As a child, I used to rush eagerly to the periodic section of the library each month to peruse the ‘What’s New’ section of Popular Science, I still remember ‘Omni’ magazine, and I’ve been a fan of ‘Wired’ since a friend gave me a copy back in the late 90s. I’m mystified by all of it, still unable to completely wrap my head around the implications. Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology; to this day, I stop to look up at a commercial jet flying overhead and think to myself, “Holy crap! That thing is flying! And there’s people in it!” (OK, sometimes I say that out loud.) I’m amazed by where we came from, curious about where we are now, and hopeful about where we’re headed as a species.

But right now, tonight, I’m looking forward to being amazed by The Mars Volta.

I saw them for the first time last year in Australia. I’d flown to the Land Down Under to visit some friends of mine; kind souls who were gracious enough to put me up in their spare room, share their meals (and chores) with me, and basically show me a hell of a good time. While I love TMV for their studio work, I don’t feel as though I got off to a very good start with them live. I was close enough to the stage to see the expressions of nearly everyone in the band, and yet I didn’t get a sense of presence from them. The vocals cut my eardrums so sharply that I’ve since learned to wince at the sight of Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s white microphone, and the way he whips it about him like a femur on a string, lurching and stomping and flailing in some wild St Vitus dance. The sound was too shrill, too high, and his words were sharp, like fragments of an arrowhead lodged in my eardrum.

Present tense, presently excited, we stand at the back behind the mixing booth, sipping our drinks and waiting for the darkness to settle in. (TMV take the stage to the same Ennio Moricone theme tonight as they did in Brisbane, and I make a mental note to Google this later in order to determine the connection.)

The technicians, lit by the glow from their equipment and the strobe lights detonating overhead, hunch over rows of buttons and dials, squinting at computer screens and making adjustments. Possibly, they are scanning the flailing fools on the floor; weighing their muscle mass with millimeter wave radar, examining their teeth, and judging them to be ‘fit for sale’ specimens. After the show, they’ll be hosed off, rounded up and herded into the belly of a waiting cargo ship, whisked offworld and bartered for a pretty penny before anyone notices. Shame, I bet there was a cure for cancer somewhere among them. (Let that be a lesson to you – sometimes mosh pits are inappropriate.)

At one point, the crowd to our left parted to admit a young girl in a red dress who, upon pressing herself against the railing while dancing way too enthusiastically, shaking her hips and waving her arms just so, declared the whole thing ‘Boss’ before drifting back into the crowd. She smelled, according to Angela, my host and the driver of said high-speed automobile, ‘just like Victoria’s Secret.’

I can’t remember the playlist or highlights from the show, only that I was impressed with Thomas Pridgen‘s ability to call in such an impressive fucking air strike on that drum kit the way he does. I’ll still buy their albums, but I might think thrice before seeing them live again. Even so, I had a great time.

I’d talk more about the show, but it was just so… meh. “But it’s the Mars Volta! You love them!” (The voice of internal conflict.) “How can a band that sounds like Carlos Santana locked in a grain elevator with the London Symphony Orchestra on peyote sound … meh??” Terrible, terrible. Not every musician sounds completely ‘on’ all the time. And it probably sucks, having to get out there night after night and give all you’ve got to people who aren’t really into you. Still, I had a great time.

An hour later, sitting in Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café, my ears have stopped ringing and the Portobello mushroom sandwich is so damn good I find I’m laughing out loud… I make wander the aisles, making notions in my ever-present notebook of books I want to research and read. My latest Amazon purchase? Ray Kurzweil’s ‘The Age of Spiritual Machines.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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