Last August, when I found out I was moving to Japan, it was a bit of a bittersweet affair. More sweet than bitter, but I had to give up my Mars Volta tickets. These were special tickets though, as they granted me entrance to their one (of only two) solo shows during their nation-wide tour with Red Hot Chili Peppers. I knew the show would be special for this reason, and also because TMV had been gettinig less-than-warm receptions from RHCP's jock-heavy crowd.
Still, I moved to Japan, the Chicago show came and went, and special it was indeed. Apparently, they opened with a Pink Floyd cover (I'm not a huge Floyd fan, but TMV doing a cover is very rare), debuted the new song "Rapid Fire Tollbooth," and even played the semi-rare B-side from their sophomore full-length, Frances the Mute.
"Whatever," I thought, "I live in Japan. That's badass."
Then TMV announced a Japan Tour, and I was a happy boy.
The events leading up to and after the tour with the Chili Peppers brought all kinds of untold drama, including the departure of not one, but TWO amazing drummers (Jon Theodore and Blake Fleming). I thus gave up all hope of receiving an epic, well-rehearsed set list that those lucky bastards in Chicago had the privilege of seeing.
Flash-forward to the start of the show. I look around in awe; Japanese people everywhere, eyes glossy with the excitement of TMV appearing in their home country. Some horns start blaring over the PA and out walks all eight members of the Mars Volta.
There's some noise, nothing too indulgent (yet), and they immediately start the intense, in-your-face riff that comprises much of "Rapid Fire Tollbooth." This was an amazing way to start the show. No need for jamming to get into a song, no intro, just balls-to-the-wall rock. Instantly, the band was going nuts.
I had heard a live version of this new song, but it was only around four minutes. The new "RFT" has been extended to around the 10-minute mark with an insanely dynamic jam that couldn't have been more on-point, never droning on for what felt like too long. I've seen TMV five times now, and this was definitely the best opener I've seen.
Next came the indulgence, but not too fast. What would become a fairly-structured jam session hovering around the 60-minute mark started with a heavily syncopated riff. There were probably around seven movements total in the jam, often getting almost deathly quiet only to be brought back up with almost street punk straight rhythms brought forth by new drummer Deantoni Parks. Might I add that he looked like a snake while he played drums. Interesting presence. This jam was, for the most part, very solid, my only complaints being that I felt like they held on to some of the same riffs for too long, and the scales in the middle made the direction of the jam too obvious. It just wasn't that cool knowing exactly when the jam was going to get heavy again, but these scales made it so. One VERY cool part was when Cedric picked up a fan and started singing through it, an effect I've never heard live before. Juan's bass solo near the end of this jam was amazing, as well.
70 minutes after the show had started came the first recorded material familiar to public audiences: "Viscera Eyes." This song was amazing to see live, but the beginning didn't have the punch I would have expected. Still, they pulled off all of the dynamics found on the album, and the second movement of the song was particularly badass.
The best part of the night, hands down, was the night's closer, "Day of the Baphomets." Also off of their newest album, Amputechture, the song gave Juan the opportunity for a second bass solo, and it was perfect. This song drove the night home, with the Volta rocking out harder than I've ever seen in the past five or so years. The percussion solo was epic. Honestly, the energy pouring out of the stage and into the audience during this song was like nothing I've ever seen before. Near the end of the song, Cedric became "The Entertainer" by doing several jump-kicks. Interesting. Paul from ATDI is now in the band, and he really helps hold down the songs. However, he's gotten really fat and doesn't look like himself anymore. I was surprised. He still rocks out though.
That was it. The band was spent, and Omar seemed especially appreciative of the response, bowing and mouthing "arigato" ("thank you") over and over again. It was a nice reaction, really.
So I didn't get to see the special Chicago show, but this definitely made up for it. Sure, at times the jam was a little long, the flute was piercingly loud in the PA, and sometimes Cedric's vocals were not as audible as they should have been, but still, this was the Mars Volta at the top of their game and Omar gave some of the best guitar solo's I've seen him give. One of the best performances I've seen in my life.
Might I add: It's quite a surreal experience to be rocking out and singing along like you're at a concert in America, only for the lights to come up and see that you are surrounded by Japanese, and must again start speaking the little bit of Japanese that you know to get by.