Rx Bandits / Maps & Atlases - live in New York [first night] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Rx Bandits / Maps & Atlases

live in New York [first night] (2011)

live show

It was Rx Bandits' last two shows in New York City, and having listened to the band for a full decade, I felt I owed it to myself to witness one of these shows. The band's maintained a fervent cult following for that time, and while I ceased to necessarily love them a long time ago, it was otherwise hardly lost in this room.

I'd seen Zechs Marquise opening for Rx Bandits last time around, so I knew what to expect: proggy instrumentals that went straight into the heart of the song. Seriously, when they kicked off a song, there was no fancy build or anything–they'd already be plowing through it. I would have liked to hear a moment of tension crafted here and there, as they'd often just throw down a thick, noodly wall of sound for four or five minutes and call it a day. Two of these guys are brothers of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of At the Drive-In and the Mars Volta fame, and the latter was a pretty common point of reference with their sound. Alright stuff that could get old quickly.

Maps & Atlases was a band I was looking forward to since hearing the dizzying, melodic math rock on their You and Me and the Mountain EP, despite a number of detractors that say their live show's less than enticing. I thought they played a pretty sprightly and inviting set; granted, there's not a whole lot of energy here, but the performance itself was tight. Plenty of the audience seemed already acquainted with them, as you could hear gangs shouting back certain melodies at the band. There's a lot more breathing room and space on their last work, Perch Patchwork, and they played it around with it some, taking "The Charm" and filling it with a post-rock-ish, percussion-laden crescendo, with an extra kick drum and blaring Korg. Otherwise, what I think was a new song had a jam part typical of this show's lineup, and fortunately that was basically the extent of the band's meandering. Lastly, bug zappers stationed up in the corners added a strange, outdoors-y feel when they suddenly flashed the crowd during "Living Decorations". Cool set. I wasn't blown away (and I would have liked to hear the ultra-catchy title tracks from their last two releases), but they certainly played better than critics give 'em shit for.

Set list (8:24-9:07):

  1. Pigeon
  2. The Sounds They Make
  3. Israeli Caves
  4. Ted Zancha
  5. The Charm
  6. Witch
  7. Living Decorations
  8. [new song?]
  9. Solid Ground

Rx Bandits eventually came out to raucous, bloodthirsty cheers. As mentioned before, people still love this band. They even had a horn section, so that was excellent to see. I'd spoiled their set for myself by looking up prior set lists before the show, but was still thrilled when they opened with a trio of standouts off 2001's Progress (not before a quick little jam session, of course), then moved swiftly into the first two tracks from the followup, 2003's The Resignation, some of the best aggressive moments in their catalog. At one point in my teenage years, Progress was my favorite record of all-time; Resignation ultimately proved to have far greater staying power and personal resonance, but these are my two favorite Bandits records, so I was pleased. Granted, "Consequential Apathy" was pretty sloppy, but Matt Embree visibly smiled as he played these older favorites and seemed to be having a good enough time with his bandmates recalling these recorded years.

I fully expected the jam sessions that became so prevalent on both their records and in their live show some time during or after 2006's ...And the Battle Begun (Mars Vol-ska jokes galore). But they still lost me a bit when they got all Bonnaroo with "Taking Chase as the Serpent Slithers" and a drum circle-like break for the first installment of "Only for the Night". As someone who grew up on the band alongside other melodic punk/hardcore acts (shout-outs to area friends I Am the Avalanche and Saves the Day [not Dream Theater and Symphony X or something] confirmed the band knows their roots), these moments got a little tiresome. (A kid who remained barefoot in an insane, clustered crowd was quite representative.) But I could somewhat appreciate Embree's fondness for his soul/R&B forefathers, as abbreviated covers of Sam Cooke and Bill Withers would attest to. The Cooke cover came at the end of the encore, when Embree was left alone on-stage for a few slow solo bits to close the show.

Other highlights included Embree making it a family affair by momentarily bringing out his brother and mother (the latter braving a broken arm of some sort in an arm sling) and introducing them to the crowd, and solidifying the social awareness of his band's platform one final time by advocating the crowd to help reauthorize the Violence Against Women act.

While I've grown apart from the band and their decidedly prog-rock leanings over their last few albums, this show provided some solid closure (and near-heat exhaustion; can Irving Plaza install some fans for Christ's sake?). I'll definitely miss Rx Bandits to some extent, but they definitely made their mark in their time and cultivated a devoted fanbase for all the right reasons.

Set list (9:35-11:05):
  1. VCG3
  2. Consequential Apathy
  3. Infection
  4. Sell You Beautiful
  5. Prophetic
  6. Taking Chase as the Serpent Slithers
  7. Decrescendo
  8. ...And the Battle Begun
  9. Ain't No Sunshine [Bill Withers cover]
  10. Apparition
  11. In Her Drawer
  12. My Lonesome Only Friend
  13. It's Only Another Parsec...
  14. Bring Our Children Home or Everything Is Nothing
  15. Overcome (The Recapitulation)/Bring Our Children Home or Everything Is Nothing [reprise]
    Encore (11:09-11:37):
  16. All the Time
  17. Only for the Night
  18. To Our Unborn Daughters
  19. parts of Sam Cooke's "Bring It on Home" and Jimi Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary"/Only for the Night [reprise]