Myself and a friend trekked excitedly across the water to see The Mars Volta bring their unique sound of glorious, pretentious, engaging, disorganised, periodically unlistenable, often incredible (both good and bad) kind-of-progressive rock musicianship to the Brixton Academy in London after they had failed to announce an Irish date for their current tour promoting their poorly received recent album The Bedlam in Goliath.
It has to be pointed out, to Irish music fans in particular, that the venue was simply fantastic. The Tube zips to Brixton from any central-ish London location (we were in Kings Cross) where, on arrival, we collected the booked-online tickets.
If only we could have a place like this over here.
With a capacity of nearly 5,000 (huge but strangely navigable, quite different to the bastard soullessness of The Point in Dublin)and a kind of Roman-design finish (all pillars and white stone) this is a brilliantly-lit arena with a roof that at times looked like the night sky.
We entered the arena just before 8.30pm and the band had just come on. We then wormed our way quickly down the side and were soon only 30 yards from the stage.
From that point on, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez pummelled the crowd with a nearly-three-hour set of new and old tunes, performed by their eight man troupe that included a demonic, muscular drummer (Thomas Pridgen) and a multi-instrumentalist on the left (no idea) who seemed able to play any, and every, instrument available. Probably at the same time.
With a slightly frustrating commitment and focus, the band did not pause for a single word to the crowd until the very finish. The set was dotted with major 20-25 minute wig outs (notably during Aberinkula and Goliath) and jazz/prog noodlings, never once pandering to anyone but themselves and receiving a few hostile crowd roars, as well as some walkouts 90 minutes in.
But to expect anything else from the group would be naive.
The twiddlings allowed the audience to engage with the band in a different manner to the usual 'Hello, London/Dublin' rockstar platitudes. Zoning out during these jams only made the re-entry to the song more powerful and despite my total bafflement at times, the songs were intricate, wild, aggressive and detailed.
It would be ridiculous to suggest that at least half the gig wasn't indulgent and I won't say it wasn't. Neither will I pretend that much of The Mars Volta's lyrics aren't stream-of-consciousness onanistic gibberish. But it is a long time since I saw a band put in a performance as dedicated as this. I stood beside one die-hard fan who knew every lyric, lick and beat and seemed utterly enthralled by everything that was happening onstage, so much so that I felt guilty for, at times, being unable to keep up.
Whether most people, besides The 'Volta themselves, 'got' the performance or not (including myself) is another matter...but I'm still running it through my head almost a week later. And if this review seems highly confused at times, try heading to see the Mars Volta next time they're in Europe..