Arena rock is back, now with less-cheesy rock anthems, instead upping the ante on the epic factor. At least since the Mars Volta's been putting out records. And, in the case last Saturday at the Berkeley Theatre, it's also how we used to like it -- a multipiece megaband blasting out gutbucket guitar riffs, percussion that pounds through the soul, a master lead guitarist in Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, and an all-too-sexy frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala who can hit all those ass-kicking, hard-to-reach notes caught in between melody and just flat-out screaming. Sexiness oozed out Bixler-Zavala's pelvis through effortless combinations of hip-work more furious than Jagger in this salad days, paired with foot work reminiscent of the Funky President himself. No object was left unhumped, as he managed to straddle the likes of keyboards, mic stands, and the floor. That boy sure can do the worm like nobody's business. Also following in the grand tradition of great rock bands is the pseudo-homosexual chemistry between Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. These fellas pull off the guitar-neck fellatio pose just as well as the legendary lead guitarist/frontman duos preceding them.
What separates TMV from the arena cock rock of yesteryear is its musicianship that transcends guitar rock ethos. Sure, they have the hardcore guitar riffs that can alter physical matter, but they rock the pants off big venues through bombastic chords as well as tricky time signatures, complex song structures, and instrumentation. The band fused hard rock with jazz effortlessly, incorporating conga beats exchanging with lightning-fast punk patterns, and a smooth flute that rocked more than Jethro Tull ever could. This could be normally known as prog-rock, but I'd just like to think that TMV really likes listening to Sketches of Spain once in a while.
The Mars Volta really left the light stuff at home for this one. The band opted for its harder material found mainly on its latest album, Amputechture. Building a dense wall of sound for two solid hours, they wasted no time between songs to take a break or speak to the audience. Although their pieces incorporating Spanish acoustic guitars and psychedelic rock would have been more than welcome, no such stylings were heard, instead giving way to fat drums and guitar chords thick in the air like nougat. The Mars Volta have brought back the rock, kicking whoever wrote "More Than a Feeling" in the nuts. Sorry, Boston. - Oscar Pascual