Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Martial: The Mars Volta

The Mars Volta: L'Via L'Viaquez (live) 
[purchase Frances the Mute]

First, a little plug—In addition to continuing to contribute here, I have started a new blog to allow me to write about music and life, without being limited by the bi-weekly themes we have here. Please check out Another Old Guy....Writing About Music, and like its Facebook page. Thanks.

I’ve written in the past about the pleasure that I have gotten from going to concerts with my kids. There was a brief period in each of their lives where they were old enough to want to go to shows, but not old enough to go there by themselves, or where the location was deemed inappropriate for attendance without parental supervision. And, being the lover of music that I am, I often was designated (or volunteered) to be the supervising parent.

When my son was in his early teens, he and his friends became fans of The Mars Volta, and I had to agree that they were an interesting band. It is always interesting to play “spot the influence” when you listen to new artists, and the first thing that came to mind when I heard The Mars Volta was King Crimson, due to their complex song structures and the mix of rock, jazz and avant-garde sounds. One difference, though, was that while later Crimson lineups incorporated some elements of New Wave music, they never really adopted more hard core punk sounds, or emo. The Mars Volta, with their roots in At The Drive-In, though, cite, among many others (including King Crimson), Throbbing Gristle and Black Flag, as influences.

Although I had only listened to a relatively small amount of their music, I was intrigued, and when my son and his friends wanted to go see the band, at the Roseland Ballroom in NYC in 2005, it was not a hard sell to get me to drive them in, see the show (and provide appropriate supervision) and drive them home.

It was quite an experience. As I thought about writing this piece, I tried to remember back 11 years (almost exactly), to how I felt about the show, and I found this review, which pretty much nailed my experience:

Admittedly, their “noodling” did get boring at first (I wondered if I was going to like the show during the first 20 minutes), but I actually grew to like it more and more as time went on. What seemed a little boring at first, completely swept me away with it by the end. 

Another influence that added to The Mars Volta’s eclectic mix is Latin music, which is no surprise considering the background of a number of the members. For the show that we saw, the band invited salsa music legend Larry Harlow to join them on stage. You can see him in the blurry picture above that I found online. Harlow, who is not Latino, but is actually from an Eastern European Jewish family, has had a long, celebrated career as a multi-instrumentalist (with piano a specialty), songwriter and producer in the salsa world, and is nicknamed “el Judio Maravilloso.”

Harlow’s piano adds a traditional Latin touch to the great song L’Via L’Viaquez, both on the album cut on which he played, and live, as you can hear in the featured version. I haven’t listened to The Mars Volta much recently, and I don’t think that my son does, either, but whenever one of their songs pop up on my iPod’s random shuffle playlist, I remember both how inventive they are, and that night at the now, regrettably closed, Roseland Ballroom.

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