Live Review: The Mars Volta – Manchester

Live Review: The Mars Volta - O2 Apollo, Manchester
17th June 2023
Support: Zetra
Words: Dan Barnes
Photos: Rich Price Photography

Cards on the table here, but I’d not spent much time with The Mars Volta until the release of 2021’s La Realidad de los Sueños collection, when I decided it was high time to engage properly with the band. Unfortunately, by that point the band had been on hiatus for the past eight years and I made my peace with the fact that the opportunity to see them live had gone.

Yet a 2022 reunion saw Cedric and Omar collaborating and writing music together once more, leading to this year’s self-titled seventh record and, more recently, Que Dios Te Maldiga Mi Corazón, a complete acoustic representation of The Mars Volta album. That old adage about buses springs to mind here. And with a new record, must come a new tour. Luckily for me one of the only three UK shows from the band just happened to make a stop at the Manchester Apollo; with notebook and pen in hand I fired up the jalopy and headed down the M61.

Photo Credit: Rich Price Photography

Support was in the shape of Teri Gender Bender, otherwise known as Teresa Suárez Cosío, a young American-Mexican artist who has been involved with many of Omar’s post-Mars Volta projects since the band was put on pause.

Her band arrive first on a spacious stage washed in green light; Teri bounds on a few minutes later and begins a performance that is built on contradictions and the defiance of expectation. It seems clear that Teri must have had some movement training at some stage, as she throws all manner of shapes throughout the set: whether it be the splits or on odd, disconcerting spasticity that sees her torso and limbs contorted in many different ways.

Photo Credit: Rich Price Photography

There is a fragility in her performance as she swings from appearing like a petulant child, acting out, to being an ageless soul seeking redemption. Even though most of the set and interaction is either in Spanish or is lost in the mix there is clearly a discernible message in Teri’s work. As she sits cross-legged in the middle of the stage, she does not need an interpreter to explain the delicate and childlike concerns of the song.

It's not all doom and gloom as parts of the set are upbeat and joyous. Her musical composition is as fluid as all the other aspects of Teri’s stage persona, but the main points seem to be Rock in its many forms, whether that be punk, electronic or garage, all are recruited in the performance. I had recently picked the Catspeak EP from Teri, just to get a handle on her sound for this show but, whatever research I’d done went out of the window, leaving me sitting in the auditorium beguiled at what I was watching.

Photo Credit: Rich Price Photography

The stage was almost stripped bare after the support act, and I was left wondering whether there was some epic Kiss-type of introduction about to happen. It didn’t fit into my understanding of The Mars Volta but I could have the wrong end of this particular stick.

It seems my stick-gripping meets regulations and there’s suddenly a palpable buzz about the Apollo. Without fanfare, the band begins to enter the stage, all but Omar and Cedric are ensconced at the rear-most depths where they largely remain throughout the performance. There is a sustain chord held for what feels like an infinity while Cedric begins his sombre sermon. Each note from Omar’s guitar is picked like poetry as the band pay their only visit to third record, Amputechture for Vicarious Atonement.

Photo Credit: Rich Price Photography

It could have happily stayed like this for the whole evening and the Apollo would have been satisfied, but the spell broke with flashes of searing light from the mirrored backdrop and the frantic jazz-infused rock of Roulette Dares (The Haunt of). Like its recorded version, this live rendition jumps from hard rock to jazz to chilled out and back again with a carefree, seamlessness that would be a audible mess in lesser hands.

The Latin rhythms that form part of The Mars Volta’s signature sound show themselves on L’Via L’Viaquez, the first of a couple of epics from the Frances the Mute album. The ideas are jammed out, extending the song but never allowing it to outstay its welcome.

New material features early in the set. Graveyard Love and Shore Story sit either side of Frances’ second epic Cygnus… Vismund Cygus. These short compositions seem simple when compared to the more established songs, perhaps by virtue of being less densely packed with ideas. Their easy tunes come as a welcome space in the cerebral assault, giving us a moment at least to allow us to breath.

Photo Credit: Rich Price Photography

From here on, and with the exception of The Widow, the remainder of the evening’s songs are taken from De-Loused in the Comatorium and every one of them is sung back at the stage by a rapidly more vocal crowd. Cicatriz ESP takes us on a mesmerizing journey which is continued through a chilled out Televators, leading into the insane rhythms of Drunkship of Lanterns.

That The Mars Volta can produce a performance such as this, the night after doing so in Glasgow and the night before doing it again in London, is astounding. It truly felt like a unique show in which the participants are overcome by the muse of the evening. As a spectator it was emotionally exhausting and left me with the feeling of being mesmerized. I was also aware that my own creative endeavour would never be able to fully recreate the sense of awe and scale from tonight’s show.

Photo Credit: Rich Price Photography

As I drove home I remembered the story of the ballet dancer who was asked what she meant by a certain dance. Her response was to point out if it could be said in words, there’d be little point in dancing it. In many ways this is how I felt about this show. The band created two-hours of intensely engrossing music that lifted the audience from their seats and took them on a journey into the…

It is only in the ear of the attendee can that sentence be completed as I’ll guess it was different for every one of us in that room. It’s easy to become jaded and think you’ve seen it all before when, suddenly, something comes along and completely takes your breath away. The Mars Volta did that to me tonight.

Photo Credit: Rich Price Photography
Photo Credit: Rich Price Photography

All photo credits: Rich Price Photography

For all the latest news, reviews, interviews across the heavy metal spectrum follow THE RAZORS'S EDGE on facebook, twitter and instagram.