Antemasque - The Observatory - August 10, 2014
If necessity is the mother of invention, re-invention must be a bastard.
The core duo of Antemasque, however, has made a career out of never-ending aural transmogrification. Vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez first made their name as the afro-framed faces of legendary post-punk outfit At The Drive-In, only to break that band up just as it reached mainstream success.
When the remainder of ATDI quickly formed a conventional alt-rock act called Sparta, Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez founded The Mars Volta, a virtuosic, occasionally frustrating jaunt into Zeppelin-esque bombast, prog rock, and 30-minute epic poems that took equally from jazz, Afrobeat and gutter punk.
After more than a decade of rotating band members, relentless touring and six mind-bendingly original albums, Bixler-Zavala announced the dissolution of The Mars Volta on Twitter in early 2013, as Rodriguez-Lopez had turned his focus to another new group, Bosnian Rainbows, formed around Le Butcherettes vocalist Teri Gender Bender and former Mars Volta drummer Deantoni Parks.
This torrid backstory clearly was not lost on the crowd at the Observatory's sold-out show on Sunday night, based on the smattering of At The Drive-In and Mars Volta shirts noticeable throughout the room. Anyone that arrived expecting to feast on nearly two decades of past accomplishments, however, instead had to reckon with Antemasque's vibrant, urgent present.
Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez made headlines in April with the announcement of their new band and self-titled album, created with some help from Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, who provided the low end on De-Loused in the Comatorium, the first full-length Mars Volta album. The 10-track Antemasque record, which runs a scant 35 minutes, is a punk rock gut punch notable for a level of simplicity that had been lost in the pair's later, Volta-based efforts. Recorded with one-time Mars Volta touring drummer Dave Elitch, the album sounds like an extended demo session that was shot into the ether before too much thinking - or overthinking - could derail it.
Flea's bass parts, which pop up on the album like a deranged Whack-A-Mole, were provided by Zechs Marquise bassist Marfred Rodriguez-Lopez (Omar's brother) at the live show, but the electricity between Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez was front and center. Cedric and Omar played a rock-and-roll Penn and Teller, as Bixler-Zavala paused to tell the crowd the story behind nearly every song, paying homage to his parents, grandparents and new children at home. Rodriguez-Lopez, in contrast, let his guitar do the talking, only stepping to the microphone for the occasional backing vocal.
The quartet blasted through a 10-song, hour-long set, which included all but one album track (eschewing only the acoustic ballad "Drown All Your Witches") and one new song. Bixler-Zavala pulled every trick out of his frontman bag: flinging the microphone around his head and his body across the stage, leaping from speaker stacks, holding the mic stand in his teeth and cribbing dance moves from the James Brown master class of ass-shaking.
The songs themselves were largely unchanged from the album until the penultimate song "Providence," when the freak prog flag that flew over the Mars Volta's marathon live shows finally appeared by way of an extended jam. Rodriguez-Lopez riffed and soloed over a looped guitar section while the bass and drums held steady, and Bixler-Zavala let loose with goosebump-inducing falsetto wails that would have left Robert Plant shaking his head in disbelief.
Cedric offered the crowd a half-apology as Antemasque approached the end of their set, saying that the new group was still working out new material and they would be back in town with more soon.
Jack Gorman Le Butcherettes
Antemasque placed the bar high before setting foot on stage by putting Le Butcherettes on as the opening band. Gender Bender, something of a protégé of Rodriguez-Lopez (he produced the first Le Butcherettes LP for his own label and played bass with the group on tour) owned the stage from the moment she walked out, starting the band's set with an a cappella performance joined halfway through by Lia Braswell's beastly drums.
Braswell and Gender Bender, in matching bloodstained aprons, displayed a fiery chemistry comparable to the headliners by pounding through a 45-minute set that would have kept a lesser band from following them altogether. Gender Bender's herky-jerky, C3PO-on-acid stage mannerisms can come off as bizarre, especially when coupled with an occasional devilish grin and her tendency to fling herself and her guitar across the stage. The theatrics paid off in buckets, though, especially since she never missed a note while traveling between keyboard, guitar and lead vocals. Like Antemasque, Le Butcherettes is fearsome to see live, and the future burns brightly for both bands.
Hanging in the Lurch
Rome Armed to the Teeth
Ride Like The Devil's Son
I Got No Remorse
Providence (with extended jam)