Gig: ‘The Mars Volta’ – “Festival Hall”
There’s sunlight streaming in my eyes. Half-past-seven-sunset beckons from the great beyond, a pale gold evanescence – ethereal blue surrounds.
Its beams of light are warm; balmy, not a cloud in sight.
Machines rage past, up and over the bridge, baying from the street-sides and intersections. We’re caught midst the havoc of the dying peak hour, as day slowly turns to night by inner-city Melbourne. Etihad towers just beside, now new-age monolith to sport-fanatics, complete with false-idol worship and grandstands for prayer.
But tonight it’s just as dead as the sidewalk, and I’m reminded by The Doors track:
“… People Are Strange.”
All manner of folk creep out, up and over, piling on the concrete-asphalt cityscape. So by now we’re waiting by another set of lights, Southern Cross behind, as cars stream past aimlessly. From here we can already see the stubby tail of eager fans, piled by the doors unevenly as we’re left to stand for close to ten-minutes for the walking-green-man to appear. Not as many as we’d hoped, but an alright-crowd of 2-3-and-a-half-thousand, by-and-by; but it doesn’t seem that way from the exterior.
This is Festival Hall.
Externally, nothing particularly memorable: standard building design, square in shape with a smoky-black finish, seated comfortably by an under/overpass [who would’ve guessed?] The crowd says otherwise by its numbers, but the gig belongs to The Mars Volta. We’re bees drawn to honey, and the honey tastes so sweet – eighty-buck tickets, over-eighteen privileges, complete with bar, beer and centre-front access. Door 6 attracts the most attention, with a number of fans around its entrance; the early-bookers, the die-hards, who for them this is a must. Then there are the others: lingerers, the wanderers, the drifters – heard something was going down, the old:
“… Sure, I’m free Monday.”
… Situation. Legs-eleven seems small in comparison as I idle by the handrail, a three-metre drop below, cars pushing over-sixty-something as they fly past. And we’re waiting, counting down the minutes as the bouncers guard the entranceways, stern faces in day-glow yellow vests that look like street signs, or lampposts. It’s only five-minutes, but by then they’re hustling everyone inside, scanning tickets, faces – ID for the underage, the brats who want in on mosh-pit action, too young to realise the implications and eventual future-repercussions for such an experience. Better still to leave these so-called ‘wonders’ to their imagination, not yet spoilt by reality and its countless disappointments.
What you don’t breathe, you don’t see at your GP, and so forth – a standard rule-of-thumb: what you don’t see, you will never know, it won’t come back to bite you in the ass in the years to come.
Ignorance may be bliss, in this circumstance, for both parties.
Gig’s sweet: a balcony for the kiddies, a grandstand for the unlucky others, seating and the likes. But they’re too far to feel the fuzzy air, and their too far to smell it, and their too far to see anything worthwhile. I’m just about sorry for them, despite the hazardous experience I’m about to endeavour through. It’s the exhilaration, the burning feeling in your chest, the throbbing in your ears, and the almighty thrill that exerts itself upon you at the very peak of musical insanity. This is what drives, and is deep at the heart of all Volta-enthusiasts.
Speakers hang from the rooftop; there must be ten in a string, twenty in a group altogether: multiply by six, and you’ve got yourself enough amplitude to throw open the gates of hell, swing yourself in and dance until you’re deaf.
“… What a lovely way to burn.”
Teenagers and children alike have an innate ability to hear some of the highest sound frequencies possible, compared to the average adult who’s matured to such an extent where they’ve become totally inaudible; like hearing Bat-sonar or the squeals of Dolphins, it’s always the kids and never the parents. Inevitably, these are lost at some point in our lives, and for those attending in the pit; they were stolen pre-emptively one way or another during the course of the night.
We’re standing around for about an hour-and-a-half, chugging beer. Already the floor’s littered with cans and water bottles. Couples cling to one and other, arm in arm, wide-eyed and alert. A few stagehands scurry between instruments, flinging picks at each other during brief interludes where the band seems to delay, and delay, and delay. By now, my feet are killing me – those seats are looking might comfy. I’m three, maybe four metres from the stage, nice spot right in front of all the action. And at first there’s plenty of space, plenty of air, you can breathe, it’s all alright. Some mindless banter here, some merchandising there, and soon enough, around eight-thirty, nine, the band appears complete with all members: Cedric Bixler-Zavala as lead singer and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, the infamous Hendrix-reincarnate on lead guitar, among their hired-guns.
“… So this is their new percussionist,”
“… Yes, Omar fired the other one,” Michael Hodder smiles.
They all appear, curly-haired, tall, skinny men with afros. They’re bean-poles in comparison to my broad-shouldered self, with my long wavy hair, full-face. I’m standing straight ahead, hands by my sides, hat on head, patiently waiting for my three-hour entertainment.
And so it begins…
A sudden sound: their bass buzzes in the air, the drums explode in all directions as Omar’s riffs are swallowed in the night. By now, the crowd is so tightly packed together, that there isn’t any room to move. You can only just raise your hands over your head, to applaud, to signal, to reach-out. Hot, sweaty bodies are packed against one-and-other, the temperature becomes unbearable. People sweat next to you; they jump up and down, led by some internal calling.
But I am standing, waiting…
It is so loud at first that all elements of music and song are lost in the wake of sound that springs forth and plunges into your ears. Banshees bury themselves beside your brain as their incessant screaming rings through the acclimatising sound; numbness ensues, a bubble forms, and after a few songs, it is perfect.
Sound ripples through the mass, you can feel it in your bones; hearts are beating in unison with the heavy thud of percussion, heads are thrashing from the metal-freaks and the ordinaries, now blood-brothers for the sake of music. The stage is enveloped by a tumour of bodies. Cigarettes, booze and else mix together, forming a potent cocktail of stimulation, depression, as the uninvited cousins angst and fury tag along for the bumpy ride.
A hot, riding body bounces next to me, another simple plebe caught up in the wave of hysteria and unnatural euphoria drawn out by the carton of cigarettes that make up the air, among other things. His sweat mixes with my own, I feel a sudden urge to push him away, but the crowd acts on my behalf. They nudge us backwards, and we hold them forwards. The music is driving us all insane, as the guitar squeals in the distance, and the drums beckon us onwards. Cedric comes between the rails and the people, he reaches out, like some forsaken angel teasing us mortals for sheer pleasure. At this, the crowd becomes dangerous – people push in front of each other, squeeze between the legs, as hands reach up, out, over, below, behind, all for famous-touch. The pigs circle us like hungry wolves, an extra fifty in the pay-check for each arrest.
The musicians themselves are calm, relaxed – they are in control and at the right times, have the bidding of the entire audience at their command, with potential to riot and overthrow authority. But suddenly their instruments become more than just their apparatus for display. We are given a glimpse into their minds – before us, they are flaunting the very voices in their head, the very riffs at the backbone of each song, the speed, the tempo, delivering us an awe-inspiring expression of soulful music, for we are their medium of its success and appreciation. Here, we see the birthplace of “Teflon” and the likes, the creators, gods in their own right.
The microphone becomes an extension of Cedric himself, as he whips it into submission, flailing it helplessly around his arms and legs, into the air, and around his wrist, words trapped in the loudening acoustics of the hall. Although his lips move, the lyrics are lost – nevertheless, for the chorus, we are his voice instead. Much the same, Omar’s guitar becomes a third arm, as the percussionist’s sticks are an extra set of hands.
Cedric is dancing about, shouting enthusiastically, and at one point as he speaks soulfully, he is looking out into the crowd…
I see him, he sees me. Perhaps a person behind, perhaps a person ahead, or beside – I think to myself – but I am sure that for a brief three seconds, the words are directed at me, as he gives me the essence of his music and a part of its spirit. He is like a shaman, the first to be entranced, and we are his followers, waiting for divinity. I feel it wash over me. The music comes into perspective, and I find that my eyes deceive me, distract me from its beauty. I am closing them now, caught up in all the screeching. Through the chaos, this burning mind-fire, the complexity of riff and rhythm and space in-between has me in a daze, hypnotised, elsewhere, distant.
I cannot feel my body, my hands, my legs – no pain, no thought. There’s no room to think, to sing, to express, to see and to interpret, as we become simple vessels for The Mars Volta itself.
A quick dip out for a bottle of water and the pit is history. The crowd has thinned out closer to the exit. Despite, the music is still loud everywhere and I find myself drawn closer towards it, helplessly. By the rail and under the speakers, I slowly immerse myself in the growing climax of the gig’s ending, assimilating all its eccentricities, its foibles, its wonders and potential as I slowly but surely drown. A hazy, deep vibration pulses through my body – Omar and Cedric dip out for coffee, water, the likes as their bassist takes a solo for the record-books, captivating all for five-minutes or so.
And so it ends…
After a few more tracks, a distant wave from the band, they saunter off and out of view. The crowd is begging, on its knees wanting more. A few claps, to the growing chanting, demands an encore. But as the lights come on, and the noise is all but gone, we scamper like rats outside; it is over, and what a night to behold.
[Cheers to the band for such an awesome night – almost didn’t get my hearing back, but it was well worth a night of deafness. If anyone can post pictures of the band, much obliged: our crappy little phone-camera wasn’t good enough.]