The Mars Volta Got Loud and Weird at the Uptown

Photo by Ben Allen

Last updated on September 27th, 2023 at 07:28 am

The Mars Volta descended on Minneapolis like some kind of weird spaceship, and a Twin Cities audience packed into the new Uptown Theater to hear what the visitors had to say.

Let’s just get this out of the way: it was great. They were awesome. What a ride! I didn’t really know what to expect because this was my first Mars Volta experience, but I will make an effort to ensure it isn’t my last.

Genres are already a messy endeavor, even when it’s seemingly clear-cut, like “Led Zeppelin is rock and roll.” But when bands continuously work more and more influences into the soup that is their catalog, categorizing them is like trying to find Jesus’ likeness in spin art. Take the Beatles: a rock band, except when they weren’t, which was most of the time because they are also part pop, part Ravi Shankar, part hymnal.

Photo by Ben Allen

The soup of Mars Volta’s catalog is not simple; it is all over the place. Sometimes it’s crooning, sometimes it’s metal, other times it sounds like Led Zeppelin’s rock. During the show, I got the feeling like I was riding in a car with the kind of person who can’t stop changing the radio station, over and over. Normally I abhor such rides, but in this case, the band magically pulled it off.

And we need to talk about the elephant in the room: lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s microphone gymnastics. He put his mic in constant motion for nearly the entire show, launching it out to the left of his body, yanking on the cable to bring it back in a glorious arc, and snapping it back into his right hand. When he decided to use the mic stand, he put that into constant motion.

Photo by Ben Allen

I was a little upset that I didn’t get to shoot from directly in front of the stage, but after seeing how much ground the mic covered at varying velocities, I was relieved to be at a safer distance.

Le Butcherettes kicked things off for the night, with lead singer Teri Gender Bender and her three bandmates showing up in matching rainbow unicorn onesies. The band has long-time ties to the headliner, having been produced by Volta’s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and with two of his brothers in the lineup.

Photo by Ben Allen

Gender Bender has a big stage presence, displaying a wild set of full-body gestures, and interacting with the crowd like she was one of them.

The Le Butcherettes’ songs were quick, hard, and loud. They didn’t seem to take themselves too seriously at any point, with band members reacting to Gender Bender’s high kicks, back bends, and various shenanigans with laughs and smiles.

Photo by Ben Allen

Between songs, the banter was strictly in Spanish, which was new to me. I’ve seen artists trade between English and another language, but not avoid English entirely. Gender Bender wasn’t providing basic directions or rudimentary greetings, so I was firmly out of the loop, but I have no problem with that. If I had been a little better at hustling, I would have managed to learn the language and avoided being such a disappointment to my Spanish teachers.

Gender Bender wasn’t the only one who stuck to Spanish; between songs, Bixler-Zavala remained in his native tongue to speak with the crowd. This is America after all, where we speak whatever we want when we talk to our people.

Written by Ben Allen

I tell the story of the energy transfer between people who play music and that music's listeners. I photograph and write about festivals and concerts, which I've attended for three decades. I'm also the tall guy you probably got stuck behind at a show. First concert: Nirvana at Roy Wilkins Auditorium, Dec 1993. Yes, I am old. Tall and old.


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