July 21, 2000
London Camden Underworld
It's a gig you have to be at.
First things first. Cedric - the man with the explosive Afro, tattooed arms and thousand-yard stare - has just rammed his hand into his mouth and is trying to bite it off. A second later, he hurls himself to the floor and starts to wrap his mic lead around his neck. A second after that, he's arcing through the air in the throes of a flailing kung-fu kick. To his right, Omar - the man with the explosive Afro and glasses - lifts his guitar into the air and charges from one side of the stage to the other. As the night's first song snaps shut, a vibrating Cedric stops screaming at us and stammers, "As funny as it may seem, we're At The Drive-In."
At The Drive-In are a five-piece from El Paso, Texas. They've been doing this for six years now, but they're still in their early-20s. So far they've released a clutch of seven-inches, one full-length album ('In/Casino/Out') and a devastating seven-track EP ('Vaya'). Their music - an explosive, precision-plotted assault on the sounds of Fugazi, Nirvana and the MC5 - is the most brutally exciting thing to come out of America in the last five years.
People Stateside certainly think so, anyway. At The Drive-In recently signed a deal with the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal label, and have just finished doing arena shows with Rage Against The Machine. They've also completed a new LP called 'Relationship Of Command', which finally captures the sheer kinetic fury of their live shows. It's out in the autumn, but in the meantime you should try to get hold of 'One Armed Scissor', their convulsing new single and one of only two songs from their upcoming album that they'll perform tonight.
Despite that, it's still one of the most relentlessly thrilling spectacles NME has seen in years. At The Drive-In might have their roots in the traditionally po-faced world of the US emo/hardcore scene, but they completely destroy all the other bands currently operating in that genre. For a start, they look brilliant. A shuddering blur of hair and tattoos, they take the showmanship of Rocket From The Crypt and the Make Up, and multiply it by a thousand. They're a never-ending freakshow of tics and wild abandon. Cedric never stops moving, one minute attempting to mount Omar, the next shoving the microphone in his mouth.
The music's not bad either. As Cedric spews forth streams of furious, surreal consciousness, the rest of the band rip through a series of vibrating, super-tight feedback assaults, the way only Americans can. On 'Arc Arsenal' and '198d', their guitars sound like an army of chattering dinosaurs, the rest of the time it's like someone's just blown a hole through your eye-socket. They end with a song called 'Napoleon Solo' from their first album. Cedric has made his hand into a puppet and he's screaming at it. As the song lurches towards its inevitable meltdown, he jams two fingers in his open mouth and pulls it wide apart. The feedback swells and, suddenly, it's all over.
At The Drive-In calmly exit stage left. They won't be back until Reading. It's a gig you have to be at.
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