Mars Volta : Glasgow Barrowland : Wednesday November 19

So out there, even Dr Who would have a hard time getting to grips with them

Prog Rock. The final frontier. The tie-dyed last taboo. The sound of the joke that’s been taken too far. Yes, prog has spent nigh-on thirty years languishing in (rightful) ridicule, sneered at by the snotty punkers of ’77 and incomprehensible to the intellectually-challenged class of ’03. Yet somehow, prog's back: Jane's Addiction are suddenly cool again, while new boys like Oceansize and Cave In are playing extended guitar solos with a straight face. None of them, however, can even touch Mars Volta.

Their album pitch alone was ridiculous. Imagine the scenes at the record company when they explained their debut was to be a seventy-minute opus dealing with the life, death and comatose mind-battles of their dead mate, told via the medium of spellchecker-crippling song titles and a plot loosely resembling The Matrix Regurgitated. Luckily, though, ‘De-Loused In The Comatorium’, was also one of the albums of the year: a dense, swirling creation that gets inside your head and takes up permanent residency with its fuzzy logic.

Strolling onstage like snake-hipped stickman sex icons, they launch into a furious 'Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)', which frontman Cedric Bixler greets with a gravity-defying backflip. A backflip. Then guitarist Omar Rodriguez throws his guitar behind his back so violently that he chokes himself. The whole song floats back down into our meagre Earth stratosphere after twenty minutes. Twenty minutes, ladies and gentlemen. That's a whole five minutes longer than The Star Spangles' career span. Not that tonight is all about endless noodling. OK, not just endless noodling. ‘Cicatriz ESP’ may last slightly longer than routine brain surgery, but it’s played with all the amphetamine-fuelled power of a million garage rock bands. Then there's ‘Televators’. The shortest and quietest thing in their (ahem) canon, it’s not the last song they play tonight, but contains an apocalypse-inducing climax which means it might as well be. It’s also so damn heartstopping that even the tanked-up football fans at the bar can’t help but turn their heads in wonder.

Mind expanded to the size of a small cosmos, it's going to be difficult to come back down and face the grim reality of the bus-ride home. From boldly strutting where no band has strutted before, to the number 62 back to Faifley. Still, even bepermed cosmic space-prog journeymen have to return to Earth occasionally.

Barry Nicolson
7 / 10

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