The Mars Volta are the sort of band who could take an otherwise-innocuous tourbus anecdote about misplacing their Moroccan nasal flautist in a Little Chef toilet on an M8 lay-by and turn it into a 75-minute musical odyessy of metaphysical proportions. That skewed vision of the world is what makes them so interesting on record – and their new one, ‘The Bedlam In Goliath’, is their best yet – but live, some may find them the wankiest band this side of the River Styx.
Only a fool would go to a Mars Volta gig and not expect vast swathes of it to recreate a Grateful Dead soundcheck circa 1979. They centre around 10-minute instrumental shamanic interludes that punctuate the set the same way commas interrupt an unwieldy sentence; that is, a lot. At times these ridiculous improvs can be genuinely thrilling, like when frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala starts dancing as though trying to channel the spirit of Jim Morrison, his Susannah Hoffs-style barnet bobbing wildly amid swirls of psychedelic colour as he screams like a pre-menstrual banshee who’s just lost her Travelcard. At other times they can be tiresome and overwrought. Musically, it’s never less than technically awesome, but it’s hard to escape the feeling the band are having more fun than anybody else.
That’s not to say it’s one long, self-gratifying jazzwank, however. Tunes such as the deceptively funky ‘Agadez’ serve to remind you that when they’re on form, not only can The Mars Volta write properly great songs but – as on a leviathan-sized ‘Ouroboros’ – they are also able to make them sound like Led Zeppelin railing against God on the battlefields of Armageddon.Ultimately though, you may find yourself able to wander off for a pint, a piss and a fag without having missed anything too earth shaking. Which is a shame, because with a little selective self-editing, this could be one of the greatest rock’n’roll shows you’ll ever see. ‘The Bedlam In Goliath’ is already one of our albums of the year, but sadly justice isn’t really done to it tonight.