Saturday night concluded At The Drive In’s two-night residency at the Warfield, and it did not fall short of expectations.
Lots of questions arose about the post-rock band from Texas who unexpectedly broke up in 2001 during the pinnacle of their career. Would they have that same raucous energy that defined them sixteen years ago? Would their hearts really be in it? There were rumblings that this was a watered-down version, with Jim Ward pulling out of the tour last minute due to undisclosed health issues, or that they were Mars Volta 2.0 (singer Cedric Bixler and guitarist Omar Rodríguez successful predecessor). For those who didn’t get the privilege of seeing them before their demise, this was At The Drive-In’s chance to repair the inexplicable demise.
At the Drive In did play a number of festivals in 2012 but weren’t officially reunited. For a band who grew up together at the age of seventeen to suddenly reunite in their thirties, they may have needed to recapture those growing pains and spend time together to become a band again. Whatever it was, in those four years they recaptured the intensity.
There was an undeniable excitability at the Warfield with years of anticipation finally about to be satisfied. The stage was draped with orange amplifiers and two banners on each side of the stage, one reading the phrase “become yourself,” a mantra the band has grown into. At The Drive-In took the stage in dramatic fashion, with all the members sporting black garb, while Omar and Cedric rocked their infamous afros that become a trademark of the band’s image. They immediately broke into the song “Arcarsenal” from 2000’s Relationship of Command. Cedric circled the stage, twirling the microphone by its chord while it kicking it back up to his hands before singing the chorus. The crowd was going crazy, jumping up and down while their fans sang along to every word. It had been sixteen years since the band had officially toured, or played any modest venues that weren’t festivals, and it took about sixteen seconds before the nostalgia erased that missed time. At The Drive-In proved that what they achieved back then was something special, and indisputably timeless.
The band powered through a high energy set while Cedric maintained his vigor, climbing on top of speakers, spinning on the ground and commanding the mic stand like a ballroom dancer. Cedric has perfected the art of the front man, captivating the crowd with his words as much as his actions. Somewhat cynical and ironic, he spoke with honesty, professing after two songs, “I’m losing my voice, but I still want to party with you. The ugly ones, the beautiful ones and the ones that hacked my account” before breaking into “Sleepwalk Capsules.” He was also a bit sentimental, confiding to the crowd the impact and inspiration their children have had on their lives, recalling a story from his childhood when all he wanted to do was dance and breakdance but was heavily scrutinized. “It shouldn’t be a cliché to reach for the stars,” he said, “You take those little people and you teach them to be cosmonauts!”
Cedric embodied the energy of the entire band while Omar was flawless on the guitar, solidifying himself as one of the elite and innovative guitarists of this decade. This wasn’t by any stretch Mars Volta 2.0, but he did flash his talent, incorporating a glimpse of their psychedelic influence in an improved jam during the ballad “198d” from their album Vaya while lending even more exaggerated leads on the heavy hitting song “Quarantine.” Keeley Davis, ex Sparta guitarist, filled in nicely for Jim Ward, replicating Ward’s guitars as well as his contrasting raspy vocals. The rhythm section was especially strong, with Grammy award winning bassist Paul Hinojos quietly having an amazing career, having played with At The Drive-In, Sparta and the Mars Volta, and drummer Tony Hajjar really honing his craft, standing toe to toe with any of the outstanding drummers that Cedric and Omar had recruited for the Mars Volta.
It’s hard to narrow down the shows best moments, as every song they played carried their own unique sentiments. The show wasn’t just emotional for the crowd, but for the band as well. Cedric dedicated the song “Napoleon Solo” to their encounters with death throughout their musical careers, and the bittersweet encore, playing “One Armed Scissors” with every member of the crowd on their feet emphatically singing along word for word. This show proved this wasn’t just a reunion out of boredom, or financial burdens. They answered the questions and doubts, and sincerely wanted to clear the air with explanation through music. “Sixteen years later these fuckin people still care,” Cedric said through the roaring applause. It was evident that the fans weren’t the only ones who cared, as members of the band tossed picks and drumsticks to the crowd, Cedric stood on the stage through the ending lights and music, taking the time to recognize every person who came out to support them even after all these years.