Ex-Mars Volta frontmen find new sounds

Former Mars Volta frontmen Omar Rodriguez Lopez and Cedric Bixler Zavala

Omar Rodriguez Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala were the masterminds behind The Mars Volta. The band broke up in January and two have formed new groups: Bosnian Rainbow and Zavalaz.

The Mars Volta broke up in January. And considering the last few albums, it’s probably for the best.

For a while, nothing beat the psychedelic, Spanish-tinged prog-rock. In high school, I couldn’t get enough of De-Loused in the Comatorium or Frances the Mute. I remember driving right past my house on a summer night, Volta blasting through my ’88 Acura speakers, not allowing myself to go home until I got through the few acts of Cassandra Gemini.

Led by the high-pitched Cedric Bixler Zavala and guitar virtuoso Omar Rodriguez Lopez, The Mars Volta split earlier this year when Omar wanted to tour and spend all of his time on a new band, Bosnian Rainbows.

Cedric and Omar have gone their separate ways for now, and Omar brings his incredible musicianship and absolute shredding to more low key, dark and beautiful music. Combined with the vocal talents of Terri Gender Bender, ex-Mars Volta drummer Deantoni Parks and keyboardist Nicci Kasper, they create a sound described as ethereal, yet direct.

The closest music that fits the description is Bat for Lashes, another band that features lush synthesizers, female vocals and layer after layer of atmospheric soundscape.

Cedric has gone his own way too, starting up a new band that couldn’t sound more different. He’s brought along the former Mars Volta bassist Juan Alderete to create a more groove-worthy, classic rock sound.

Ironically, both bands recently toured San Francisco within a week of each other. Zavalaz played Cafe Du Nord on June 21st and Bosnian Rainbows headlined a show at the Great American Music Hall last night, June 28.

I was lucky enough to catch Bosnian Rainbows live last night at the Great American Music Hall, for the second time in a handful of months (the first at The New Parish in Oakland). Lopez’s rapid-fire fingers and deep guitar grooves make him a performer that cannot be missed.

In Bosnian Rainbows, he plays the role of teammate and band member much more than band leader, likely because of the collaborative nature he has mentioned about this group. Omar was basically director of Mars Volta, which tended to mean dictator. The shredding takes a back seat, but is still prominent, and Lopez even lends his voice to a few tracks, something he never did live with the Volta.

Zavalaz, at least on the surface, is the weaker of the two. Cedric is talented, and his omnipresent whines and wild lyrics that thread in and out of Spanish and English lend better to a concept band like The Mars Volta than a straight rock outfit like Zavalaz. I’m eager to see the direction this band goes and whether the sum of the Volta parts is, or is not, greater than the whole.

Stream the entire Bosnian Rainbows on Bandcamp and stay tuned for recordings and more tour dates from Zavalaz.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor concludes SF residency

Members of the "post-rock" group Godspeed You! Black Emperor played a 5 night residency at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall in between weekends performing at Southern California's Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival.

Experiencing the band Godspeed You! Black Emperor, it’s hard to tell where one song starts and another ends.

That’s why, shrouded in darkness except for the eery, vintage film reels projected above them, I barely realized the band had started its performance.

It was about 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 18 at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall when violinist Sophie Trudeau started tuning her violin, and before anyone knew it, the remaining 7 bandmates trickled on stage one by one.

The band was playing a five night residency in between gigs at the two Coachella festival weekends in the Southern California desert.

Anyone lucky enough to get tickets to the five sold out shows at the Great American Music Hall was in for an intimate and visceral audiovisual encounter.

Fast forward 30 minutes and the crowd woke up, providing the first sounds of applause all night.

It’s almost impossible to classify the music created by three to four electric guitars, a cello, violin, drums and percussion.

But the best description I could come up with is that listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor is equivalent to taking a hair dryer to your ears while blasting Beethoven.

The musicians, with no lights on them through the entire performance, weaved in and out of 20-minute dramatic masterpieces, bending and bowing between the whispers of a single violin string and a cacophony of noise.
The noise was, at times, beautiful and melodic. At other times, it was ear-deafening and just plain frightening.
I felt like I was dreaming, until I woke up on a speeding train heading to nowhere.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor, founded in 1994 but on hiatus between 2003 and 2010, derives its name from a 1976 Japanese documentary about a biker gang called The Black Emperors.
The members have a host of interesting side projects as well, including  Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La BandFly Pan AmHṚṢṬA,Esmerine, and Set Fire to Flames.
When a reviewer from Bay Area music blog Spinning Platters caught the band three nights in a row when the band was last in San Francisco in 2010, he had this to say:

Here were not the sunny glories of Sigur Rós, nor the numbing white noise of Mogwai; this was an experience that foretold the end of the world, the beginning of life, and everything in between, with eight musicians sounding like a symphony from worlds beyond.

Check out the SF WEEKLY review for another taste of an obscure, but poignant band.

For a taste of the madness, watch the clip below:

Outside Lands Eager Beaver Tix Sold Out ALREADY


As of 12:36 p.m. Friday March 16, I can’t find any information or news on this other than Ticketmaster continuing to show me “no tickets available.”

Until I check sfoutsidelands.com, where I am saddened with the news that the cheapest and earliest accessible tickets are ALREADY sold out. Tickets went on sale at noon, and by a mere 36 minutes later, I came up empty.

The San Francisco Outside Lands Music Food Wine and Art Festival dates were recently announced — August 10-12, 2012 in Golden Gate Park. The Friday thru Sunday summer festival was offering Eager Beaver three-day passes for $165 and without even seeing the lineup, I was ready to go.

My girlfriend and I attended one year and I joined some friends in going to one day of the inaugural festival in 2008, the one and only time in my life I’ve seen Radiohead.

And the year I went with my girlfriend — 2010 I believe — I experienced Tenacious D. Another all-time favorite band of mine.

Sure, I could pay $52.70 ($42.50 + $10.20 in Ticketmaster fees) to see Tenacious D in Oakland at the Fox Theater on May 24 or $81.75 ($66.50 + $15.25 in Ticketmaster fees) to see Radiohead at the HP Pavilion on April 11. But that’s a lot of dough to stand alongside never-ending throngs of people, not to mention the hassle of transportation and price-gouged corporate parking (at least in the case of the Radiohead show).

So, I pass.

[P.S. Ain’t it cute how Ticketmaster is “transparent” with their fees now? They’re more explicit in showing you the additional amount you’re paying, which is admittedly nice; but still charge absorbitant amounts for no good reason!]

I’ll take a $15 club San Francisco show at Rickshaw Stop, The Independent, Great American Music Hall, Cafe Du Nord or the like any day.

But since moving back to the Bay 6 months ago and public transporting myself around in the city with my lady, Outside Lands is a definite must this year. It beats the Coachella heat, and with no travel expenses and (hopefully) a similarly great lineup, a festival experience tends to be worth it.

It does take energy, stamina and willingness to not get stressed out trying to catch every single band you want to see. But you get up close to the up and comers, and get to say you saw (or at least heard) some of the greats.

Hopefully the next batch of tickets that go on sale aren’t too much more. I’m expecting $199 instead of $165. Yargh.