Last September, after waiting and hoping for more than a decade, The Mars Volta released a new album and embarked on a national tour. The tour stopped in New York City for two sold-out performances at Terminal 5 and I was fortunate enough to experience them both.
Yet somehow seeing the band two nights back to back didn’t feel like enough. I would have happily gone a third time, and a fourth – and so on. The setlist was the same but the songs themselves were not. The jams and experimental tangents that tied the songs together and to each other were and are a byproduct of the band’s connection in that moment, on that stage, feeling the energy from that crowd. Every night is unique, therefore, and to that end no amount of times will ever feel like enough.
Nearly one year later to the day from those shows (minus one week), The Mars Volta and Teri Gender Bender returned to New York City, this time stopping across the river at the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn. I was thrilled to add a sixth tally mark to my “Mars Volta show count” and even more so that I would again be bringing my camera along to capture the performance.
Teri Gender Bender (Teresa Suárez Cosío) and her backing band took the stage wearing matching unicorn outfits complete with horned hoods. Their vibrant and playful attire masked an underlying darkness musically that made its presence known over the course of the set. Cosío’s interlude monologues coupled with the various vocal processing and textures added by the band created a chilling atmosphere, the tension broken only by the song that it preceded.
I noted in my review last year how hypnotizing Cosío is as a performer. I have seen her live a number of times, playing in Le Butcherettes, Bosnian Rainbows, and as a solo act, and I have always been fascinated by her ability to deliver a uniquely unforgettable performance every single time. Tonight was no exception.
Teri Gender Bender’s set drew heavily from their Catspeak EP released earlier this year and was capped off by “syria ignore,” a personal favorite of mine from their 2022 EP, “erik, even he found it to be obscene.”
Taking the stage in low light and pouring fog, The Mars Volta began mysterious, dissonant sounds emerging from the amps as the percussion of Linda-Philomène Tsoungui and Marcel Rodriguez-López added to the mystique. The sounds gave way to the first notes of “Vicarious Atonement,” the crowd roaring in excitement when their ears connected the dots.
Frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala sounded spectacular, his vocals echoing through Kings Theatre accompanied and accented by the intricate guitar stylings of Omar Rodriguez-López. The ethereal nature of the “Vicarious Atonement” brought you into a trance but “Roulette Dares (The Haunt of),” which came next, served as the wake up call.
Just like that, the energy in the room exploded. The band, and the crowd for that matter, was going nuts. Kings Theatre is a primarily seated venue, and while the seats had occupants they remained empty as the crowd didn’t dare sit down and miss a single minute of the performance. And that includes the band’s lengthy jams – of which there were many.
The standout jam of the night for me was “Cicatriz ESP.” The musical tangent the band took ventured away from its source to the point where the root song left my mind completely. Then, little by little, they found their way back to the verse, and the crowd roared in approval upon its delivery.
The Mars Volta limited the new material on their setlist to two tracks, “Graveyard Love” and “Shore Story”, while focusing the remainder on their first three albums, “Deloused in the Comatorium,” “Frances The Mute“, and “Amputechture.“
From beginning to end, The Mars Volta’s performance was a religious experience as it always is. The band’s tour will continue for the next few weeks before wrapping at the Fox Theater in Pomona, CA on October 14th.
The instruction for this performance was to shoot from behind the GA pit, so the photographers were positioned a ways back from the stage. This limited the range of shots that I was able to get. I was able to get more versatile perspectives for Teri Gender Bender’s set, as I moved around a lot during their set, but was stationary for The Mars Volta.
The increased frequency by which photographers are asked by bands to shoot from further back is making me eye the RF 100-500mm. It’s a lens that I’ve rented a few times for my Canon R5, and the lens has come in clutch when shooting from a soundboard or a similar distance away. For this show I was limited to my 70-200mm, and kept it extended to 200mm for the majority of the time I was shooting.
Teri Gender Bender and The Mars Volta are the type of bands where the photos take themselves. They create moment after moment as long as you’re quick enough to grab the shot before it passes. This is particularly the case for The Mars Volta, as Cedric Bixler-Zavala moves around the stage whipping his mic cable and tossing his stand; I got a few shots of him in action but don’t feel like I got the “holy shit that’s the one” shot that I was hoping for.
Still, I definitely got some shots that I’m proud of, and it was a blast to have the opportunity to shoot both of these bands again.