Over the past five years, I’ve covered a lot of shows and learned a great deal about concert photography along the way. And while there are so many bands that I’m looking forward to shooting in the coming months, I’d be remiss if I didn’t look back at past shows every once in a while. So for the shows that make me say “I wish I’d been doing Dangit Bee! when this happened,” I give you: FLASHBACK.
Let us journey on this inaugural edition allllll the way back to September 30, 2022. I know – that’s not long ago at all. But the night was significant. It was my first time shooting with a photo pass since March of 2020 (that is a very long time).
It was also the night that I finally got to shoot The Mars. Fucking. Volta.
I’m not going to bore you with anecdotes about this band and my respective fanship, but suffice it to say that for years my apartment walls were boring and barren with the exception of four frames that each housed a poster from a Mars Volta show that I’d attended. They were (and still are) proud reminders of the spiritual experience that is seeing The Mars Volta live. In other words, I like this band a lot.
This tour was to be The Mars Volta’s first since disbanding in 2012, and anticipation was at a fever pitch for the plethora of fans, myself included, who thought this day would never come. The stop in New York City consisted of two back-to-back nights at Terminal 5 with support from Teri Gender Bender, and I was to be covering night two.
Prior to the show, I learned that the photo pit would be closed, which meant that I would need to shoot my photos from the crowd. Terminal 5 is abound with obstructed views and crowded spaces, so I knew I needed to be strategic. I cannot stress this enough: I (and 99.9% of other concert photographers) never want to shoot photos of a performance at the expense of a fan’s enjoyment of the show. In some situations, this being one of them, you don’t really have much of a choice. If I shoot from the crowd, I’m going to have to reach over my head to get a lot of my shots, and that means blocking the view of people behind me. Stress triggered.
Well, as fate would have it, as soon as I walked inside Terminal 5, I noticed a space in front of a large column to the right of the stage. I was able to position myself so the column was directly behind me, effectively preventing my camera, or myself for that matter, from blocking anyone’s view. Stress relieved.
Standing at this location did set me back a bit from the stage, however. Not too far, but enough to where I felt the need to throw on my 70-200mm for some extra comfort right before Teri Gender Bender’s set.
When it comes to live performers, Teri Gender Bender – real name Teresa Suárez Cosío – is one of the very best. Cosío commands the stage during her songs with a thrashing intensity all the while maintaining a timid graciousness in the breaks between them. She is as much a performance artist as she is a musician, and she excels tremendously at both.
A performer as dynamic and captivating as Teri Gender Bender makes it hard to pull the camera away. As a result, I did not give the other members of her band, all of whom are incredibly talented and worthy of photo attention in their own right, enough camera time.
Here’s a quick concert photography best practice for you to know (and a reminder to myself): it’s all about the cycle. Get shots of one band member, move on to the next and continue until you’ve covered everyone. Then cycle through the members again and again over the course of the set.
This is an approach that makes more sense to adopt in theory than in practice. You don’t have to be robotic in your approach – just focus on the awareness. Omitting or largely ignoring a band member is a mistake often only realized upon import of the photos (i.e. when it’s far too late), and incorporating the cycle into your workflow can help mitigate the risk of that happening. Anyway, I digress.
Teri Gender Bender’s setlist consisted of songs from the, by my count, 12 (!) EPs that she released in 2022, and included “syria ignore“, a personal favorite of mine from her EP, “erik, even he found it to be obscene.” The band ended with a bow as the crowd pushed forward, desperate to be close to the stage for The Mars Volta.
It wasn’t until the house lights went dark and prolific duo Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodríguez-López took the stage that it connected in my mind that this was actually happening. For the first time in over a decade, I was about to experience rock in its purest, most face-melting, most mind-bending form.
The Mars Volta opened with “Vicarious Atonement”, a slow and intimate start to the set that I very much appreciated because, in addition to loving the song, it allowed me some peace to focus on getting my shots. Did I remember the cycle this time? A minor improvement from Teri Gender Bender’s set, but still didn’t exactly practice what I’m preaching here.
The relaxed energy and stillness in the room changed on a dime the moment that “Vicarious Atonement” morphed into “Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)”. Then all hell broke loose. The lights were flashing, the band was moving, the crowd was dancing. Suddenly, getting my shots was a bit more challenging.
Major props to the photographer-friendly fans around me that offered protection from the rapidly expanding mosh pit as I tried to ride the wave of the crowd and frame my shots as best as I could. Thankfully the Volta jams were extensive so I had plenty of time to get the job done. Feeling confident that I got everything that I needed, I packed my camera away and buckled up for the rest of the show. And what a show it was.
First of all, the setlist. Wow. Sure, I would have loved to have heard “Frances The Mute”, 4 minutes of dissonant clanging noises included (seriously), but the setlist for this tour is unreal.
Given that The Mars Volta are touring to support their new self-titled album, many fans, myself included, were expecting the set to consist primarily of new material. Instead, the band reminisced on their entire discography and practically played “Deloused in the Comatoruium” in its entirety. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed hearing the new songs live, but after ten years, it was amazing to hear the classics again.
Second, the band, which notably consisted of a handful of new members (including Josh Moreau filling in for veteran bassist Eva Gardner), was incredibly tight. The evolved sextet played each song with comfort and precision, showcasing their individual talents while maintaining a unified front throughout.
This show was everything that I hoped it would be and more. The Mars Volta recently announced a new string of U.S tour dates and if you’re in any of those cities, going is an absolute must. Hell, I may join you!