Mars Volta electrifies the crowd

By Scott McLennan
Globe Correspondent / October 9, 2009

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The Mars Volta no longer plays three-hour shows with ever-evolving set lists, which some have taken to mean that the band has lost its experimental edge. Don’t buy that argument. During a 90-minute performance Wednesday at the House of Blues, the Mars Volta electrified the surroundings by combining wildly imaginative song arrangements with deadly accurate musical execution.

Since last visiting Boston, the Mars Volta has trimmed two members, but the remaining sextet of guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, singer Cedric Bixler Zavala, drummer Thomas Pridgen, bassist Juan Alderete, keyboard player Ikey Owens, and keyboard and percussion player Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez filled the spaces just fine.

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez in particular stretched out, both in the frenetic explosions that punctuate many songs and in the few quieter, spacey passages that brought fresh contrast and contours to the band’s live show.

The Mars Volta drew from all of its albums, opening the show with “Son et Lumiere’’ and “Inertiatic ESP,’’ a mashup of Latin rhythms, pulse-quickening time signatures, guitar convulsions, and cryptic lyrics delivered in haunting howl.

The band has been refining those core elements all along. The current iteration, “Octahedron,’’ presents fewer layers per song, though is not short on great material for the live show. “Cotopaxi,’’ with its King Crimson-like coda, was a highlight of the concert’s early goings. And the usually taciturn Zavala took a moment from his manic dancing and mule-kicking to tell the crowd that the menacing “Teflon’’ is in response to the new world order.

While a flurry of mind-bending guitar solos from Rodriguez-Lopez is expected at a Mars Volta show, the solos tossed in this night by Pridgen and Alderete supplied additional punch.

The highlight of the show came not with a shot of bombast but when the band crafted a dark, moody jam out of the loping “Roulette Dares.’’

For the most part, the Mars Volta played its show like it was wielding a scalpel during delicate surgery. The soft landing finale of “The Widow’’ and “Wax Simulacra,’’ though, seemed anticlimactic after a monstrous rendition of “Luciforms.’’ Still, plenty of peaks were scaled.

THE MARS VOLTA At: the House of Blues, Wednesday

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