The "Amputechture" Era
After five years of nearly non-stop touring with Jon Theodore at the drummer's throne The Mars Volta were faced with a conundrum. Despite him recording for Amputechture, Jon and the group had split prior to the beginning of the supporting tour. This left Omar and Cedric, the principle band leaders, with a relatively massive challenge of finding a permanent replacement for him. The logical step forward, so it appeared, was to go backwards and call into action Blake Flemming, the initial drummer for the group who had recorded the earliest demos. Although Blake had not lasted long, citing the overly chaotic nature of the group, his DNA remained in The Mars Volta's early works and his return to the group appeared to be a natural fit. Early shows such as the one at The Catalyst on August 7th are a testament to this, as the band, now joined permanently by Paul Hinojos, seemed to be firing on all cylinders and led fans to believe that the band had not lost any of their momentum, even going so far as to debut France The Mute, the song. An appearance on The Henry Rollins Show early on also gave viewers a glimpse of this new powerhouse line-up and the blissful chaos it could make with a frightening wild take on Tetragrammaton and a funky rendition of The Day of the Baphomets.
While the earliest shows showed promise, cracks in the foundation began to form fast. The Mars Volta tend to struggle in the supporting role, which is where they found themselves for the majority of their United States tour. The opening act has always been a perilous act for The Mars Volta, their shows rely heavily on the ability to stretch their legs and play how they want for as long as they want, and while headlining acts such as Tool and System of a Down may have brought them along due to their adoration for their adventurous sound, often times they have struggled with connecting to the audience who had not paid money to see them necessarily. When opening for System of a Down, or A Perfect Circle this was less of an issue, but in 2006 they had the herculean task of appealing to fans of The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Bridging that gap proved to be too much for the group as the truncated shows lacked the initial ferocity and power that was displayed in those few early solo days of the tour. Apparently the gap between futuristic space rock and rooted funk party rock was too wide. Fans recount muted, annoyed, and disinterest audiences; forced to stare in dismay as the era of the smart phone had not yet granted them the ability to be easily tuned-out. These truncated performances also denied the band the ability to really showcase their chops, their new line-up, or new songs as just performing Tetragrammaton ate up nearly a third of their on-stage time. Still, to say it was all a wash is to deny that some highly regarded shows came out of this leg of the tour such as at the TD Banknorth Garden, and a rather infamous show in Toronto where a sick Cedric meant the band played a 45 minute purely instrumental show with John Frusciante which featured a ripping cover of Pink Flyod's Interstellar Overdrive.
Blake's time in the band was short-lived, reasons for such are shrouded in mystery, rumor, and hearsay. The band, for the second time in a year without a drummer, frantically tapped in Deantoni Parks to wrap up the United States tour, the festival circuit, and a brief hop-over in Japan. Parks, at this point a nearly unknown monster of the New York music scene, was the desperate shot of adrenaline the band needed to keep afloat for those brief critical months that he could commit to. Shows during Parks' initial truncated tenure nearly all played about the same: a stomping rendition of Rapid Fire Tollbooth which would launch into a largely monstrous instrumental number that would last anywhere from twenty to seventy minutes featuring multiple unique movements and potentially close with Viscera Eyes and Day of the Baphomets. Although surely even more perplexing to audience members who were simply waiting to hear a fruitful rendition of Give It Away, those who had come for The Mars Volta's opening antics lauded Parks as a dynamic and creative drumming force and this new unknown musical number. It was not unheard of for the band to test unreleased material in the live setting, meaning fans were left wondering if this was all a preview for the fourth album. Performances at Corona Music Festival, Vegoose Music Festival, and Zepp Tokyo all showcase this number at its best and most dynamic with Corona being a pro-recorded festival performance that was never officially broadcasted.
Parks would leave after only a small handful of shows, eager to return to his obligations as the drummer for the art-dance-rock outfit KUDU, which featured future Omar collaborator, Nicci Kasper. Once again, the band was in need of a new drummer. With a spring Australian tour coming, the band was gain tasked with filling the throne. Fortunately, a one-off show in Ohio in 2006 introduced the band to Thomas Pridgen, an up-and-coming drumming prodigy molded in the Berklee School of Music. Thomas was deemed worthy of further trials and was brought along for the remainder of the Amputechture tour, a quick jaunt through Australia and a few homecoming shows in California. For a band that was now on it's third drummer of the tour, it was astonishing how alive and powerful they sounded. Although die-hard fans may critique his loose nature and bombastic interpretations of older works, Thomas undeniably injected a healthy amount of power into a band that nearly months ago appeared to be on life-support. The still unreleased Rapid-Fire Tollbooth nearly doubled in length as it sprouted a fierce coda, a mysterious new song titled Idle Tooth (which would later become Wax Simulacra) made its debut, and fan favorites such as Drunkship of Lanterns, Roulette Dares and Cicatriz ESP returned to the setlist with riff heavy jams and raging solos. At least one of these shows was professionally recorded although despite one song, the material of which has never seen the light of day. The California shows concluded what was a tumultuous and often chaotic tour, but fans were reminded there was plenty of life left in the group.
A one-off show in Japan billed as the Omar Rodriguez-Lopez group served as the connecting fibers between this tour and the explosive The Bedlam in Goliath tour. The show, nearly featuring the complete The Mars Volta line-up, provided the initial glimpse into what would be coming in the future, featuring a fully fleshed out version of Rapid-Fire Tollbooth with a nearly fully structured version of the coda that would find its way onto Goliath in just 6 months.
Despite it's problems the Amputechture tour proved The Mars Volta was able to overcome obstacles that would have completely routed lesser bands. The body blows may have caused apparent damage, as the shows never quite rose to the quality as seen just a year prior, but it is undeniable some fantastic performances were had with near legendary one-off moments.