The "Bedlam" Era
Early 2007's conclusion of the Amputechture supporting tour already provided a sneak peek into what would be coming when the band would reunite in support of their unequivocally most brutal album, The Bedlam in Goliath. The band had been testing the waters of some of the new songs that would appear on that album, specifically Goliath and Wax Simulacra which were billed as Rapid Fire Tollbooth and Idle Tooth, and had been testing an overall more aggressive tone than they had when Jon Theodore was in the band. A one-off show in Japan in the summer of 2007 as the Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group further cemented this transition, a metaphorical burying the original era of the band. In October of 2007, the band began tempting fans with singles and poorly done music videos, taunting an early January release date for their fourth album in five years. Press releases discussed the upcoming release of a haunted, and spiritually evil record, one that ruined a recording studio, sent a recording engineer into madness, and almost pulled the band apart. Fans naturally were drooling at the prospect of what this new record would be.
Fortunately, fans would not have to wait until January to get more tastes of what the coming work would sound. The Mars Volta would announce a New Years Eve performance, one of their most iconic shows of all time, featuring an ominous promotional image online and a thirty second teaser of Metatron, enough to get the hardcore Volta fans to salivate. Two days before this seminal show, the band would test their chops at the Echoplex. Attendees would get their first samplings of Ouroboros, Agadez, Metatron, and Conjugal Burns, the former most featuring a curious opening jam that would never be heard again. The New Year’s Eve show is highly regarded among fans, debuting the very first acoustic set by the band, outside of a sporadic rendition of The Widow, and would be the debut of the first live version of Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore and Since We've Been Wrong, nearly 18 months before it would be heard as the opener to Octahedron. The rest of the show was a marathon session of, showcasing material from all three prior albums along with material from the unreleased Bedlam. Perhaps not fully polished, but when people discuss the “legendary three hour shows” this is certainly a prime example.
The band's tour would officially start in the United States twenty days before the album would officially release, continuing to raise the excitement surrounding its release. In between shows, the band was appearing on a peculiar amount of television and web performances, including a Yahoo! web concert, MTV Canada, and even the David Letterman Show. Although likely an attempt by Universal Record to milk every last dime out of their expiring contract with the band, Volta fans seemed eager to see this behemoth of a line-up get the mainstream attention they were sorely being denied since Deloused. The performances themselves are unremarkable in comparison to proper live recordings but are an interesting curiosity. The cringe inducing interview of the Yahoo! set is worthy of a viewing. It is also amusing to see such an elaborate set-up on the Letterman set just to play the two minute Wax Simulacra.
Early shows still had a slightly rough feel about them, the band adhered to a relatively strict structure as they perfected their sound and continued to acclimate themselves with each other. Thomas had been with the band for nearly a year, but at this time had only played about a dozen shows with the group, versus the multitude Theodore had. Criticisms lobbed at him seemed to fail to understand that while the latter had helped shape the bands formative years, the former was attempting to play catch-up and meld with an already incredibly tight unit. Some songs such as Cygnus....Vismund Cygnus and Tetragrammaton still had a slightly unfocused feeling in these earliest shows and the occasional mistiming is evident with the band slowly starting to fall apart. Astute concert goers could catch Omar helping Thomas keep time during these more precarious moments.
Regardless, naysaying would be eradicated as the band quickly picked up steam and cemented their confidence. Their performance in Ann Arbor, just six days before the album would release, is a prime example of this. Cygnus had now blossomed into a twenty minute herculean monster, full of meditations on simple riffs that would easily engulf the listener, and Goliath had finally began to sprout its ever strangling tentacles, starting its ascension as one of the longer songs the band played. During this specific performance Roulette Dares is an unstoppable locomotive of chaos, with Pridgen finally finding his drumming pocket which gives Omar and Adrian ample space to fight for dominance and for Cedric to scream to the vocal gods on high.
Later shows would see the setlist begin to pare down. Certain songs like Conjugal Burns and Metatron did not seem to fully click live and were removed early on. Other songs began to grow in length, even spawning pre-song jams that at times could be longer than the songs themselves like Aberinkula or Agadez. Eunuch Provocateur very briefly reared its head to the delight of long-time fans, only to go into hiding again until next year’s tour. The European tour also had Omar, Cedric, and Paul doing a few more additional acoustic sets, even doing a recording for the BBC.
During its final days, a thick riff heavy jam would be added to the beginning of the show, something akin to their 2006 shows with Deantoni Parks, but even less forgiving, and lacking the guitar line from Jacob Van Lennepkade. It all added to the image of the Bedlam tour, an unstoppable force of musical evil, haunting, possessed, but also desperate to prove they did not have one foot in the grave. It is safe to say they proved their point, hearing damage upon its audience and all.
The Bedlam tour wasn't without its struggles. Pridgen did seem to find his place in the group, but he also struggled with not flying too far into outer space at times with him consistently struggling to match Jon Theodore's parts on certain classic numbers. This is not a dig on his reinterpretation of songs, but his struggles with actually finding a pocket on classic songs like Drunkship of Lanterns and Tetragrammaton. The beast of a line-up also made for some muddled mixes, meaning live shows could sound more like a flying brick wall than a carefully constructed sculpture. The long-running joke "Turn up Ikey" really took flight during this era of the band. Cedric's voice also began its slow descent in quality, high notes came out more like shrill yelps on off days which became increasingly common. Years of intense vocal presence had finally begun to take its toll on him.
The Bedlam in Goliath tour is a polarizing era often regarded as one of the best and one of the worst. Older fans lamented the change in drummer, fussing over the change in sound and style, going so far as to describe the band as "prog metal". Newer fans were keen on Thomas and the more brutal tone of Bedlam, lauding his blistering drum work and the more riff heavy sound the band had adopted. The polarization, ripe for endless debate even to this day, is perfect The Mars Volta. The radical change in tone is what the band was built on, taunting fans who wanted to remain cemented in bygone eras, and welcoming them to the Bedlam.