The "Deloused" Era
To describe the touring era of De-Loused in the Comatorium is to write a novel of a band continually morphing and shape-shifting from mutant punk to space oddity salsa; a span of three years that had the band go through a head-spinning multitude of personnel changes, nearly endless touring, the death of a founding member, see the band skyrocket from barroom novelty to playing to massive festival going audiences, and have their debut LP be lauded by nearly the entirety of the music journalism community. It is hard to capture the pinball-like freneticism that was on display during this period from September 2002 until February 2005; a period of time that went from frayed t-shirts and busted equipment to three-piece suits and shiny three-tiered pedal boards.
The Tremulant era formally ended with Eva Gardner's departure from the band in the summer of 2002. Eva, who had been one of the rhythmic anchor of the band since its inception left a massive hole for the group to fill, a hole that would infinitely grow when Ikey Owens left the band shortly after. Struggling and desperate to keep the momentum alive the band scrapped together its most short-lived and peculiar line-up, lasting a mere seven shows. Eva had been replaced by childhood friend of Omar and Cedric's, Ralph Jasso, another El-Paso music veteran and collaborator on the very original De Facto release. While Ralph seemed a somewhat logical shoulder to tap during these pressing times, Ikey's replacement was a little more befuddling and the source of comedic ire in future years; Linda Good, known at the time for her band The Twigs.
Despite the slapped together line-up these are not completely forgettable shows, as they feature the debuts of This Apparatus Must Be Unearthed, Drunkship of Lanterns, Eriatarka, and allegedly the never officially released A Plague Upon Your Hissing (although there is no audio or video to confirm this is true). Like before, these songs still had an embryonic and unpolished feel to them, meaning listeners today have a perfect chance to hear the creative process at work on the video recordings that are available of these shows. After the brief stint Linda would be fired and would continue her career as a keyboard player for Lisa Marie Presley. Ralph Jasso either was aware he was a brief stopover or did not have the chops to fill the bass slot and went back to El Paso. Ikey would fortunately rejoin the group and Flea of the Red-Hot Chili Peppers would take the role of bassist as the band holed up to record their seminal debut album De-Loused in the Comatorium.
A couple De Facto and one Omar and Jon Theodore solo shows later and the band, on the heals of recording their debut album, went back on tour now with Jason Lader on bass. The first half of the tour, in support of the Chili Peppers, was brief, but showed a band increasingly confident in their sound, and beginning to push beyond their comfort zones. Jeremy Ward, ever the master of sound design was implementing an increasing amount of audio wizardry, and Cedric seemed to really have found his confidence, shifting more from yelling and barking to pained wails. They left the Peppers for the second half the tour, playing small little clubs which allowed them to stretch their legs and begin to dive into more improvisational zones which would become the hallmark of later shows from this era.
Jason would leave the band after the European tour, a simple spot filler for a band who had now used four bassists in their year and a half existence. Fortunately, their endless quest for filling that spot would finally come to an end with the meeting of Juan Alderete. Juan would be with the band until it's disbanding in 2012, proving to be a more than sufficient anchor for the next nine years, playing on the remainder of the band's albums as well as a litany of solo albums from Omar and various Volta related projects. One quick solo gig at The Troubadour and a stint at Coachella later would put the Volta back in the supporting role for the Chili Peppers, playing to massive arenas. Typically, The Mars Volta has struggled in this position, better suited for smaller clubs and longer setlists, but with an album still not released and a smaller catalog of songs to pull from they managed to make it work. From the few recordings of this era a pulsating Krautrock inspired pre-Drunkship of Lanterns jam is a must hear, being the first showcase of the dynamic pairing of Juan and Jon.
The band would officially end their pre-release run with a legendary performance in New York City at Northsix, featuring John Frusciante for part of the show. Often credited by the members of the band as one of their best shows, it would also sadly be the last show to feature founding member Jeremy Michael Ward. Four days after this performance he would succumb to his drug addiction, found dead in his hotel room. Less than a month later their debut LP would release. They would cancel the rest of their remaining shows in support of the Chili Peppers to regroup and decide if they would even continue. Despite the narrative that would exist in later years, Jeremy was an integral founding member of the band, a co-lyricist, and a master sound manipulator. His ambient and distorted sound collages paved stellar bridges between songs. The haunting energy he provided to the studio and live setting would be lost forever despite all efforts to the contrary.
Fortunately, they chose to carry on, reassembling themselves barely a month after Jeremy's passing. Paul Hinojos, bassist for At The Drive-In, would be tasked with filling Jeremy's spot in sound manipulation. While brief, lasting barely a month, the July 2003 tour is especially of note. This was the first time the band was playing shows after the release of De-Loused. Fans would actually know the songs they were playing. This would also be a curious collection of shows where for the only time in the band's career they would be playing an album in its entirety from start to finish. It would also be the only time they would play an encore, throwing Concertina at the end of the show as a parting gift for eager fans. A complete recording of this era is available in the well-known Electric Ballroom performance, perhaps not their best, but as clear an example of that point in the band's history.
History will tell us that The Mars Volta was an endlessly forward-thinking band, rarely willing or interested in reveling in their success or history, and frequently unwilling to engage in the now. No, they constantly seemed to be itching a scratch that was existing somewhere in the future, reaching for the next thing. When they returned to Europe in late October it almost appeared they were done with the album they had only just released, perhaps the nearly two years of build-up to this moment had worn those ideas out. Instead, hints, winks, and nods to their next album Frances the Mute were already in play. Drunkship of Lanterns had already been hinting at Cygnus.... Vismund Cygnus for a month now, and now Cicatriz ESP, now ballooned to a whopping 30 minutes, was testing out full parts of Cassandra Gemini.
Rounding out their penchant for polyrhythms and showcasing their Latin roots Omar's brother Marcel would be added to the band as their percussion player once they returned to the continental United States. The month long run of shows is the band operating at full-steam, yes Cicatriz ESP still loomed like a daunting obelisk at 30 minutes, but they were careful to give fans breathers with easier going songs such as Televators and Concertina between the marathon music sessions. It is much the same as they returned to Europe in late 2003 and Japan, New Zealand, and Australia in early 2004. Parts of their run of Big Day Out Festival shows would be recorded and give the world at large some of the most crystal clear footage of the band at this time, featuring multiple minutes of the band warming up into a heady run of Cicatriz ESP which showcased Cedric at his most otherworldly; flopping around on stage and consuming his microphone like a late night snack. It was not shocking that on Youtube this footage would be given such colorful titles as "The Mars Volta on drugs", more aghast at the audacity rather than appreciating the passion being poured out. The late 2003/early 2004 run ensured The Mars Volta was the talk of rock music lovers.
De-Loused in the Comatorium had been a watershed moment, smashing the norm of what was being presented at the time, and helping plunge a fatal dagger into late-era nu-metal adoration. The new Millennium was going to be daring by their accounts and The Mars Volta had no qualms about being a forerunner in this history. It had taken roughly three years of intense building and rebuilding, but The Mars Volta had finally appeared complete, whole, and ready to ride the wave of success De-Loused had granted them. As mentioned earlier, however, that was never The Mars Volta. While in Australia the band would begin recording their follow-up album, Frances the Mute.
Spring of 2004 would put The Mars Volta back in the supporting role, opening for A Perfect Circle. The month long run featured a frenetic sounding The Mars Volta, playing at breakneck speed, perhaps to cram as much music as possible into their hour-long opening slot. The opening slot was a perfect fit, as Progressive-Metal fans adored the first The Mars Volta LP, but it is amusing to imagine their confusion when instead of ripping through the hits like Inertiatic ESP they opted to drop mammoth versions of Drunkship of Lanterns and Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt. How fitting that you can hear a concertgoer on the Albuquerque recording state "that took a weird direction". The supporting slot would be the last formal tour the band would partake in in support of De-Loused. In early May, the band would play three shows at The Wiltern in Los Angeles, broken up by a brief trip down to Mexico City. The Wiltern shows are legendary for featuring unique sets featuring guest spots by Saul Williams and John Frusciante. Lucky concert goers would also get to hear the debut of The Widow, a recording of which would appear on the Frances The Mute single. A one-off show of Omar, John Frusciante, and Flea would close out the spring shows, although this line-up would reunite for one more night in the fall. The majority of the rest of the year would be spent recording Frances the Mute. Omar would also begin the deluge of solo releases in 2004 with the release of A Manual Dexterity Vol. 1, the first part of a soundtrack to a film he chose to never release.
The De-Loused in the Comatorium era was not quite done though, a few last hurrahs were in order. Two shows in California would warm the band back up before they headed to South America for a very brief festival run. A recording of Sue II Festival gives listeners, not the first, but one of the best earliest glimpses into the infamous 'helicopter jam'. Returning home in early November, the three-show stint would be the last of 2004. A three-show run in Japan in early 2005 would be the bridge connecting this and the Frances the Mute tour, showcasing Cygnus…. Vismund Cygnus and closing out the epic runs of Cicatriz ESP.
Starting in the summer of 2002, and ending in earliest parts of 2005, The De-Loused in the Comatorium era is the longest and most profound of the band’s history. The Mars Volta would transform from shaky and foundationally unsound to a cemented force of sonic nature. It is amazing to hear the transformation and to witness the solidifying of the ethos of what the band would be for the rest of its history. Although they would continue to venture away from the De-Loused sound, their philosophy of pushing their musical boundaries would never go away. The end of the De-Loused era would also begin the long running argument of when the band had their 'best era'. Many original fans plant their feet in 2003 and 2004, adamant that the band peaked, only going downhill moving forward. While it is hard to argue that by the time the album had released the band had really fused into a unstoppable unit, it is hard to determine when it was truly at its best. Rather, like a mountain range, The Mars Volta is full of peaks and valleys, periods of pure unity and ones of struggle. To only look at one small piece of this range is to miss the entire picture of what their history. That said, this is certainly not a bed view.