The "Noctourniquet" Era
As was often the case with The Mars Volta, the end of a tour often indicated the next album was just right around the corner, its menacing fangs peering in the shadows. Things instead were a little more confusing than that this time around, with a plethora of mixed signals and false starts that ultimately led to the band's splintering. While the Octahedron tour technically concluded in late 2010 with a duo of festival shows in South America its more logical and symbolic finale was earlier in the year following their Australian shows. The band members, tired and in desperate need of respite, fractured into a multitude of projects.
The first half 2010 had the members in the studio, with Juan recording Big Sir's 3rd studio album Before Gardens, After Gardens and playing a one off gig, Cedric participating in the recording sessions of spiritually psychedelic band Anywhere, and Omar producing the first LP from Le Butcherettes along with releasing a myriad of solo albums. Summer 2010 was surely a time for listeners to salivate with the incredibly brief Vato Negro and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez group tours. Vato Negro, this time featuring Juan, Omar, and Deantoni Parks would enter the studio although that material has never surfaced unfortunately. Omar's solo group, featuring Juan, Omar, Marcel, Deantoni, Lars Stalfors, and Omar's partner Ximena Sariñana on vocals was, unbeknownst to concert goers, a first glimpse into the final line-up of The Mars Volta, sans Cedric. In hindsight it is apparent Omar was desperate for a new sound, tossing aside the previous descriptors of Santana on more drugs, Zeppelinesque, and Salsa-prog in favor of dark, brooding, and pulsating synth electronic rock. Before The Mars Volta could proper surface, however, there would be those two infamous South America festival shows, a final parting of the Octahedron era in late 2010.
Despite the three-year gap between Octahedron and Noctourniquet's release, fans would only have to wait until early 2011 to begin hearing the songs that would make up the last The Mars Volta LP. Billed as the Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group, Omar, Deantoni, Juan, Lars, and Cedric proceeded to test their new material. The brief month of touring in North America was a welcome surprise. The band may have had a lean presence, looking sparse in contrast to even the Octahedron tour, but there was a newfound energy among the members. Cedric, sporting short, slicked down locks was in rare form especially during this early part of the tour. His struggles with the high notes during the past few years had been acknowledged and he decided to channel his energy into lower range growls. Deantoni Parks, finally an official member, also injected a breath of fresh air into the band, giving them a new rhythmic identity. At the time it seemed things were back on track.
Unfortunately, it seems this was as high as this plane was going to fly. Audiences had now heard roughly half the album, but the album was still over a year from release for unclear reasons. The band officially reactivated in the summer of 2011 under the proper moniker The Mars Volta but was slotted into metal festival shows and then as an opening act for a reuniting Soundgarden, not exactly their tried and true audience. These truncated shows were not bad but felt lacking overall. Setlists remained the same, leaning heavily on new material with only a brief acknowledge of their past with a very toned-down version of Goliath. That said, Deantoni Parks did his best to inject some liveliness into these sets, creating uniquely chopping and intriguing patterns of The Whip Hand and Dyslexicon. Their last show in North America was July 23rd, 2011 in Las Vegas.
An incredibly brief Australian tour finally gave fans the first proper solo The Mars Volta shows in about two years. The shows were brief in contrast to years past, continuing to lean heavily on new material and a few classics like Son et Lumiere and The Widow being added. As nice as it was to hear a few classics, their tacked on at the end nature felt almost like pandering, especially Son et Lumiere which lacked sorely from the absence of Isaiah Owens. The Australian shows did bring the return of Trinkets Pale of Moon which was a highlight of the Omar solo show run. Again, running at about 15 minutes with its post song coda, the haunting riff they would get sucked into was often credited as a best of those shows.
The Mars Volta would release their Noctourniquet, their final album, on March 26th, 2012, seven months since they had played live, and eight months since they had played in North America. This would logically should have been the spark that started the fire of proper touring, the touring fans had come to know and love; the initial Europe tour, the endless North America tour, back to Europe, then Japan and Australia, yes it all made sense. However, nearly none of that happened. The Mars Volta only played 19 shows to support their final album, all in Europe aside from one gig in Tel Aviv. Their last performance was on July 15th, 2012 in London. The band would not officially dissolve until January of 2013, but the rumors had already been swirling for months by then that one of the most iconic, eccentric, and daring bands of the new millennium had ceased to be.
That is not to say these final shows were band. Perhaps a bit macabre and dour, but the finer qualities of a profound The Mars Volta performance were still there. In fact, it appeared that the band was finally feeling comfortable with their new material, really taking it to new heights during those last European shows. The performance in Cologne has an electric energy to it, showcasing what might have been if the band had the chance to really work this material out live. Songs like In Absentia and The Whip Hands were becoming increasingly grimy, saw-toothed, and disturbed and Deantoni Parks' drumming continued to evolve, almost refusing to play a song the same way twice. A full pro-shot video from Heineken Open'er Festival shows the band in levity, with Cedric stopping the band to riff with the audience and dawning a chicken head. Final gasps? Yes, but sardonic until the bitter end.
It does not appear that one single incident kneecapped the Noctourniquet era tour. Writing about this three-year period opens the eyes to what was going on during this time for the band members and the compounding factors that led to its collapse. Cedric decided to become sober, falling in love with his soon to be wife, and falling into a brief but dangerous relationship with the Church of Scientology. Back-alley anecdotes suggest his association with the glorified pyramid scheme ruffled the feathers of the other members. Omar himself was in the midst of a multitude of struggles. His relationship to Ximena Sariñana imploded sometime in 2011, quickly leading into a relation with Teri Saurez of Le Butcherettes which continues to this day. Additionally, his mother's health began to deteriorate, leading to her unfortunate passing in the Spring of 2012. Omar's dysphoric mood was ever apparent during those shows, clearly still in mourning. The seeds had been sowed for discontent.
All of this does not even mention the reuniting of At The Drive-In which, due to the mythos it developed since its own implosion over a decade prior, completely overshadowed Noctourniquet. The band had surely lost some fans along the way due to its refusal to stick to any one template, but any momentum they would build would be complete undermined because of this. The lack of a North American supporting tour did not help either, as Omar very quickly shifted to touring with his new group Bosnian Rainbows, and Cedric would in short fashion form his own band Zavalaz.
Considering the atomic energy that resonated with the birth of The Mars Volta it may seem hard to accept there was any way the band could have bowed out aside from a nuclear eruption. Sadly, instead, The Mars Volta left the touring world with a whimper, gasping its final breaths in the summer of 2012. Hints of its resurfacing have bubbled along in the past year, but without official details we are left to wait in anticipation and reflect back on the hundreds of shows gone by.