The "Tremulant" Era
Mere months after the collapsing of At The Drive-In, Omar and Cedric scraped together a rag-tag group of musicians and quickly hit the road to support their newest creation, The Mars Volta. While technically supporting their latest EP release, Tremulant (Even though the EP wasn't even released during the earliest of shows), most of these shows featured songs from their next album De-loused in the Comatorium (like Cicatriz and Roulette).
The history between At The Drive-In and The Mars Volta may be brief, but rich in history featuring quick changes in personnel, and scrapped tour plans right out of the gate. Blake Flemming, who had played on two early demos, was initially slotted to play for the band. Personality differences led quickly to his ousting, replacing him with Golden drummer Jon Theodore.
The earliest shows, featuring Cedric, Omar, Jon Theodore on drums, Isaiah 'Ikey' Owens on keys, future bassist for Pink Eva Gardner, and sound manipulator Jeremy Michael Ward were shaky, chaotic and ramshackle. The DNA of At The Drive-In was ever apparent as their sets carried a frenetic energy that gave the essence that the shows were a mere extra hit from the pipe away from falling apart, which considering the chronicled substance use of half the band may have been true.
The earliest tour, starting in late 2001, is an erratic sample platter of what would become. Billed as De Facto in order to deter old fans of At The Drive-In the sextet ripped through a very brief six songs, if you count Caught In The Sun, a jam that never made it onto a studio release, and clocked in at about 30 minutes. Yes, hard to imagine that a few years later their shows would balloon to five times as long. Despite reading the titles like Cicatriz ESP, and Roulette Dares you may find yourself bewildered if you listen to these recordings, noting that they kind of sound like those songs, but something is not quite right. Those early demos with Blake Flemming would be far and away from what the final product would sound like. Cicatriz ESP went through the heaviest reconstruction, with an overhaul of the lyrics for the chorus, the development of the ambient bridge, and an overall more grounded feel. Roulette Dares and Inertiatic ESP would similarly go through some structural revamps, which are apparent.
Cedric's voice in these earliest shows has an uncertain feel to them, a lack of confidence in his shift from shouting and scatting to full on crooning and bellowing. He seems to feel at home in Cut That City which is not far removed from what he was doing just 10 months earlier. While on songs like Inertiatic and Cicatriz, where he is tasked with sustaining his voice, he seems to wither and falter and resort to an unsure whimper. It would take some time before his skills would catch up with his charisma. That being said, considering the seismic shift he was partaking in vocally it is no surprise he had not felt at home quite yet and there is a certain charm to the shaky knees renditions of these songs.
What the band may have lacked in a solid foundation they made up for in unadulterated chaos, less of a bulldozer like later incarnations and more of an army of hornets, flying at an stoppable speed and ravaging in its wake. A lot of this had to do with the perfect and tragically short-lived pairing of Omar and Jeremy Ward. Both are masters of sound, noise, and creating devastating forces of audio belligerence as demonstrated on their joint noise album and experimental adventure Minor Cuts and Scrapes in the Bushes Ahead. Ward had a distinct knack for creating disturbing yet engaging sonic frequencies that would both elevate a song to knew heights and also create haunting tapestries to connect between them. What Ward may have lacked in traditional music chops he made up for in a deep understanding of sonic frequencies.
Despite lacking their sea legs on the outset, the band did begin to find some stability near this line-ups end. Songs began to feel slightly more anchored and confident. The late era show on German television's Osterrocknacht is a prime example of this, with Cedric sounding more stable, and even featuring the earliest winks and hints of the jams they would delve into later with a mid-song percussion segue during Eunuch Provocateur. Growth is ever apparent in the scant recordings available from this time in the band's history.
Sadly, even though it seemed the band was turning the corner and picking up steam, this line-up would be short lived. Eva Gardner either left or was fired from the band, depending on who you ask, after a performance at Coachella music festival. Ikey Owens would also temporarily bow out shortly after, almost quitting music entirely. It would take four months before The Mars Volta would play again, this time beginning preparations for their debut LP Deloused in the Comatorium.