Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Glorious Return of At the Drive-In in Austin, Texas (Red 7, April 9th, 2012)

It only took 11 years, but it finally happened Monday night at Red 7 in Austin. At the Drive-In, the seminal post-hardcore band from El Paso, made their return to the stage. The obvious question is: was it good?

The answer is a resounding yes, of course. The energy and emotion packed into that hour and a half of music played before an audience of five hundred hardcore fans (who bought out the tickets in 11 minutes and got in even through some serious anti-scalping measures) was the kind of unparalleled atmosphere I personally had only read about. For fans of the genre, for people who have followed this band for so many years, dreaming of this day, it was like the Beatles got back together despite that whole half of them being dead problem.

At the Drive-In brought every bit of themselves back from the dead at this show in a way no one has seen since the band originally existed. In that way, for many, it was probably the greatest experience of their life. It certainly was for me. That's not to say I can't take an objective standpoint on some things though.

While frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala was certainly on his game, his age obviously showed. We all knew this going in. While he could no longer scream like he once did, he poured every bit of himself into his performance anyway. Halfway through the show he addressed the crowd inbetween songs and could barely croak out words. He also obviously lacked the crazy crackhead energy he had when the band was in their first life, yet he did all he could to give us a facsimile of it, the highlight of which was when he climbed the rafters like monkey bars (see the picture below). His dancing has improved a great deal as well, no longer jagged but actually informed on real performance. In that way, his moves may have been superior. He could at least keep his breath about him long enough to sing this way, something he often failed to do in the old days, and that is much more important.

Bigger than that though, Bixler-Zavala commanded the crowd with experience and authority. No longer a young punk, his more refined performance ruled the capacity audience, leaving them breathlessly screaming every word along with him and reaching out desperately to lay hands upon him as he stood upon the tiny stage in direct proximity of the closest fans. In those moments where he was still before them, singing his heart out, this was church and the messiah himself was standing before the fans.

On the other hand, we knew that guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez would not deliver on the same energy he had originally, but his performance was disappointing. Being the main reason the band broke up in the first place, he certainly did not seem excited to be standing on the stage with his old friends again. Nary a smile was to be seen from Rodriguez-Lopez, who could be spotted lazily leaning upon his amp in what seemed to be sheer boredom and even seemingly pouting at times like he really just wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible. Some have mentioned the passing of his mother recently and while that may be a contributing factor, one has to wonder how much he really wanted to do this reunion, always being the most forward-looking of the group. Even as recently as 2009, he squashed rumors of a reunion and maintained that it would be a miserable prospect. If nothing else though, he played his parts dutifully, if not happily, and made sure the band ran like a well-oiled machine.

“The other half,” so to speak, all brought their enthusiasm however. Guitarist Jim Ward, bassist Paul Hinojos, and drummer Tony Hajjar all looked like kids again, gray hairs and bald spots aside, throwing everything they had into their performance, bringing the fans all they could to give a stellar reunion show. In a way, the success of this show can be more attributed to them than the band's more famous duo. Though Bixler-Zavala handed in a magnificent performance, all would have been for naught if his band had been lacking and thankfully they met him with an equal measure of power.

Any negativity, from Rodriguez-Lopez or otherwise, was completely eliminated by one moment that made the entire show. During “Enfilade” from Relationship of Command, the most famous album from the group, Bixler-Zavala motioned to Ward to join him on the chorus together on one mic. They almost met heads, screaming into that same mic together, and the looks on their faces belied how elated they were to be back there together. It was an emotional moment that brought the house down and showed why this reunion happened in the first place. Sure, it was for the fans and for the money and for the sake of doing it. But more than anything, it was for old friends reuniting and putting aside past differences to once again enjoy each other's presence on stage. That's the take away from the At the Drive-In reunion story for me: seeing friends together again and happy about it.

Pattern Against User
Sleepwalk Capsules
Napoleon Solo
Metronome Arthritis
Non-Zero Possibility
One-Armed Scissor

[First photo courtesy of Brittany Bartos. All other photos courtesy of Brooklyn Vegan Austin, a wonderful blog about events and music in Austin. Please check out their website, especially if you live in the Austin area.]