At the Drive-In, Emo's, October 9

Live Shots

At the Drive-In

Emo's, October 9

On a brisk, wintery night, they came seeking vindication. An industrial-strength firestarter. A voice of protest and empowerment against the current status-quo election process. A raucous, visceral blast back to the unkind, ungentle early days of Emo's. On disc and in the papers, At the Drive-In is all of this, but onstage, the El Paso five came off more like youths having fun rather than musical visionaries. That's not a damning indictment, just a dampening one. It started before the band had played their first song, actually, guitarist Jim Ward exhorting the crowd to keep the moshing and stage-diving to a minimum. This worked a little too well, as the capacity crowd never really hit the boiling point. There certainly wasn't an enthusiasm issue with the band itself, however. Frontman Cedric Bixler came out hanging from the rafters on opening thrasher "Arc Arsenal," the lead cut from the group's ferocious, major-label debut Relationship of Command. Whipping back and forth, Bixler had the MC5/Rob Tyner thing going on with an Afro that was truly out of control. Ward served as melodic foil to Bixler's raw-throated screams and rhythmic articulations, doubling up key phrases and adding strategic Ian MacKaye-style anthemic yells throughout the hourlong set. "Cut away! Cut away!" yelled Ward on the explosive "One-Armed Scissor," Command's most brutal nugget, while lead guitarist Omar Rodriguez and the rhythm section unleashed sheets of disciplined mayhem. "Metronome" stepped it up further, with Bixler writhing back and forth to the oscillations of his deep-flanged vocals. Even so, in the wake of creepy-crawly Seattle punk-rawk nerds Murder City Devils' insipid set, ATDI was unable to punch through the veil separating audience and performer. Their chugging, stop-start rhythms and here-and-gone-again harmonies faded as quickly as the last note, with only the disquieting "Invalid Litter Dept." managing to resonate. Bixler's spoken-word images of guillotines, obituaries, and "cobblestone curfews" gave way to the repetitive mantra "dancing on the corpses' ashes," an angry cry of frustration about the recent grisly murders just across the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez bridge. Disappointingly, the vitriol was confined to the songs themselves, the music's scathing power undercut by the band's happy-go-lucky demeanor. Ultimately, ATDI followed the corporate model they flame so effectively in their songs: Nice guys finish last.

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