Texan rockers the Mars Volta taking Tel Aviv beyond the mainstream
Guest blog by Ben Jacobson
With American alt-prog act the Mars Volta set to rock Tel Aviv this Monday, Israel's more discerning concert-goers are bracing themselves for an unparalleled summer.
Madonna might have kicked off the Israeli international summer concert season in glitzed-out style last weekend, but big-time pop performances on our shores are hardly the rarity they used to be. In recent years, we've seen stadium-worthy heavyweights like Metallica, Depeche Mode, Elton John, Paul Simon and even Paul McCartney playing shows here. By the time autumn 2012 hits, the likes of Lenny Kravitz, Guns N' Roses and the Red Hot Chili Peppers will have regaled throngs of local fans.
Beyond the mainstream and formulaic, the Mars Volta is a band apart.
During a hiatus from production of the Mars Volta's third album in 2006, just weeks before heading out on tour warming up crowds across the US for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, guitarist-songwriter Omar Rodríguez-López suddenly felt an urge to drop everything and make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. "It felt like something was calling me to Israel, and that I had to go there to discover it," he told the press two years later. "I don’t know how else to explain it. In my head, I was thinking it was something about music, something I needed to hear. So I booked a plane ticket and left the next day" – for a week and a half of touring holy sites and urban markets, where he hunted down suitcases worth of curios like candlesticks and Ouija boards.
The Mars Volta represents a different breed of international talent that has thankfully begun to fill Israeli live music halls. I'm referring to a quirky, somewhat underground set of acts that defy classification according to genre but are somehow all blog darlings and undeniably creative luminaries. These aren't artists that were made by the hit machine. They're fringe figures who, through sheer creative will, have forced the populace to overlook their oddities and take note.
In the past few years, performers like Blonde Redhead, Animal Collective and Devandra Banhart have staged memorable concerts in the smaller venues of Tel Aviv, and in recent weeks, we've seen the likes of Rufus Wainwright, Of Montreal and Medeski, Martin and Wood gracing our stages. Later this summer, Morrissey, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Stephen Malkmus are headed this way.
The Mars Volta isn't known for purveying shoegazing music or a home-baked, low-fi aesthetic. They aren't the vanguard of cool. These Texans serve up ear-bleeding progressive guitar rock that's largely a tribute to the gunslinging, jammed-out concept album greats of the Seventies. Their recordings are marked by geeky elements like complex time signatures, warbly found audio effect loops and lyrical themes grounded in science fiction and the occult. It's somewhat unexplainable, then, that they've remained on the urban American hipster radar since their breakthrough 2003 debut De-Loused in the Comatorium, produced by Rick Rubin. Israeli audiences are not always as tuned into this sort of niche rock and roll as their Western counterparts are, so it should be interesting to see what sort of crowd turns up on Monday.
A Jerusalem Post culture contributor since 2003, Ben Jacobson serves as the co-director of Action Packed Media, a new media managed service boutique specializing in content and marketing for entertainment brands.