At the Drive-In, Le Butcherettes
Revention Music Center
June 10, 2017
Post-hardcore kings and El Paso natives At The Drive-In made a long-overdue appearance at Revention Music Center Saturday evening. Unbelievably, it was their first time to play the Bayou City since before their 2001 dissolution; a brief 2012 reunion jag spanned four cities across Texas but unfortunately didn’t include Houston.
To say that ATDI is an important band to see live is not enough; their contribution to the intellectual side of 21st-century harder music is essential. ATDI gave us hope when the music industry seemed to be in total collapse and the only alternatives were the banal bands of nu-metal or the feigned insecurity of immature emo/screamo acts.
For many post-punk fans, music needed the intellectual stimulation that came with front man Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s absurdism and fondness for invented words and guitarist Omar Rodriguez’s jazz-fusion experimentalism. That combo helped make ATDI one of the key figures in post-hardcore, at least until they transmuted into the Grammy-winning The Mars Volta, the band Rodriguez and Bixler-Zavala formed when ATDI parted ways in 2001.
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For many Houston fans, news that the group's 2017 tour included an H-Town stop carried a surreal quality, not unlike that of a UFO or Bigfoot sighting. Just don’t tell that to Bixler-Zavala, who early in the show wanted to know why there wasn’t more energy in the room and mistakenly blamed it on the show's being on a Sunday night; perhaps the crowd was weary thinking about work on a Monday morning, he said. Perhaps he didn’t get the memo about Houston audiences being slightly subdued in the best of cases — besides, it was actually a Saturday night.
It didn’t matter, because all the energy in the venue was onstage in a performance that never let up through the entire set. Blame the audience for being tame or just mesmerized by seeing ATDI do what they’ve been famously known to do — rip the stage in half with their vibrant and vigorous presence.
With a timbre between Fugazi’s Ian McKaye and Rage Against the Machine’s Zach de la Rocha, Bixler-Zavala’s voice seems to be ageless. His vocals still sound like a motor stuck in fifth gear, shouting with a potent tenacity. His voice roars like a revving engine that redlines, yet preserves its force.
Bixler-Zavala was in complete command of his instrument as if it were indeed the year 2000. Not just his vocal acrobatics or his signature leaps and stage dives; the timeless quality of ATDI endures. In fact, that ageless quality is just an extension of the new album released just a few weeks ago. Inter*alia feels as if there hasn’t been a 17-year hiatus whatsoever (despite a 2005 compilation, This Station Is Non Operational).
Picking up where they left off with this new record would be too easy of a statement to make. The entire record feels like a bit of an uptick in intensity without some comeback-kid, self-conscious posturing. There’s no insecure, sophomoric attempt to regain the spotlight lost with desperate nostalgia. ATDI seem fully aware of their capacity for greatness, and the room at Revention agreed.
When the band tore into old favorites like “Invalid Litter Dept” and “Pattern Against User,” there was a fever pitch of screams from the audience and a burst of onlooker phone recordings. Houston crowds may be shy or quiet, but at least we’re paying attention.
Who can look away when witnessing pop-culture history unfold? A band like ATDI is too rare and too pure to waste on buffoonish behavior, save a few airborne beer cups and attempts at slam-dancing. This crowd was clearly in the know; when ATDI played songs from their new record, like “No Wolf Like the Present” and “Hostage Stamps,” there was no lull in response and some fans knew every word.
And, naturally, by the time they played perhaps their best-known tune, “One-Armed Scissor,” the audience was in such anticipation that when the first notes touched the air, the crowd was already messy, disjointed and aggressively grateful, pushing into one another and howling the chorus along with the Afro-headed duo who helped define a new genre of heavy music.
So, About the Opener: Le Butcherettes front woman Teri Gender Bender was at one point visible (and still gorgeously audible) only by her stockings and heels, which were pointed directly toward the ceiling while she was crowdsurfing. Cheeky and boisterous, her bow to a clapping audience included a calculated backflop into the drum kit, which elicited a roar when she stood up apparently unharmed.
The Crowd: Mostly 35 and up, covered in tats, band shirts and smiles.
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Overheard In the Crowd: ** “Wait. It isn’t Sunday, is it?”
** “I was waiting for his jumps!”
** “Jesus Christ, they sound incredible.”
** “So, you can just walk right up to the box office and just buy tickets at Revention? Sorry, dude, I'm just so stoned.”