At The Drive-In’s performance Tuesday at venue Red 7 marked their first performance in 11 years. Torn apart by musical differences and drug use, the band broke up in 2001. Afro-headed members Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez would go on to form progressive rock group The Mars Volta, while remaining members guitarist Jim Ward, bassist Paul Hinojos and drummer Tony Hajjar, created alternative rock group Sparta.
Fast-forward to earlier this year, and news broke that At The Drive-In would finally be reuniting. From the revamping of their website, and announcement about headlining this year’s Coachella Music Festival, and more recently, scheduling a slew of shows in the Texas area, including Marfa, Dallas and home-city El Paso, At The Drive-In’s comeback has been long-awaited by fans throughout the world.
It’s not surprising that At The Drive-In would warm up here in Austin. As Bixler-Zavala tweeted a few days prior to their performance, Austin has been showing the group love since their beginnings back in 1995. And that statement still holds true today, with old and new faces. Throughout the cheers and rants you could tell the difference from those that grew up with At The Drive-In, and those late-bloomers (like myself), who only had YouTube videos and bootleg DVDs to refer to.
“I remember back in the day they would sell the clothes off of their back just to find a place to stay at for the night;” “I really hope Cedric does that awesome jump like he does in this one video.” We were all learning about the mystique behind a band that, nowadays, is associated with other Texas groups that have put the state on the map for music.
When At The Drive-In took the stage and busted right into “Arcarsenal,” all we could do was cheer jubilantly. Those shaking, yellow maracas in the beginning, and Omar and Ward’s guitars playing a game of musical tag--it was just like those videos I used to watch, amazed with each member’s charisma and in-your-face attitude.
Bixler-Zavala has still got it. One moment he would be swinging his microphone around in such a manner that most vocalists would fear to imitate; the next, he would be hanging from rafters, showing spectators that age has nothing on the charismatic showman. And the lyrics--cryptic metaphors such as, “Beacon shined a light, from the faulty tower,” from “Sleepwalk Capsules,” or “They kept a close eye on your get-well incentive,” from “Enfilade,” seemed to come out of Bixler-Zavala instinctively.
The real beauty of the group’s performance lied in the fact that band actually seemed to enjoy one another’s company. I remember being hit the hardest when, during the group’s performance of “Napoleon Solo,” Ward closing his eyes, and smiling the biggest smile I have ever witnessed. It was as if in that moment he had been taken aback to the group’s younger days--of playing venues with only 10 people watching; of selling just about everything they had on tour, so that they could get a bite to eat, or find a place to sleep. And now, playing to sold-out crowds of fans who know their music like the back of their hands.
The only real displeasure with the show was the lack of enthusiasm in Omar. Maybe it was the crowd-surfing or the throwing of beer cans which set him off, but throughout the set the only real movement he provided would be an occasional look at Hajjar to remain in sync with the music. It was unsettling--a guy who, in his early days, was renowned for flipping his guitar behind his back and shaking his slender physique like a wild soul-man, was not present that night. Hopefully as the band treads on, Omar will tap his inner youth and take the stage like he used to back in the day.
Show-ender “One-Armed Scissor” embodied every fan’s excitement and happiness. It was sweaty, messy and clustered--and we would not have wanted it any other way. Bixler-Zavala led us on until the end, riling us up for the big finish. The guitars strummed, the cymbals splashed and the vocals screeched; our journey was complete.
“This is forever,” sang Bixler-Zavala during “Napoleon Solo.” At The Drive-In is truly forever, and such words will leave resonance in our hearts, for years to come.