Twofer: A weekend of heady rock

Engine Down

Starr Hill Music Hall
Friday, March 25


The Mars Volta: Frances The Mute (Strummer Recordings)

'Twas a weekend of rock, and all was well. It began on Thursday when my couch compadre (aka friend who sleeps in my living room) came home with a copy of Frances the Mute, the new The Mars Volta CD.

I could barely contain myself. I don't think there's been a more highly anticipated rock album since the return of Jane's Addiction (which was a God-awful disappointment). The Mars Volta, however, has a universal rock sound that thieves from every possible influence. Their new album continues in that same vein with deftly layered guitars, eerie (sometimes beautifully dark) vocals, and blinding drums that seem to be one continuous fill after another.

The album debuted at number 13 on Billboard last week. I think the world was really ready for another concept rock album with psychedelic spacey transitions, strange movie excerpt interludes, and a story line as hard to follow as the guitar multi-tracking. I know I was ready.

Frances The Mute is a five-song album (three songs are written in multiple movements) of pure emotion and technique. If you're looking for a record that gives you chills the first time you listen to it, look no further.

So...that was just the beginning of my weekend. The next night (Friday) I was blessed with the opportunity to see Engine Down perform at Starr Hill for a suicide prevention benefit.

It's been a while since Engine Down has crash-landed on Charlottesville soil. I vaguely remember watching in an intoxicated stupor as they performed years ago at Tokyo Rose. My subconscious led me to them once again. Thank goodness for the subconscious.

I arrived just in time for the beginning of the set. The stage was ablaze with piercing white lights and lined across the back with an Ampeg bass stack and two Orange guitar stacks big enough to keep flood waters at bay. The sound of Engine Down's music was reflective of the equipment and lighting: a huge, bright wall of intensity.

Engine Down is a far cry from its pretentious indie fanfare. They really feel their music and project it on the audience. The drummer's minimalist, yet subtly complicated, subdivided rhythms drive the music directly into my chest and forced us all to pay attention.

That– in combination with the singer's striking stage presence and dead-on vocals– made Engine Down the perfect addition to a wonderful weekend of rock music.

Engine Down