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At The Drive-In

The initial park and ride venture for neo-psychedelic rockers The MARS VOLTA, the eventual core of Texans AT THE DRIVE-IN (Messrs Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez) took some time to get their show properly underway and on the road. With a sense of melody and emo-type rhythms that recalled FUGAZI, RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE and/or BAD RELIGION, ATD-I were well on their way to stardom when they split into two factions: the aforementioned MV, and only other original member, Jim Ward’s splinter, SPARTA.
Formed in El Paso, in 1994, frontman Cedric, twin guitarists Jim Ward and Jarrett Wrenn (plus bassist Kenney Hopper and drummer Bernie Rincon), laid down tracks between bouts of hard-bitten touring; the band’s first two 7″ singles: `Hell Paso’ and `Alfaro Vive, Carajo’ (the latter with new sticksman Davy Simmons), served notice of a hardcore storm brewing in the Texas badlands. Night after night spent playing to dismal crowds was rewarded when Flipside Records (former home of BECK), caught them at an empty L.A. bar and duly signed them.
In the meantime, Cedric and Jim had found a new playmate in Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (then as bassist), while a second guitarist Adam Amparan and drummer, Ryan Sawyer, were drafted into the band forthwith. Released early in ‘97, ACROBATIC TENEMENT {*7} showed a blistering emotional outpouring and precocious mastery of punk dynamics, which eventually won over critics across the board with such shout-y tracks as `Star Slight’, `Initiation’ and `Coating Of Arms’.
Another stint of touring – with fresh recruits Tony Hajjar (drums) and Pall Hinojos (bass) – AT THE DRIVE-IN cultivated a grassroots fanbase. A subsequent mini-set/CD-EP, `El Gran Orgo’ was issued on the One Foot imprint later that year, after which followed a period of insecurity as the band searched in vein for a label willing to take on their sophomore album.
IN/CASINO/OUT (1998) {*7} was finally sponsored by the independent Fearless operation, a label more often associated with pop/punk fare. Nevertheless, the album – recorded almost entirely live with only a few overdubs – represented the closest ATD-I had yet come to capturing the passionate drive of their live work; check out `Alpha Centauri’, `Transatlantic Foe’, `For Now We Toast’ and `Chanbara’.
Yet more touring ensued as the band played with the likes of FUGAZI and ARCHERS OF LOAF, before undertaking their first European jaunt in spring ‘99. Later that summer, the `Vaya’ EP showed that their relentless road schedule was paying handsome dividends in terms of musical sharpness and songwriting depth; Virgin Records signing up the Texas troopers for their third and most highly acclaimed album to date: RELATIONSHIP OF COMMAND (2000) {*8}. Released in their homeland with the backing of the BEASTIE BOYS’ Grand Royal, and produced by Ross Robinson and mixed by Andy Wallace, the record had critics reaching for the superlatives in an attempt to describe their unflinchingly honest and unrelentingly intense sound. Top 40 in Britain, the abstract and adrenaline-driven tracks that were most infectious were minor Brit hits `One Armed Scissor’, `Rolodex Propaganda’ and `Invalid Litter Dept.’.
After disclaiming “indefinite hiatus”, ATD-I had literally split into two camps: the Bixler/Rodriguez rocketeers, The MARS VOLTA, and SPARTA, set up by the other trio, Ward, Hinojos and Hajjar. Over the years, ATD-I covered PINK FLOYD’s `Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk’, The SMITHS’ This Night Has Opened My Eyes’ and SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES’ `Pulled To Bits’.
As The MARS VOLTA and SPARTA succumbed to cosmic scrap, AT THE DRIVE-IN (i.e. Bixler-Zavala, Rodriguez-Lopez, Hinojos, Hajjar and Ward) parked their emo-punk catalytic convertibles by way of a re-formation in 2016. Only a matter of months later, Ward bailed and was replaced by ex-SPARTA guitarist Keeley Davis; as sessions for Rise Records progressed up until their comeback 4th set release, IN-TER A-LI-A (2017) {*6}. As one would expect from a band with an indie-punk pedigree second to none, the transatlantic Top 40 record was not short of sprawling screamo spontaneity, gut-wrenching guitar licks and staccato drum beats. This generation of tattooed teenage tinkers might not be the target audience for best-bits `No Wolf Like The Present’, `Governed By Contagions’, `Hostage Stamps’, `Continuum’ et al, but that certain 30/40-something age group might respect their rage against the Republicans.
© MC Strong 2002-2006/AS/MCS // rev-up MCS Oct2013-Aug2018

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