The highly anticipated reunion of At the Drive-In hit a big snag last week. Via a Facebook post, the band announced co-founder, vocalist and guitarist Jim Ward is not in the band anymore. This news came only a few days before the band headed out on an extensive tour of the United States and Europe, which started yesterday in California.
"As our ship prepares for voyage, we announce that Jim Ward will not be joining us on future journeys," said the brief statement. "We wish him well and are excited to see you soon."
The timing of this news is a kick to those who expected to see the classic lineup of Ward with vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala, guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, bassist Paul Hinojos and drummer Tony Hajjar. All five were pictured on the band's website when the reunion was announced earlier this year, making this new announcement seem suspect. No further word has come from Ward or At the Drive-In. Like previous band statements — from their announcement of an indefinite hiatus back in 2001 and their two reunions in the past five years — no further details were shared. There's not even any word on whether the band will be a four-piece or replace Ward with someone else.
This is not the first time At the Drive-In has toured and recorded without Ward. Between their first album Acrobatic Tenement and second album In/Casino/Out, they made an EP called El Gran Orgo in 1997, which was much more pop-punk influenced than anything they had done before. Ward had left the band due to tensions (especially with then-new drummer Hajjar), but reunited with the band for In/Casino/Out, solidifying the classic lineup after many lineup changes over their first couple of years together. (Hajjar and Ward worked things out, so much so that they played in Sparta together after At the Drive-In broke up in 2001.)
Though Ward was not the frontman of At the Drive-In, not having him in the band now doesn't make much (or really any) sense. Often singing co-lead vocals with Bixler-Zavala, Ward lent a sense of traditional pop/rock to the fireworks that Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez brought. Without Ward working with the other two, you have too much chaos, especially as evidenced by the differences in the Mars Volta's records. With Ward in At the Drive-In, the ingredients worked perfectly together, backed by the power of Hajjar's drumming and Hinojos' bass playing.
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Now that At the Drive-In will continue on without Ward, one has to ask: How is this any different from the projects that Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez have done together without him, including De Facto, the Mars Volta, Antemasque and their solo records? As important as Hajjar and Hinojos are to the band, Ward's departure creates a huge hole.
Ward helped start the band, appeared on almost every release the band put out (the El Gran Orgo EP has been distanced from the band for many years for various reasons), and was with them when they reunited in 2012. So this recent announcement seems like a big cheat to fans who looked forward to the return of all the main forces. Now, unfortunately, it's just another blemish on the band's legacy.
Add in Rodriguez-Lopez's dismissal of the band's work in the press between 2001 and 2012, and At the Drive-In's history of making phenomenal music has been clouded by fractious ties. This attempt to pass off a Ward-less version of the band now may very well go the way the band's first time without him went: forgotten and made light of down the road.