At the Drive-In
With Le Butcherettes
Club Dada, Dallas
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
A few songs into At the Drive-In's surprise Tuesday night concert at Club Dada, Cedric Bixler-Zavala got serious. The singer had virtually burst onto stage at the beginning of the El Paso punk band's set, and had thrashed his way through the first four songs, his black fro bobbing as he leapt into the air or careened off the monitors.
But now he had something to say.
"The story is, we were going to go on tour a year ago. We were like, we got this plan, but people didn't believe us and that's OK because we live in a day and age where you got to put your money where your mouth is," Bixler-Zavala said. But, he added, referring to the band's new album, in•ter a•li•a, "We smashed that fucker down, put it on tape, and made a record. Now you're going to look at us with a blank stare, just like the last time we made a new record."
In other words, ATDI had a point to prove.
With that, they launched into "Incurably Innocent," one of the songs off the record that's due to be released in May, and which had never been played live before Tuesday night's show in Dallas. With Bixler-Zavala, who stood planted to center stage this time with his back to the audience, trading call-and-response vocals with new guitarist Keeley Davis, it was the rowdiest song so far of a set that had started with a four-song flurry, kicked off by a blistering "Arcarsenal."
None of the 400-odd fans crammed into Dada had any reason to expect ATDI to sound this good. As Bixler-Zavala alluded to, the band's (latest) reunion got off to a decidedly inauspicious start. Plans for their second reunion in five years had been announced over the winter of 2016, only for founding member Jim Ward to announce he wouldn't be joining them. The subsequent tour last summer got cut short, and there was nothing to say that the band who recorded in•ter a•li•a would sound anywhere near as good as the band at its peak.
But the circumstances of this particular show speak volumes for where the band's priorities seem to be. It was, in essence, a guerrilla concert, one that saw them in attack mode, and also the perfect example of what a SXSW spillover show should look like in Dallas. There was no hype, no fuss, simply an announcement Monday morning that saw tickets sell out within an hour. The only point was to make sure the band would hit the ground running before they hit Austin.
Being hungry counts for a lot with a band like ATDI, and they played like a group who don't want their legacy to be tarnished by messy breakups and half-hearted reunions. During that opening barrage of songs, the crowd surged forward into a massive mosh pit, with fans pumping their fists in the air and shouting along the words to every song. On several occasions, Bixler-Zavala went silent and the crowd would go on singing right over the drone of the band — or when the band dropped out altogether, like on the "dancing on the corpses' ashes" refrain of "Invalid Litter Dept.," the eeriest part of the whole night
Bixler-Zavala was inevitably the fulcrum of energy, writhing to use every inch of stage he could find and then some. Even when he dove into the crowd to surf, he kicked his legs as though the extra effort would get him somewhere meaningful. But Davis, drafted in from the band Sparta to replace Ward, proved an excellent foil to the frontman's ping-ponging energy and high-pitched wail, his lower-pitched vocals grounding the wild energy while his guitar playing fit in seamlessly with the complicated harmonic tapestries.
Despite the new album on the horizon, the 13-song, 70-minute set featured only two new songs, with the second one landing next-to-last in the set, "Governed By Contagions." By that point, the room had been thoroughly whipped into a frenzy, and when ATDI launched into finale "One Armed Scissor" it exploded into a mass of flying elbows, feet and even jackets, the chaos driven ever forward by Tony Hajjar's wicked drum rolls. At the end, the band made a hasty exit, with no encore, a refreshingly straight-to-the-point mode of attack.
So for the doubters, ATDI may well and truly be back, and they may be set to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting Austin crowds for the remainder of this week. But it seems unlikely that anyone will get as good of a show as Dallas got on Tuesday; it had all the urgency of SXSW's crammed schedule without the rush or the condensed set time. (Nor, for that matter, the hassle.) Sadly, the same may be true for those who have tickets to June's show at Southside Ballroom, which is bound to feel cavernous compared to Dada's concentrated fury.
On the bright side, they'll probably still sound pretty damn good.
Pattern Against User
Invalid Litter Dept.
Governed By Contagions
One Armed Scissor
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