The only other time I’ve seen At the Drive-In was at Coachella in 2012, so you may argue my authority to say what I’m about to say, but here goes: Right now is the best time in the last decade and a half for ATDI fans of all sorts to see the band live.
Given, opportunities have been slim, but the wait has certainly been worth it. Especially for those who had tickets to the last ATDI show in New York, which was canceled right before the band took the stage due to Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s illness. He apologized profusely and sincerely during last night’s make-up concert at Terminal 5, and the performance was more than enough to warrant forgiveness.
Part of that is because Omar Rodríguez-López is back in it. He was there at Coachella, true, but only in body. You’ve never seen a more disinterested band member than Rodríguez-López in 2012. This time around, however, he was vividly present. From early song “Pattern Against User” to main set closer “Catacombs”, his thrashing body language made every song sound better. He was enjoying himself again, and it made for a far more impressive performance, both aurally and visually. Even Bixler-Zavala seemed thrilled to have his old buddy back, playfully joking that Rodríguez-López was the “Puerto Rican Woody Allen … Woody Allen has like a million movies; he has a million fucking albums!”
Of course, true diehards will say the absence of Jim Ward means this is an imperfect ATDI. But the truth is Keeley Davis — who marked his one-year anniversary with the band on Wednesday — blends in just fine for almost every number. The few times Ward’s vocals were noticeably missed came during “Cosmonaut” and closer “One Armed Scissor”, but the rest of the time, their absence was frankly forgotten in the insanity.
The current set list is what makes this recent run of dates such a can’t-miss opportunity for all sorts of fans, from the most casual to the diehards. It consisted almost exclusively of Relationship of Command, and the band threw in “Metronome Arthritis” and “Napoleon Solo” for good measure. At some point, they’re going to have to start playing material off in•ter a•li•a beyond the two singles, but the truth is too much unknown material might have thrown off the flow of the evening. Somehow this feels like a more genuine reunion than the one five years ago, even with the lineup change, and that’s the perfect circumstance in which to play the hits. Besides, can you really fault a band for sticking closely to one of the most influential hardcore albums of the last two decades?
That said, if you ever want to see the oft-discussed passivity of an NYC crowd, go check out a major hardcore show. On one of the largest floors of any venue in the city, only about a third of the audience was truly into every song — and half of those were moving because of incidental contact with moshers around them. Maybe a large venue like T5 just swallows up energy in its shitty, multi-leveled sight-lines, but you’d expect more than a fraction of the crowd responding enthusiastically to such an anticipated show. Still, those diehards in the first third were even singing along to the new songs, so all hope is not lost.
It’s true that Ward’s absence and what is becoming a static setlist might warrant criticism among the most faithful — and that’s fine. But it’s hard to knock a band that’s performing at the level that ATDI is right now. As Bixler-Zavala put it, the band ended the night looking “like a bunch of wet fucking poodles”; that’s because after more than a decade, they’re finally back to form, sweating it out on the stage like the post-hardcore legends they are.
02. Pattern Against User
03. Sleepwalk Capsules
04. Metronome Arthritis
05. Incurable Innocent
06. Invalid Litter Dept.
10. Napoleon Solo
12. Governed by Contagions
13. One Armed Scissor