Scattered aimlessly before me on a dirty kitchen table are some of the jigsaw pieces of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's past. Love letters. Baby pictures. It's a sundry pile of memorabilia that looks lost, confused and disjointed. There is no evident beginning, no apparent end. You might compare it to the subject himself.

All of this is the carefully guarded property of his very former paramour. "He would probably rather guard some of the past," she says. Ever since he moved to El Paso as a Puerto Rican punk in the sixth grade and met bandmate Cedric Bixler Zavala, his intensely focused stare and Hendrixian musical talent have remained the same. Though times have changed, his driving desire to create something musically new has not.

You will hear the same four words in every article about The Mars Volta – concept, hair, skinny and prog – so we'll just get them out of the way now. It may be these four words (and, perhaps, an "I smoke crack" comment) that incited the band's gun-shy stance on interviews lately. Or it could be that they grew tired of explaining the infinite complexities of their latest opus, Frances the Mute, to people who wanted to talk about Afros, tight jeans and At The Drive-In.

If any one word describes The Mars Volta and Frances most accurately, it is "complex." The band would rather have it that way. Just as the death of pal Julio Venegas guided the tone and hypothesis of De-Loused in the Comatorium, the 2003 death of bandmate Jeremy Ward provided a whole other angle for Frances. It has the same lyrical obtuseness as its predecessor (this time, they complete the unfinished diary of a stranger), with a new stylistic elasticity that simultaneously boasts trumpets and Afro-Cuban bombastics.

Frances the Mute was recorded on three different continents, in four different states and in eight different studios, yet it is a coherent, if multifaceted, work. As soon as you've caught the groove, things shift and change.

The Mars Volta made it concretely clear from the very beginning that they never cared what anyone thought about them. "We have given you very different pieces to our puzzle," they might say, "but it's up to you to help us finish our story."

The Mars Volta
with System of a Down, Bad Acid Trip
7 pm Tuesday, TD Waterhouse Centre


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