When a band performs its entire set under blue lights, usually the intent is a chilled-out vibe. But that wasn’t the goal Wednesday night at the Rock & Roll Hotel, where Antemasque presented a show that was as frenzied as it was dimly illuminated.
The El Paso/L.A. quartet’s self-titled debut album — officially not available until next week — is an unexpected shift toward succinct roots-and-pop rock by guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala after the 2012 demise of their prolix prog outfit, the Mars Volta. Played live, though, the new material veered toward the Fugazi-influenced sound of the two longtime collaborators’ earlier band, At the Drive-In.
The switch is surely a result of At the Drive-In’s temporary reunion in 2012, but that might not be the only inspiration. Antemasque is touring with Le Butcherettes, whose style also is fierce. Rodriguez-Lopez has produced and played with the trio and also formed the group Bosnian Rainbows with Butcherettes founder Teri Gender-Bender. During the headliner’s set, Bixler-Zavala called Le Butcherettes “our sisters in arms.”
Those sisters, who include a male bassist, played confrontational art-punk in which Gender-Bender switched between guitar and organ (sometimes in the same song) and between English and Spanish. The music, which was dynamic without being especially distinctive, relied on the singer’s Björk-like vocalese and chants of such confrontational phrases as “taken in sin” and “you love me and now you want to kill me.”
The lyrics were less discernible when Antemasque was on stage. Bixler-Zavala’s voice was heavily reverbed and fairly low in the mix, and his falsetto often melded with Rodriguez-Lopez’s trebly guitar, which also employed lots of audio effects. Yet the choruses of such stompers as “In the Lurch” were vivid and direct, boosted by audience sing-alongs.
Other lyrics had references to devils and witches and blues boogeymen and -women, along with the punky alienation of such songs as “I Got No Remorse”: “I just don’t feel a thing/and I don’t know why,” Bixler-Zavala howled.
Although the quartet’s new album runs only 35 minutes, the same 10 songs lasted an hour in concert. Some of the added time reflected noodling and chatter between the tunes, but much of it owed to an extended version of “Providence,” the set’s penultimate number. It rambled into an acid-blues groove and then became a slow, dub-style excursion decorated with bent guitar notes. Finally, the cool glow of those blue LEDs seemed about right.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.