The Mars Volta credit around 24 total people as contributing to Scabdates. Although a good deal are just sound engineers and people of that nature, there are still at least 8 solidified musicians credited, one contributing nearly every 'classical' instrument on the album. This should mean the album will be gold, right? I mean, that picture of Omar on the cover just oozes insanity. And there is no way the great gods that are TMV would release a sub par live album, considering the "Volta Experience" is one of the key selling points to the band, right? Well, I'm sure the first track will give us a hint.
Band members specifically mentioned in this review:
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez - Guitar
Cedric Bixler-Zavala (gotta love those hyphens) - Vocals
Juan Alderete - Bass
Jon Theodore - Drums
Isaiah Ikey Owens - Keyboards
The album starts off with Abrasions Mount the Timpani, a track that at first seems completely out of place. What, with babies crying, Airport intercom announcements, and some unintelligible screams. Not surprisingly, this is one of the more accessible tracks on Scabdates. After a quick round of applause by the crowd, it goes into a little introduction to my personal favorite off of "De-Loused In the Comatorium", Take the Veil. It opens with the signature guitar line, and it sounds even better in concert than on the album. However, as soon as Cedric begins singing, a little bit of a cringe went through my body, but I'll get to that later. Musically, the first couple of minutes are incredible, losing none of its pizzazz. The 7 or so minutes of jamming following the first section of the song are not half bad, although they do drop the bass solo, one of the standout moments of De-Loused. However, despite all of this, the vocals just grate on me too much, and while he isn�t exactly off key, he just wasn't "on" the night they recorded this. Of course, acid will pretty much do that to you.
Caviglia is an example of one of the many interludes The Mars Volta use while playing live, and sets up Concertina well. Concertina is by far the standout track of the album, from the symphonic opening moments to the bass and drum rolls, I find myself popping in this disc just to listen to this. As I touched on just a bit ago, the bass is outstanding, at some parts overtaking Omar's playing, quite a feat considering how pronounced he is throughout the album. Ikey Owens also shows some of his chops, contributing a great deal to the feel of the song. This comes off being superior to the original version of Concertina in every sense, and actually made me go dig up Tremulant. Not my smartest decision garnered by listening to Scabdates, but probably the most enjoyable.
Haruspex. When I first read the track listing, this was the song I was looking forward to the most. How could a song with a title as cool as Haruspex not be absolutely kickass? Some would say by being 5 minutes of prog wankery. I would have to agree. Even after repeat listen after repeat listen, I still find the song to be just plain uncomfortable to listen too. The screeching guitar is interesting for a short while, but it soon begins to grate on you. No one is denying you're probably going to be one of the "guitar legends" of this era Omar, you don't need to ruin it with excessive (and somewhat sloppy) guitar solos and a pedal board that's almost as big as a Volvo. The occasional flashes of Cedric's voice chanting off lines from Cicatriz ESP remind us this is The Mars Volta and not the Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Band. All in all, it's a complicated little ditty, and if you listen to The Mars Volta for Omar, you�ll simply orgasm over this. Otherwise, enjoy Ikey Owens again, as Juan Alderete doesn't contribute much, and everywhere Jon Theodore shows off his chops, Omar is just plowing right through him.
Haruspex suitably leads into Cicatriz ESP, which starts out following what the rest of the album has set: Cedric wails, Omar overplays, Juan lays down the funk, Jon is brilliant and overshadowed, and Ikey� Ikey is probably dancing behind his keyboard. The first couple minutes of the song go off without much of a hitch, but the only truly memorable part is Cedric declaring, "I've defected!" So yes, the song is similar to the album version for a little while. However, this is where all hell br-well, slowly begins to trickle in. Although Juan has a nice bass section around the 5-minute mark, the song starts to get lost in itself not long after. Continuing the wankery he's shown throughout the album, Omar continues on with half interesting, nonsensical solos and chord stabs for essentially the rest of the song in all its forms, until the "ambience" section in Cicatriz IV. It makes sense to be there, I mean, The Mars Volta decided it should be there, so the album should most definitely benefit from it, right? Of course it does. Even though it effectively kills playing IV in your car, has nothing of real interest, is more annoying than neat or experimental, and might be the final sign of their insanity, it's quite good. No, really, it is.
If you feel I've been hard on this album in any way, one: tell me so I can just delete this last paragraph, and two: I really haven't. Although individually the tracks may not be bad, and there may be a few shining moments (The opening minutes of Take the Veil, Concertina, and of course the audio in Cicatriz IV), as a whole, the album was (and is) extremely disappointing. Although I do feel quite put off that no "Frances the Mute" songs were included, that alone wasn't going to steer me away. What finally did the trick was Cedric's vocals in parts, Omar's excessive soloing, and the simple fact that my attention was only caught by Concertina and Haruspex (although for completely opposite reasons). What's even more disappointing is that nearly every bootleg live show I've heard from TMV have far surpassed this record on every level except the quality of the recording, which is one of the albums strongest points. Yet another detraction would have to be none of it sounded urgent or exciting to me, a trademark of a Volta show. I've never seen The Mars Volta live (at least where I was paying attention), and the simple fact is this: If all I had to base their live act upon was this and their previous live EP, I would never think about attending a show. And that's what its really all about, folks.