Review: At The Drive-In

At The Drive-In
Manchester University
Rating: *****

"You're gonna feel the need to beat the shit out of each other," predicts Cedric Bixler, the wildly afro'd frontman for At The Drive-In. And, certainly, ATDI - a quintet from El Paso, Texas, widely touted as the saviours of rock'n'roll on the back of their debut album, Relationship of Command - play with the sort of elemental, visceral energy that turns mosh-pits into war zones.

Bixler, however, isn't issuing some macho call to arms. Rather, we're told to look after one another. "Don't act like apes," he insists.

ATDI share a producer, Ross Robinson, with nu-metal knuckle-heads such as Slipknot, but their attitude - and sound - is totally different.

Not that they aren't loud enough to please the kids in Korn T-shirts. The opener, Arc Arsenal, is a seismic snap, crackle and squall, balanced atop thunderous, tribal drums. Catacombs, meanwhile, is more violent mid-air turbulence than song.

Like an amphetamine-reared salmon, Bixler bounces, climbs and dives about the stage, occasionally indulging in a little "interpretative" dance, as if living every note. While twirling his mic. Constantly.

It's some spectacle. Particularly as Bixler and guitarist Omar Rodriguez - all cool tattoos, skinny tees and big hair - are as iconic, and as passionate, as their most obvious spiritual antecedents, MC5.

But it's ATDI's subtleties and variety - and Omar's conjuring of spectral, sonic detritus - that make them truly great. There are grungey melodies buried in this barrage that are all the sweeter for being hidden, bold, elegiac rumbles of piano. And during the new single, Rolodex Propaganda (on which Iggy Pop guests), the unwinding organ is more Badly Drawn Boy than bad-ass rock'n'roll.

Bixler's vocals - part intense croon, part sandpaper, evangelical holler - convey deep hurt and anger. Even if you can't make out a word of his oblique, rhetorical lyrics.

Rodriguez, his guitar mingling with various FX and freaky, creaky samples, dispenses obtuse, twisted, broken-fingered lead guitar as angular and alien as Sonic Youth. Like the Pixies' Joey Santiago, his guitar sounds sizzlingly electric, as he bends notes and lends ATDI an edge with his weird, juxtaposed riffs.

Supple and precise, but as raw-sounding as Shellac, ATDI change pace and/or tone at will, songs are arranged oddly, and little, complex details - such as the guitar phrase in Rascuache that lurches softly, then tumbles down - tug at the heart strings.

Be in no doubt, ATDI may sound like two juggernauts colliding, metal shearing and crumpling, but this is soul music, an exorcism that's both sad and mad. Over 12 songs (no encore) it left Manchester stunned.

• At The Drive-In play Leeds Cockpit (0113-244 3446) tonight, then tour.


Tony Naylor

The GuardianTramp

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