At the Drive-In Make Up for Lost Time at NYC Show

Andrew Benge/Redferns
At The Drive-In perform on June 29, 2016. 

In September 2000, post-hardcore band At the Drive-In released their third full-length studio album, the critically acclaimed and highly influential Relationship of Command -- and just six months later, the band decided to call it quits. (The members then basically split in half and formed two new bands: The Mars Volta and Sparta.) Now, 17 years later, they’ve regrouped for a new album, in.ter a.li.a (due May 5), and a fan-frothing tour, which stopped at New York’s Terminal 5 on March 22.

The show was somewhat of a do-over, as the Texas band had canceled what was supposed to be their triumphant NYC return right before showtime last June at the same venue. As 3,000 people waited for the lights to dim in the sold-out club, two band members -- guitarist Omar Rodriguez and drummer Tony Hajjar -- came out onstage that night to announce that they wouldn’t be playing because singer Cedric Bixler had lost his voice and was afraid he’d damage his vocal cords. The next day, they canceled the remaining dates of what was deemed their reunion tour.

So, on this night at Terminal 5, Bixler couldn’t seem to apologize enough: “I’m really sorry about that,” said the frenetic frontman near the beginning of the show. “But we came back so we could all smell together and sweat together -- and so you can smell my bad breath."

And sweat they did. As soon as the first note of the first song (“Arcarsenal”) reverberated through the predominantly male crowd (and Bixler busted out his maracas), a swarm of people shoved their way toward the stage, and the giant, general-admission floor turned into a chaotic mess of slam-dancing bodies inside the once-again sold-out venue. Bixler’s spastic, fidgety movements -- which made him look like kind of a punk rock version of ’70s-era Elvis with poofy “poodle” hair, as he called it -- only added to the pandemonium. Despite being 42 and not as gangly as he once was, the energetic singer spent much of the night climbing on the drum kit, jumping off monitors and obscurely gesturing at the crowd. At one point, he risked life and limb trying to climb into the pit, presumably to crowd-surf, but fans went so crazy that he couldn’t fight the crushing flow of people trying to get near him. He eventually had to give up.

The band -- currently comprising Bixler, Rodriguez, Hajjar, guitarist Keeley Davis and bassist Paul Hinojos -- played 13 songs during the hectic hour-and-a-half-long set. Most were from Relationship of Command, which is their most successful album to date, reaching No. 116 on the Billboard 200 and No. 1 on the Heatseekers Albums chart. In addition to their only charting single, “One Armed Scissor” (which reached No. 26 on Modern Rock Tracks), At the Drive-In played seven songs from Command, including “Invalid Litter Dept.,” “Cosmonaut” and “Sleepwalk Capsules.” They also played two new songs: “Governed by Contagions” and “Incurably Innocent.”

At the end of the show, Bixler once again apologized to the crowd and walked offstage mouthing "thank you" multiple times. Considering the hysteria in the air throughout the night, it seems all was forgiven.

Opening the show was Mexican garage punk band Le Butcherettes, which is two-thirds female (singer/guitarist/keyboardist Teri Gender Bender, drummer Alejandra Robles Luna and bassist/keyboardist Riko Rodriguez-Lopez) and has close ties with At the Drive-In's Rodriguez (he's produced and released all three of their albums).

In terms of stage presence, the two bands complemented each other: Gender Bender provided similar onstage antics to Bixler's, wildly flailing around and contorting her body. After first appearing wearing a green military-style jumpsuit, a red chiffon scarf and red high heels while swinging a matching bath sponge, Gender Bender eventually stripped down to an all-red dress and tights before throwing her shoes into the audience and pretending to give birth onstage. In that sense, Le Butcherettes were an interesting juxtaposition to the testosterone-heavy evening (men easily outnumbered women 10 to one in the audience). During their 45-minute set, Le Butcherettes performed "Henry Don't Got Love," "I'm Getting Sick of You" and "Witchless C Spot," among other songs.