THE BEGINNING

Their 2012 reunion gigs were met with mixed reviews. Returning now in 2016 the US band don’t just have spectacular live shows to put on, but also a ‘classic’ album to follow-up.

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In 2000, ‘Relationship of Command’ propelled At The Drive-­In, and their brutal clash of combustible post rock, into the limelight. Angry and energised, their appeal was incendiary and destructive, always teetering between brilliance and chaos; a beat away from total breakdown.

Not that it would have mattered to the jumping, bustling, thrusting Cedric Bixler; a firebrand frontman with wild hair and even wilder delivery; guitarist Omar Rodriguez, shifting and contorting with every dexterous, crunching fret board extension; Jim Ward, Paul Hinojos, and Tony Hajjar cracking, smashing and pounding a way through their own furrows of fury. They were car-crash in the most glorious way possible; a thrilling freewheel to a point of implosion where swerving from disaster was as delicious as the threat of impact.

To a restless 16-year-old, it was some of the most incredible noise I’d ever heard, delivered faster and more frantically than I could handle. But it didn’t stop me hanging on for dear life as every splintered guitar, smashed amp stack, and sweat-­slicked stage saw At The Drive-­In conquer or collapse in furious anger.

In 2012, they reemerged to put an end to years of ellipsis and punch a full stop on one of music’s most irascible legacies. Reformed and apparently still raging, the band had inevitably imploded years before; crashing and burning under the pressure of drugs, exhaustion, expectation and artistic differences. An indefinite hiatus quickly became a definite split until a small set of dates got the fires going once again.

Again, there was rabid expectation but there was also apprehension. At The Drive-­In of ’00 and ’01 blazed a brilliant line between youthful recklessness and ingenuity, the unbridled anger of previous albums ‘Acrobatic Tenement’ (1996) and ‘In/Casino/Out’ (1998) filtered through tracks like ‘One ­Armed Scissor’, ‘Enfilade’, and ‘Cosmonaut’ without being uninhibited by creaking bodies and regret. The Mars Volta and Sparta had their successes but it was always tinged with a sense of ‘What if…’ and now at the moment of truth, that optimism felt fragile and heavy.

I left their Brixton Academy show in August 2012 in a daze, more in semi­-relieved consternation than the endorphin-­fuelled one I’d (desperately) hoped to relive. After watching Cedric struggle with recreating the physicality of his youth –­ a few half-­height kicks and microphone thrusts not withstanding – and Omar contentedly sip tea in­ between breaks of revivalist rage, the acceptance hit that this was a different band. Older? Certainly. Wiser? Hopefully. Ward said he always felt 17 when he played with At The Drive-­In, and it’s the cruel truth for every fan who was fortunate enough to catch the first act. We’ve all written a million love letters to the bands of our teenage years in our heads, but the creeping fear is that witnessing them second time round is as much a reminder of carefree days as it is our own withering mortality.

It’s the crux of At The Drive-­In: a band that couldn’t have existed any other way; a force destined to collapse in on itself. They were never supposed to have a half­-life, but forget the legacy, because it was always about the void, the premise that there was more to come, even if that was to be short­lived.

So here we are in 2016, with a fresh run of dates and the tantalising prospect of new music. In some ways, this third coming helps frame the 2012 shows in a forgiving light: more cathartic than conflicting­, a practice run of emotion for the real thing – if this is the real thing. Fifteen years is a long time for any follow-­up, especially to a defining debut,­ as DFA 1979 and Rival Schools would testify, and everything depends on how the band view this next chapter. A solid month of shows represents a statement of intent, but if At The Drive-­In’s return is ever to provide closure, replaying the past can only ever be the first step.

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