Still in Command: At The Drive In’s first Irish gig in 16 years

AT The Drive-In have just begun that most un-punk of endeavours — the reunion tour. So many legends before them have gone down that route that it’s now a surprise when it doesn’t happen. Take a bow, Fugazi.

But ever since the El Paso post-hardcore act pulled the plug and split before their biggest world tour in 2001, it’s been a case of unfinished business.

Their 2000 album Relationship of Command is still held as one of the defining guitar albums of the early millennium — mixing the rage and right-on ethos of Minor Threat with psychedelia and prog.

This was in the middle of the nu-metal horror show, and before The Strokes’ debut, Queens of the Stone Age’s Songs For the Deaf and the White Stripes’ White Blood Cells. And Californication was the biggest rock album in the world, with the CD on every student mantelpiece in Ireland. Dark days.

At The Drive-In were immediately claimed by Kerrang! And NME — a ferocious blast of pinpoint energy who looked the part too — with the double-header of singer Cedric Bixler and guitarist Omar Rodriguez rocking afros and skinny jeans way before The Strokes hit the covers. They were the biggest buzz band since Nirvana.

I got to see ATDI in 2000, at the Empire in Belfast, and I heard the words ‘BEST GIG EVER’ roared around 100 times that night, with the front row jolted all sides by knife-edge riffs of One Armed Scissor, Cosmonaut and Arcarsenal — and Cedric’s high jumps and mic-whip action that could give Iggy Pop a run for his money.

It turns out the band were frazzling internally at their commercial peak. They’d been together for three albums and seven years, with only a year in the limelight. In January 2001, they left the stage after three songs at Australia’s Big Day Out.

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After a few European dates they released a statement cancelling all future gigs, citing “complete mental and physical exhaustion”, with the “indefinite hiatus” soon after. The split was characterised by Omar in an interview as a “lot of shit-talking” and “very much finished business”.

ATDI split right down the middle, with Omar and Cedric forming the experimental prog act The Mars Volta and guitarist Jim Ward and Tony Hajjar teamed up in the more straight-up post-hardcore Sparta.

But a decade of what-ifs and a big cheque coaxed the members back for a reunion at Coachella and other dates in 2012 — with Cedric joking at the time they’d finally finished the Relationship of Command tour.

For many, they basically plugged right back into 2000 mode — handy if you’re a nostalgic fan, but some huffed over Omar’s detachment, a fact he admitted himself.

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Still, four years later they’re on the road again, but the outpouring of companionship on Facebook hit a snag with Ward pulling out two days before the first show of their second reunion.

Promptly replaced by his Sparta bandmate Keely Davis, the show must go on — and a proper goosebump YouTube clip of their first show in California has calmed the nerves.

It’s not a reunion, but a reignition, according to Cedric. Here’s hoping.

  • At The Drive-In play Vicar Street in Dublin tonight (SOLD OUT)

Here’s a clip of their opening show at The Observatory in Santa Ana, California…