As I waited in line outside the Tabernacle on Luckie Street, I had to constantly pinch myself thinking, “Holy @#$%. This is really happening."
None of it felt quite real. And from the looks of all the wide-eyed, giddy faces around me, no one else could be quite certain this was really happening either. We're we really about to just casually saunter up the stairs to the Tabernacle, plunk down the money for some watered down domestic, and just wait around with all the other smokers to see At the Drive-In perform? As if they were an actual band that any of us thought we could just see in our lifetimes? But here we were. The legendary post-hardcore band was about to rock the stage; only on the second stop of their first honest-to-god tour in 17 years.
Technically, this wasn't the first attempt at an At the Drive-In reunion. In January 2012, after much hemming and hawing, (and at one point, pure denial from guitarist and founder Jim Ward) At The Drive-In officially “reunited." They even manage to keep it together for a few high profile shows at Loopalooza and the Reading and Leeds Festival. But even though the shows were greeted with rave reviews there was just something missing and off about those exclusive reunion performances.
The flat “no” from founding band member and bassist, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, that any of these shows would lead to a proper tour or any new At the Drive-In material in the future, hung over the whole thing like an ominous cloud. That, paired with reports that Rodriguez-Lopez seemed thoroughly unenthusiastic and uninterested on the mini-tour (and admitted as much later), and this At the Drive-In second coming seemed dead on arrival.
Five years later, and this second-second coming of At the Drive In isn’t one that’s completely devoid of speed bumps. The absence of founding guitarist Jim Ward, formally quitting the band mere days before the tour, was more than a little glaring. But guitarist Keely Davis did more than an excellent enough job at filling in, and the show didn’t feel the least bit weaker because of him. Ward’s absence aside, things really do feel a lot more stable in the At the Drive In camp.
With Atlanta as only the second stop on their tour and their announcement at SXSW of the release date and title (In.ter a.li.a) for their first new album of material, there's a lot more to hang your hat on and just enjoy the moment. If there's anything that was made clear to me through the course of At the Drive In's 80-minute set, it was the band felt like it was here once again for the long haul.
The show it self felt like it could have benefited for featuring a little more new At the Drive In if I’m going to be nitpicking about anything. They only featured one new song, the single “Governed by Contagions”, which was teased early in December. To their credit, it did sound just as amazing live, with all of the band’s trademarked energy behind it. But that’s just one minor nitpick in a show of amazing. The bulk of this set was At the Drive in tearing through their classic 2000 album, Relationship of Command, and doing it every bit of the justice it deserved. Nothing sounded the least bit phoned in.
As soon as the opening notes from the album opener, “Arcarsenal” rung out, the band never let up once, attacking the stage and their songs with all the frantic, energy of their teens. Frontman Cedric Bixler-Zacavla is 42-years-old but his energy didn’t show it. His sonic wail sounded as crisp and clear as eve. He didn’t stop moving for a moment, grabbing his mic stand in a death grip and climbing on seemingly every possible platform there was to find on stage (drum cases, amps, drummer Tony Hajjar’s drum kit) just to throw himself off it with wild abandon.
The performance was nothing less than amazing. The crowd was an even split of those who had remembered seeing At the Drive-In during their heyday in the 90’s, and people like me who had only heard of them but never could have dreamed of seeing them live As the final notes of “One Armed Scissors” echoed throughout the Tabernacle at the end of the show, it wasn’t a stretch to say both camps got everything they ever wanted and more.
At the Drive-In were at their most dialed in and at their most passionate, tearing through song after song like a day hadn’t passed since they disbanded. It felt like more than just a one-off reunion show. This was the sound of a band that was re-energized, re-motivated, and perhaps now more than ever, realizing that they still had more to say. I'm not definitively saying that the current geopolitical climate of 2017 wasn’t the tiniest bit of motivation for At the Drive-In to get back in gear again. But it’s not exactly the craziest conclusion the draw.
“When we wrote this song we had one goal in mind”, Bixler-Zavala mused aloud before the band started into “Cosmonaut”. “.......get out of this town and see the world before it self-destructs. That’s the goal right? Here’s to all the cosmonauts trying to get off this @#%$ing planet.”
Welcome back At the Drive-In. This promises to be a crazy year, and we're glad you’re going to be part of it till the bitter end.