“He did what heroes do after their work is accomplished; he died.”
War and Peace, Tolstoy.
When At The Drive-In left us in 2001, the band had accomplished a great deal.
Just teenagers as they witnessed the death of grunge and hair metal, the founding members of At The Drive-In met at high school in El Paso, Texas in 1993. Their early shows were frenetic and promoted mostly underground, their sound merging MC5 protopunk with the post-hardcore of their heroes Fugazi and Sunny Day Real Estate. They eventually settled on a name inspired by the Bad Brains song ‘At the Movies’.
At The Drive-In‘s full length debut, ‘Arcobatic Tenement’, was fuzzy, fizzing with ideas and loud-quiet dynamics. The band decided to record its follow up, 1998’s ‘In/Casino/Out’, live in a studio with the hope of capturing some of the energy and sound of their live shows.
It was their ‘swan song’, their final album, 2000’s ‘Relationship of Command’ that became their magnum opus.
The production was big and the songwriting ambitious. It was as if all of the band’s potential was realised in the one record, without losing any of that onstage chemistry.
Six months after the album’s release their time was over, ATDI had seemingly been torn apart by their own gathering momentum. The acrimonious split divided the band into two factions, one half formed The Mars Volta, the other Sparta, and a sibling-like rivalry continued for more than half a decade.
When At The Drive-In first announced their reunion in 2012 for a series of live shows and festival performances, I explored the significance of their legacy - alongside Refused - and how both bands had shaped a genre.
Four years on from those first reunion shows and we’re left to reflect on some mixed results.
Whilst Refused returned fiery and dissonant, recapturing a space that no one could have filled in the interim, At The Drive-In looked unable to re-engage.
Refused delivered on a collection of blistering live performances and progressive new material, At The Drive-In struggled just to find a formula that worked on the hugely increased stage sizes they were now being billed on.
Their set at Reading Festival 2012 was a moment I had been waiting more than a decade for. Did it live up to the hype? It didn’t even come close.
Maybe it was the setting? ‘Pattern Against User’ wasn’t designed to be heard in a 20,000 capacity festival tent - the “largest in Europe“.
Maybe it was just a bad night? Reviewers at their Brixton Academy show said they were “very special indeed“.
But they weren’t special for me, they were very much the opposite. It’s like they had all the right moves but just at wrong time.
It felt good, of course. But a cover band down the Blind Beggar playing ‘Lopsided’ would have felt good. I wanted magnificence. I wanted genius. I wanted what I first saw as a 12-year-old watching that Jools Holland performance. I wanted Robbie William’s face after they’d finished, asking for his chair back.
Can we have that back? Will new material give ATDI new impetus?
It seems, to me, rather optimistic to think so. Perhaps it’s easier to believe their work is done, fully accomplished, they’ve reached their end. It’s time for the TV adaptation.
In the meantime, I’m off to see Refused. I want to dance.
At The Drive-In today announced the following world tour dates:
03/23 – Hollywood, CA @ Fonda Theatre
03/26 – Dublin, IE @ Vicar Street
03/27 – London, UK @ Roundhouse
03/29 – Paris, FR @ Le Trianon
03/30 – Cologne, DE @ Palladium
03/31 – Amsterdam, NL @ Melkweg
04/01 – Brussels, BE @ Ancienne Belgique
04/04 – Berlin, DE @ Columbiahalle
04/05 – Vienna, AT @ Vienna Arena
04/07 – Milan, IT @ Fabrique
04/08-09 – Lausanne, CH @ Impetus Festival
04/10 – Barcelona, ES @ Razzmatazz
05/13-15 – Atlanta, GA @ Shaky Knees Music Festival
05/17 – Nashville, TN @ Marathon Music Works
05/19 – Chicago, IL @ Riviera Theatre
05/20-22 – Columbus, OH @ Rock on the Range Music Festival
06/03 – San Francisco, CA @ The Warfield
06/05 – Portland, OR @ McMenamin’s Crystal Ballroom
06/07 – Vancouver, BC @ Commodore Ballroom
06/08 – Seattle, WA @ Showbox Sodo
06/11 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Fillmore
06/14 – Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
06/17 – New York, NY @ Terminal 5
06/18 – Boston, MA @ House of Blues
06/21 – Detroit, MI @ St. Andrew’s Hall
06/23 – Toronto, ON @ Phoenix Concert Hall