Bosnian Rainbows Concert in Minneapolis: Reviewing Omar’s New Sound

Last year my friend introduced me to this man who went by the name of Omar. (Till then, the only Omar I had heard about was the trench-coat wearing, shotgun wielding badass who robbed drug dealers for a living). It turned out that this new Omar had about half a dozen musical projects going on all at the same time and that he had a really good ear for progressive rock and experimental music. Without having to spend much time or effort, I was immediately captivated by the sound of The Mars Volta and most of his solo work (including that extremely disturbing album Despair). And now he has got this latest band – Bosnian Rainbows – and they were on tour with their last date at Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis on Feb 28.

So there was just this small matter of doing the 4 hr drive from Des Moines to Minneapolis on a Thursday afternoon, watch the concert, do the 4 hr drive back to Des Moines that same night and then go to work at 8 on Friday morning. Well, of course I was always going to do it! And I did do it.

Omar Rodriguez Lopez (L) with his new band Bosnian Rainbows at Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis

This was the first time I was going to a concert wherein I had not listened to ANY music of the band at all. Bosnian Rainbows has not yet released an album and I had not listened to either of the 2 Live singles they had released. But make no mistake. This band sounds real good Live. Omar has created a refreshing new sound that is not only well textured and oozing with craftsmanship, but it is also very catchy (Wiki calls it Alternative rock, experimental rock, electronic rock, art rock, and art punk). There is a generous dose of catchy electronic beats that is layered with Omar’s equally catchy guitar riffs. Deantoni Parks, the Mars Volta drummer, played a lot of drums, electronic percussion and keyboards (at the same time) and I am really curious to see how that sounds in the album recording. A defining characteristic of this band is the near perfect blending of the percussion, the electronic beats and Omar’s guitar riffs. But what pulls it all together is Teri Bender’s soaring vocals. Her voice gives this sound that cutting edge which it would otherwise have missed badly.

Most of the songs were about 4-6 minutes in length and did not contain any expansive passages or for that matter, any room for improvisations. As Omar had indicated in an interview earlier, these songs are very tight compositions with well defined structures. But, as with ANY Omar compositions, irrespective of how catchy or poppy this sound may be, all the songs are meticulously written and executed and some inevitably contain experimental passages.

A quick word about the performance. This was the first time I was seeing Omar Live, and boy does he get involved in the music! For extended periods of time, he appeared to be lost in the music and living in a different plane of existence. Immersed in the music, he was vigorously moving his body to get into the groove of his guitar riffs. He spoke very little to nothing at all except towards the end when he acknowledged the audience by thanking them profusely for showing up and supporting the band all the time and every day. The fact that he said this directly to the crowd  instead of to the microphone tells me that he really meant it.

Teri Bender really did steal the show with her robotic movements and gyrations to accompany the music. She even crawled on the floor where the crowd was standing at one point. Her stage presence does indeed complement her voice. Deantoni Parks, on the other hand, looked like he just came back from a workout session at the gym. This man is huge and with his massive muscles, was playing the drum kit, electronic percussions and the keyboards  – all at the same time!

A quick note on Omar himself. This man looks really really young. He looked like a college graduate who was just looking for a job. Humor aside, this in fact is an important reminder of how much he has composed and produced in such a young age (he is right now 37). The more I think about it, the more I am prone to draw analogies between him and Steven Wilson. Both have several projects going on, do the writing on most of them, produce all the albums, give special attention to releasing albums instead of singles, and are always looking to explore new sounds. It is the last part that makes me develop true respect for people like Omar and Steven Wilson. The fearlessness that is needed to go ahead and create a new sound that may very well be against what they are popularly known for among their fans is something to be admired. With regard to Omar, making this well textured and meticulously written music, albeit in a catchy song structure, had to be a challenging process – but one that did not deter him from going ahead.

As much as I am disappointed that both Omar’s The Mars Volta and Wilson’s Porcupine Tree are on a hiatus, I am not unduly worried about it as both Omar and Steven Wilson continue to write music exploring new sounds. And as long as they don’t stop doing that, I wont have much to complain.

Oh and turns out I will be watching Steven Wilson Live at the exact same music venue in the first week of May. Already have my tickets for it and looking forward to watching him Live for the second time in a pub.


PS: Special mention to MARRIAGES – the opening act for Bosnian Rainbows. Imagine Sigur Ros and a slightly heavier version of Sigur Ros. This band is pretty close to the latter. The female vocalist is really worth the comparison. Cool artwork too.

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