Scab Dates' accompanying photography is a frenetic blur of instruments and sweaty hair. Singers stand on amplifiers, and keyboardists stare intently at the veins popping in their hands; drummers reach over snares to tweak guitar strings, and saxophones appear out of the ether. It's an accurate portrayal of the Mars Volta's collagist sound, their subtitled and bullet-pointed avant metal that increasingly seems like the soundtrack to a film only Omar Rodriguez-Lopez can see. Still, even at their most insular (some would say self-indulgent), the Mars Volta seethe with intensity. Scab Dates proves this. Most of the more wandering elements of De-Loused and Frances the Mute disappear for this live document, replaced by hails of screaming organ, increased thump to the rhythm section, and Cedric Bixler-Zavala showing off the insane volatility in his voice. They still get jammy in places, but the extended guitar solos and softer textures lead to inevitable explosions. As nothing's ever been traditional with the Mars Volta, it's no surprise that their live albums aren't, either. The songs flow seamlessly and take subtitled digressions just like the studio records. In the liners, Rodriguez-Lopez describes how field recordings he made while on tour found their way into the mix, and there are no "How ya doin', Phoenix?!" or "Let me see you jump, San Diego!" from Bixler-Zavala to discern where the songs were recorded. All you get are dates -- "recorded between May 2004 and May 2005" -- and the occasional bit of crowd chatter to tell you this is live. (Well, the sound quality is a little off, too -- sometimes the drums sound terribly flat.) This means that Scab Dates is yet another intriguing window into the Mars Volta's world, instead of just a live album holdover. Highlights include "Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt" and the Comatorium highlight "Cicatriz," which becomes Scab Dates' epic closing suite.
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AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus