At the Drive-In sans Jim Ward
It looks like hardcore fans of similarly hardcore At the Drive-In (ATD-I) fans are going to be sorely disappointed now that founding member, guitarist, and backup vocalist Jim Ward has bailed on their anticipated reunion tour.
But, with or without Jim Ward, that nostalgic reunion tour was never going to happen, anyway. Consider for a moment that we’re talking about a band whose demise arose from fear of stagnation and the anxiety of members trying to progress in two different directions. These are not musicians whose MO is to abandon creativity and play out old tunes to earn a buck on the memory of what once was; guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López’s 53 studio albums since 2000 testify to this. Since the heyday of At the Drive-In in the late ′90s, the individual members have endured loss and achievement, sustained drug addiction and recovery, and developed more than a dozen offshoots and side-projects resulting in a collective and creative growth such that ATD-I could never be the band they once were.
The band’s vague Facebook announcement of Jim Ward’s departure, days before the tour’s commencement, has resulted in an onslaught of online commentary, accusing the band of essentially pulling a clever The Mars Volta (TMV) reunion ploy under the guise of At the Drive-In. However, The Mars Volta is only one of the many spin-off bands which feature ATD-I vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Rodríguez-López, and each reincarnation is a departure from ATD-I. The reactions to the news from their fan-base include disgust…and rational understanding that sometimes shit happens; things don’t come together as planned, and you may never get to see a reunion of your favorite band from those angsty high-school days.
These are not musicians whose MO is to abandon creativity and play out old tunes to earn a buck on the memory of what once was
The past 15 years, since the “indefinite hiatus” of ATD-I, have seen an endless slew of associated acts in a number of configurations and genres. With a range including the dub reggae of De Facto (Rodríguez-López, Bixler-Zavala), the punchy and energetic indie-punk of ANTEMASQUE (Rodríguez-López, Bixler-Zavala), and the accessible yet intense post-hardcore of Sparta (Ward, drummer Tony Hajjar, and bassist Paul Hinojos), it’s no surprise that their fans are polarized. But now we must look at moving on and accepting this new, Ward-less At the Drive-In, like it or not.
Bands develop and change. This is nothing new. Syd Barrett’s departure from Pink Floyd left us with the Pink Floyd that produced Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall. While I don’t see ATD-I becoming more mainstream, to say they will turn into the chaotic, experimental noise rock of The Mars Volta is more than a stretch—it’s an insult to everything about this that isn’t TMV. Rodríguez-López and Bixler-Zavala have made it clear that they are more than capable of putting out work in different genres with different motives, and maintaining distinction between their many projects.
Jim Ward has since been replaced by friend and Sparta bandmate Keeley Davis, which seems to have helped put fans at ease—his presence assuring that this won’t delve into spacey experimental pandemonium. The band opened up their reunion on Tuesday at the Observatory in Santa Ana, California. Throughout the Internet the general consensus of their performance seems to be positive.
This new incarnation of ATD-I exists because each of these members are committed to building upon the band that was. For reasons unknown Jim Ward was not up to a tour, and I’d rather an alternative ATD-I than a cancelled or failed tour. How much it will resemble its former self is something we’ll find out with time, but I think we can expect quality music to come, regardless.