Bosnian Rainbows’ Collective Talent Lights Up The Biltmore

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Being a major force in an iconic band is probably pretty great all around, but the curse is that it can be difficult to convince your fans to let you move on. When Slash split with Axl, it was hard not to compare everything he did afterwards with Guns ‘N’ Roses.

When Omar Rodriguez-Lopez started his new band Bosnian Rainbows after splitting with longtime musical collaborator and Mars Volta bandmate Cedric Bixler-Zavala, it was hard not to compare it with the band they made famous.

On Saturday, September 14, Bosnian Rainbows played a powerful show at The Biltmore that made that comparison moot. Omar was joined by fellow Mars Volta alumni, drummer Deantoni Parks, but their resume was not evident, nor did it matter. This was, in every sense, a new band, with an impressive new energy.

It’s easy to talk about the characters with the sprawling legacy, about Omar and his habit of forming bands that leave a lasting impact on music. But the character most worthy of talk, and the one who gives Bosnian Rainbows its power, is lead singer Terri Gender-Bender.

It’s difficult to describe Terri, as her stage performance reveals a kind of feral awkwardness. Before starting the first song she shook out her limbs like a swimmer preparing for a race. She’s all upper body, swinging elbows about like a possessed chicken, and then throwing her arms back and trembling violently, as if taken by the Holy Ghost. But she is an endearing host, one whose awkward and unconventional motion was easily lovable.

Where she shows rightful confidence is in front of the microphone. Terri has absolute command of her voice, and her deep baritone hung above The Biltmore like the thick smoke of old cigarettes. Her performance was absolutely committed, and she owned the entire show.

Disappointingly, the show was only about an hour, and after the band played their only set, the lights went out and the small crowd thundered for more, but none came. Soon enough the lights went up and the show was over. It was a show that had me literally asking for more.

Bosnian Rainbows’ stage is an odd arrangement. With no bass guitarist, keyboardist Nicci Kasper takes over those roles, fusing them with synth leads and experimental sound manipulation. He sat behind a cage of keyboards and boxes, cables stretching out of everything and snaking through the darkness below. Half in his nest with him was drummer Deantoni Parks, whose low kit was almost invisible beyond the frame of Kasper’s den.

The band’s set list was excellently played, if not a bit boring. They opened with the first three tracks from their debut album unbroken, and after about a half hour, it was clear that their intention was to play the entire album in track order. With no covers, surprises, or extended jams, the show felt a bit predictable – but the renditions were absolutely spot on.

Despite the performers’ legacy, the crowd at The Biltmore was intimate. But considering the band is only a year old, even that was impressive. Most of the audience was made up of longtime Mars Volta and At the Drive-In fans, but the love was clearly for Bosnian Rainbows. Terri walked away with not one but two absurdly-sized bouquets of flowers.

Omar is well-known for having his hand in a hundred different projects at a time – over his career he’s led bands like At the Drive-In, De Facto, El Grupo Nuevo de Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, and The Mars Volta, and each one has experimented with new styles and challenged listeners. But through almost all of his projects, the one thing he has always kept as a constant is longtime collaborator Cedric Bixler-Zavala. For the first time, he has started a major project without the help of his old bandmate, and with that change, Bosnian Rainbows sounds and feels like the first truly experimental thing Omar’s done in years.

Read Garin’s review of Bosnian Rainbows’ self-titled debut.