For well over half a decade, Texas art punks At the Drive-In were given very little attention. Their music was rooted in the post-hardcore sound that had been evolving since the late 1980s, and their live performances had grown increasingly chaotic and unpredictable as they kept putting out records. But they were stuck in the Lone Star state, with little-to-no promotion and nothing but word of mouth to keep their momentum going.
That was until the year 2000, when everything exploded for the band in more ways than one. Within a year and a half, At the Drive-In signed to the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal label, released their album Relationship of Command to critical acclaim and modest commercial success, played some legendary large-scale shows, and promptly broke up in spectacular fashion.
For a band built on spontaneity and unpredictability, it was a fitting end to an all-too-short career. The stereotypical mix of drug abuse and intra-band differences expediated the breakup, but every time At the Drive-In took the stage, there was the potential for combustion and catastrophic failure. It didn’t matter if that stage was in a dingy club, a massive festival, or a television studio.
When the band trekked into Late Night with Conan O’Brien for the programme’s Halloween show in 2000, there might have been an understandable expectation for the band to ease up on their more aggressive stage tendencies. That didn’t happen as singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala performed some of his signature death-defying leaps as the rest of the band thrash out ‘One-Armed Scissor’ behind him.
‘One-Armed Scissor’ was becoming a somewhat-unlikely semi-hit for the band, finding sympathetic play on alternative rock radio. For a band built on the desire for an uncompromising attack, mind-bending time signatures, and highly chromatic guitar figures, having a song that could be sung (or at least recognised) by casual fans was a blessing, and perhaps even a strange curse. At the Drive-In were set to be break big, including appearing on bills with the Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine.
And then, less than five months after their appearance on Conan, At the Drive-In officially called it quits. Relationship of Command was still selling and At the Drive-In would have completed their ascension into the rock mainstream with a US tour that was only a month away. Instead, they became one of the biggest what-ifs to ever flame out, with half the band splitting into the more straight-forward Sparta and the other half creating The Mars Volta shortly afterwards.
Check out At the Drive-In perform ‘One-Armed Scissor’ on Late Night with Conan O’Brien in 2000 down below.