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Sparta rocks out at Chicago’s Metro Theatre

Chuy Benitez | Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Sparta’s Jim Ward has always talked highly of playing to great crowds in Chicago, so the Nov. 23 show at the Metro came as no surprise to Sparta fans and Chicago music-hipsters alike. The show marked Sparta’s third trip to the music-hungry city of Chicago, and it almost seemed like a long awaited reunion for Sparta and it’s Chicago listeners. For the past month Sparta has been on its latest tour promoting its sophomore album, Porcelain, which was released July 2004. For Sparta, both the album and the tour symbolize a progression and a sense of stability in their careers and personal lives. Although the tour includes two other up-and-coming bands, Further Seems Forever and Copeland, which also have excellent musical creativity, Sparta is the clear headliner and driving force of the tour. In the past it was Sparta who would either co-headline tours and festivals like Coachella with great bands like the Pixies, or open for largely established bands like Incubus and Pearl Jam. With their new stability as Texas rock frontrunners, the spotlight on Sparta is something they’ve been wanting and working for since they started the band.Sparta’s formation came from the untimely divorce of at the drive-in, which was El Paso, Texas’ pride-and-joy rock band of the 1990’s. The breakup of at the drive-in split the band down the middle, with guitarist and vocalist Jim Ward, guitarist/bassist Paul Hinojos and drummer Tony Hajjar moving on to Sparta and singer Cedric Bixler Zavala and Omar Rodriguez moving on to their band, the Mars Volta. The breakup left at the drive-in fans wanting to hate no one and support both efforts. Ward, Hinojos and Hajjar also asked El Paso bassist Matt Miller to join Sparta and create a complete sound by being able to have two guitarists. Both bands have been critically acclaimed since they have gone their separate paths, and El Pasoans have been glad to realize that they now have two great hometown bands to support instead of just one.With Sparta’s newest album, Porcelain, Ward took a big step in writing the vocals for the album, but the payoff has been wholly positive for Ward and the rest of the band. The other band members agree that Ward’s lyrics for the album exemplify the maturity level that both Ward and Sparta as a whole have reached in the past few years. The concept for Porcelain came largely from the revisiting of their hometown of El Paso, Texas and from Ward’s new position in life as a married man. Several of their songs reference both El Paso (“Guns of Memorial Park,” “La Cerca”) and Ward’s growing relationship with his new wife (“Hiss the Villain,” “Breaking the Broken,” “Lines in the Sand”). All of the lyrics to these songs are written openly and cleanly enough for them to be seen as personal expressions of Ward and as having relevant content fans can relate with.Sparta’s musical sound has also taken a walk back to their musical past in El Paso, which was largely refined and represented by the now classic emo sound of at the drive-in. Sparta’s opening song, “Guns of Memorial Park,” starts with a techno-static-guitar intro much like they did in their ATDI days. Many of their songs also rock on at a constant feverish but changing pace that never lets the listener feel settled. It is a pace and structure that can largely be heard and found in the local El Paso music scene. The final thought on the Porcelain album as a whole is that it resonates on the fundamentals of holding onto your roots and your relationships because in the end they will be the things you can always count on, and Sparta must be applauded for pulling off such a solid sophomore album that exemplifies the fundamentals that rock-listeners everywhere should think about.