Review: The Airborne Toxic Event on JBTV

Posted: December 4, 2013 in A Little Less Profound
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By Glen

On September 18, 2013, The Airborne Toxic Event returned to Chicago for a triumphant show before their adoring masses at The Vic. Prior to the main event, however, the band had other business to attend to: the taping of an appearance on JBTV, which has previously hosted many of the the biggest names in modern rock history early in their careers for intimate performances and revealing interviews.

JBTV recently made the 5-song set and 20-minute interview available through Archlive, a subscription-based online TV service. A monthly subscription to the JBTV channel costs $3.99/month, which gets you access not just to the TATE performance, but all the videos in the JBTV library. Though you may or may not want to keep your subscription going indefinitely, it is certainly well worth paying for one month to indulge in another excellent performance by Airborne.

Daren Taylor kicks off the proceedings with a familiar drumbeat before Anna Bulbrook plinks the unmistakable keyboard intro to “Changing.” As Steven Chen rings out the opening guitar riff, the small, reserved crowd bobs along respectfully – a pose they would maintain throughout the show. As the front row sings along in unison with vocalist Mikel Jollett, it’s clear that the room is filled with fans. Soon, they’re joining the entire band – save Daren – in an enthusiastic clap-along.

As Mikel switches guitars and takes a moment to tune up for the second song, Daren takes it upon himself to entertain the crowd by putting his full range on display – first tapping out a quiet, jazzy number on the symbols, then pounding out a couple of brief but energetic sequences. Finally, the singer is ready to introduce the band’s newest song, “Hell and Back.” This JBTV broadcast represents the first pro-shot, non-acoustic live performance of the track, and it doesn’t disappoint, with most of the band stepping outside their usual comfort zones: Steven hammering away on an additional drum at the front of the stage, bassist Noah Harmon taking a spin on keys, and Daren trying a hip hop beat on for size.

After Mikel gets a few expletives out of his system (wrongly noting that he doesn’t think they’re recording his between-songs banter), Anna steps into the spotlight, and leads out with the melancholy viola notes that signal the band’s biggest hit to date, “Sometime Around Midnight.” As usual, it’s note perfect, with all five band members completely enveloped in their performance. It’s unusual to see a crowd remaining so stationary as the music swells to its crescendo, but perhaps that’s just the nature of a made-for-TV special like this.

“Timeless,” the lead single off the band’s most recent album, follows, the lone ballad on this day. The song is enthusiastically received, and I’m reminded how much I prefer the slightly-less-than-perfect live rendition to the more polished album version. The way that Mikel, Steven and Noah attack their instruments during the guitar breakdown late in the song breathes a ferocity into the tune that belies its sentimental lyrics, while also reflecting the real agony of loss.

The too-short set comes to a close with fan favorite, “All I Ever Wanted,” a piece that shows off each band member at their very best. It works perfectly as a finale, with the music building to a dramatic conclusion that only leaves the audience wanting more.

After a slightly awkward start to the interview portion of the broadcast, in which the band members are presented with JBTV stickers, both TATE and interviewer Lauren O’Neil hit their stride. As is typical of an Airborne Q&A, it can be difficult to discern at times whether they’re being serious or funny – when in doubt, I assume they’re jesting, particularly when they’re running down the names of their instruments (Mikel’s Gretsch: Sweetheart; Anna’s viola: Louanne; Daren’s drumkit: Bertha; Noah’s bass: Samuel L. Jackson; Steven’s guitar: Steve). There’s also a reference to a picture of a naked yoga guy who looks just like Steven, reportedly stuck to the underside of Steven’s amp.

After Daren denies that his ever-present bowler hat is an homage to Breaking Bad‘s Heisenberg, the band provides some insight into the Silver Lake music scene from whence they sprung, as well as the thought processes behind the popular Bombastic video series. “The idea was to redo the songs in a totally different context… it’s cool to hear how the songs change and they kind of take on their own life,” Steven explains. “The best part is to challenge ourselves and see what’s going to mess us up the most.” As much as playing in a moving vehicle posed some difficulties, the toughest shoot was for “It Doesn’t Mean a Thing” – an unsuccessful attempt at wrangling about 50 kittens into a video shoot, involving a “kitten whisperer” who was clearly in over her head.

While it’s disappointing that this showcase is only available via subscription, no fan of The Airborne Toxic Event will want to miss this. It is a shame that it can’t be enjoyed indefinitely without paying an ongoing fee, but I’d encourage you to check it out once, at least. Click here to view the video.

Glen, Fan of The Airborne Toxic Event Glen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.

  1. Maria says:

    Thank you, Glen. You’ve convinced me to subscribe.


  2. Kelly says:

    Oh, how I miss you when your gone.


  3. […] of “Hell and Back” doesn’t satisfy your thirst, there’s more. Remember that JBTV performance from back in the fall, which can only be viewed by paid subscription? Well, you still have to pay […]


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