This week’s Toxicity is written in that strange, in-between state that hits you a few days after a TATE gig: still basking in the afterglow, but also coming to grips with the depressing realization that it may be a long time before you see your band again. Fortunately, our band never makes us wait very long…
A Hell of a Run
Well, it seems that our little band is having a moment. Many fans hoped that Such Hot Blood would propel The Airborne Toxic Event to the next level of popularity and recognition, but instead it would appear that it’s a single written for a film soundtrack that is finally earning the band the attention they deserve. Indeed, “Hell and Back” may just be their most successful song since “Sometime Around Midnight,” if radio play and cultural ubiquity can be taken as the measure of success.
At last weekend’s Vancouver show, singer/songwriter Mikel Jollett confessed that the song’s longevity in the charts has caught even him by surprise. Going on five months after its release, the momentum is only increasing. “Hell and Back” has remained on Billboard’s Alternative Radio chart for 12 weeks, moving up to 18th place this week, up from 19th last week and 23rd the week prior to that. And this doesn’t even capture the impact of the band’s unscheduled performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live Monday night (see below), which can only help the ranking next week. The tune is also now the second most popular TATE song on Grooveshark (HT Adinda for that tip), and has been popping up in places as diverse as Chicago Blackhawks games and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, where Best Actor winner Matthew McConaughey used it as his “walking to the stage” music when he accepted his award. Closer to home, This Is Nowhere’s Google stats have exploded in the past month, with a good three quarters of the searches including the title or lyrics of the new hit song.
I’ll come clean and admit that I don’t know a whole lot about how radio works. Hell, I can’t even remember the last time I intentionally turned on the radio. (I prefer my iPod, where I like all the songs, to the radio, where I usually have to sit through five songs I don’t like to hear one that I do.) But some knowledgeable friends have been kind enough to educate me recently, and from what they tell me, the radio industry determines the popularity of a song by how quickly the average listener changes the station after a song begins, with 20 seconds being the standard against which songs are measured.
That being the case, it’s not surprising that “Hell and Back” is doing well. It’s opening riff and singalong refrain are undeniably catchy – probably the catchiest the band have ever written. And while every TATE fan I know is thrilled to see them charting, it’s led to some interesting discussion among fans as to the type of song that the band has to release in order to get noticed, and what the future holds in this regard.
For whatever reason, Airborne’s most radio-friendly fare does not tend to rank among the favorites of many in the hardcore fan base. Last fall’s TATE fan survey showed that lead single “Changing” ranked as just the seventh most popular song on All At Once, while Such Hot Blood‘s only single, “Timeless,” finished in a tie for fourth on that album. Many of the songs favored by survey respondents are ones that would never be likely to receive radio play, whether for stylistic reasons or for length (for example, “The Graveyard Near the House” and “The Fifth Day.”) Many of the band’s greatest masterpieces (“Innocence,” and so on) will never be heard by Joe Music Fan – and that’s a damn shame. And so, the success of “Hell and Back” has some fans wondering if the band may tend towards radio-ready singles in the future, at the expense of the type of material that has been their hallmark thus far.
Time will tell, of course. We won’t know the answer until the next album appears, whenever that happens. But I would ask: why can’t they do both? In fact, they have done both ever since All At Once, with a couple of hook-laden, crowd-pleasing numbers anchoring albums replete with the kind of complex, deep, orchestral work that has become synonymous with The Airborne Toxic Event.
The band holds their integrity, and their commitment to their craft, very dearly. They have resisted many opportunities to “sell out” their art that countless lesser bands would have leaped at. And yet, this is still a business operation. The group’s members have livings to make, and – soon – families to feed. We all want this special band to endure for many years to come, and if that means releasing a few more songs that radio likes, to enable them to continue making the music we all love, then I say bring it on. (Of course, I’ve been happily waking up to “Hell and Back” every morning for the past four months, so I may be biased…)
In case you missed it (and if you did, you must have been living under a social media rock), the band made a last minute, unscheduled appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Monday night, stepping in after the scheduled musical guest had to cancel. This gave many fans their first chance to see Ashley Dzerigian in action, though “Hell and Back” is not a song that gives Noah/Ashley a great deal to do. The real highlight of the performance was Steven Chen going to town on a drum placed at the front of the stage.
“Bride and Groom” was also played as part of the taping, with the first half of the song making it to air. The full performance is expected to be available on Kimmel’s website, though it was not yet posted at the time of this writing.
Regular readers of This Is Nowhere are going to be treated to a whole lot of fantastic photos from the Vancouver gig in the next few months, thanks to some very talented and very generous friends who have shared their shots with us. But if you can’t wait for that, the Portside Pub posted some beauties on their Facebook page.
We’ll sign off for another week with a look back at one of TATE’s more underrated releases: the Bob Dylan cover, “Boots of Spanish Leather.” This video inexplicably has under 3,500 views, which means way too many fans haven’t seen it. If you’re one of them, enjoy!
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.