When The Airborne Toxic Event takes the stage at the Commodore Ballroom in my home town of Vancouver on Oct. 24, it will be my fifth TATE gig in 84 days, and a return to the venue where I first saw them. But this one will be extra special – because of who’s coming with me.
Whether they genuinely want to see the band or they’re just trying to get me off their back after years of hounding them every time Airborne passes through town, I’ll be accompanied on this night by a cadre of TATE virgins – five, to be exact.
Not only have they never been to a TATE show, all five of them are largely unfamiliar with the band. As a matter of fact, most of them would be hard pressed to name a single Airborne song.
I feel like I’ve got a lot riding on this night. After years of evangelizing, of explaining what exactly I have tattooed on my shoulder and why I have so many shirts with birds on them and why I feel the need to follow a band up and down the west coast once a year and why I have five copies of the same album and why I spend all my free time writing about these semi-obscure musicians from LA and why they have such a weird name, it will be hard not to take it personally if they don’t come away uber-impressed.
But I have faith in my band, and their ability to win over my friends. Nevertheless, I want to do everything I can to water the soil, to prepare them for The Best Night of Their Lives. So, naturally, I made a mixtape. Or rather, the 21st Century equivalent: a Grooveshark playlist (because we don’t have Spotify here in the underprivileged True North Strong and Free).
And then came the real trick: deciding which songs, and which versions, to include on the playlist. My quest to convert my unwitting targets began here.
I could make a case for about 40 songs. But no, better to not overwhelm them. Less is more, I told myself. Just the best of the best.
And yet, I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t possibly leave this song off, could I?
In the end, I decided that live shows are always more fun when you recognize the music. So I gave them a 20-odd song playlist that includes all the live staples plus a few bonus tracks that I couldn’t bear not to include.
Overkill? Perhaps. But when there are this many great tunes, it’s so hard to know where to draw the line.
It did get me to thinking, though: what if I could only give them five songs? Which handful of tracks would I stake the reputation of
myself my band on?
If it was aimed at a specific person, I could handpick it for my audience, according to their musical proclivities. “Papillon” and “Wedding Day” for the punk rocker. “A Letter to Georgia,” “Duet” and “All For a Woman” for the romantic balladeer. “Timeless,” “Hell and Back” and “Changing” for the one who likes her music radio friendly.
But for a diverse group such as this, I’d have no choice but to cast the net wide. I’m looking, quite simply, for the five songs that no one in their right mind could possibly resist. With apologies to “Safe,” “All I Ever Wanted” and “The Fifth Day,” which are all near the top of my personal list, here’s what I came up with.
5. Bride and Groom
Not your typical Airborne song, if there even is such a thing. But Mikel Jollett’s own favorite child features the finest poetry on Such Hot Blood, and who am I to argue with the fans who voted it far and away the most popular song on the album?
4. The Graveyard Near the House (Bombastic Version)
This delicate number has become an unexpected fan favorite, thanks to the consensus best lyrics in the TATE catalog. The Bombastic is essentially a duet between Mikel and Anna Bulbrook, with soft rain providing an unparalleled backdrop.
3. All At Once
The first time I laid eyes on the Bombastic video of “All At Once” may be the precise moment I transitioned from fan to superfan – and the studio version is even stronger. More than any other song, I am incapable of tiring of this one, no matter how many times I hit REPEAT.
2. Innocence (All I Ever Wanted Version)
If I was to choose one song that defines The Airborne Toxic Event, it would be this one. The perfect storm of arresting lyrics, live energy, punk rock, raw emotion and orchestral flourish. There’s simply nothing like it.
1. Sometime Around Midnight
Sometimes we longtime fans can begin to take for granted the power of the standard, having heard it more times than we can count. But there’s a reason it became a standard. The 2008 iTunes Alternative Song of the Year remains as potent as ever. It’s the song that made most of us fans in the first place, and it continues to do the same for virtually everyone who hears it.
So there it is. An impossible task with no satisfying answer. What would be your picks?
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.