Review: The Airborne Toxic Event Premieres Two New Songs at Boonstock

Posted: August 2, 2014 in Clamoring of the Crowd
Tags: , , , , , ,

Steven Chen of The Airborne Toxic Event commands the stage at Boonstock Festival. Photo by Glen

By Glen

This weekend marks the 10th anniversary for Boonstock Festival, an event that has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons in the weeks leading up to it. But on Friday, The Airborne Toxic Event made it an affair to remember – for TATE fans, anyway.

Forced to move the festival from its traditional home near Edmonton, AB to the picturesque beach town of Penticton, BC, organizers have had their hands full with a series of catastrophes as they prepared for the event, many of them of their own making. First came word a few weeks ago that their contracted security firm had pulled out, forcing them to scramble and find a last-minute replacement. Then they took an even bigger blow, when they were denied a liquor license just days before the crowds were due to descend. This caused an uproar among fans who had shelled out large dollars for VIP packages that were supposed to include a private beer garden, and more critically, led major sponsor Bacardi to yank their support. And then there was the matter of ticket sales, which were estimated at a relatively paltry 8,000.

Upon arriving at the festival grounds, it was abundantly clear that the crises had taken their toll. From a lack of clear signage, to not having an organized system for collecting parking payments, to security staff who hadn’t the faintest clue how their own entrance procedures were supposed to work, it was pretty much a gong show from an organizational perspective.

But none of that mattered in the least when the moment that had brought us here finally arrived, and The Airborne Toxic Event took the stage.

Lead singer Mikel Jollett had elevated the expectations of TATE fans in attendance by tweeting earlier in the week that the band would be debuting two new songs this weekend. However, with a Sunday set at Lollapalooza also on the docket, there was no guarantee that we would get lucky on this night.

The band stormed the stage with a quintet of old favorites: “All At Once,” “Wishing Well,” “Numb,” “Changing” and “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?” Though few in the audience seemed to be intimately familiar with TATE’s catalog, by the end of this segment the crowd had grown significantly in both size and enthusiasm. As Mikel clambered down to ground level and hoisted himself into the front row during “Moving On,” hundreds of hands reached up to embrace him.

As Mikel returned to the stage and trading knowing glances with his bandmates, the first unfamiliar notes rang out, with no warning or fanfare. Few in the audience were even aware that they were witnessing TATE history, as the band offered up its first public performance of any song from the upcoming fourth album.

The tune, which we would later learned is titled “Dope Machines,” sounds to these ears like a hit single in the making, and a natural follow-up to the path laid down by recent single “Hell and Back.” Mikel had previously promised to push the band into new musical frontiers on the forthcoming album, and “Dope Machines” makes good on that vow with its synthetic keys and tight harmonies – to say nothing of an extended falsetto by the lead man himself. The song closes with a confession and a plea: “I’ve got two or three secrets I don’t think you could handle… Come a little closer to me, I was never joking.”

Here’s the video evidence. We’ll provide two versions – the first has much clearer audio in general, but the second one picks up on some elements of the song which are harder to catch on the first.

There was barely time to process what we had just witnessed, as the band quickly launched into another pair of rollicking favorites, heavy on the crowd participation: “Happiness is Overrated” and the aforementioned “Hell and Back,” which has officially established itself as a major highlight of the mid-set.

And then came world premiere number two, with Mikel this time acknowledging that they had never previously played the next song. “California” is a lovely mid-tempo number, for which I struggle to find a comparison in TATE’s previous work. At first I thought it was a ballad; then for a brief moment I thought they were gearing up to kick into rock mode; and finally it settled into something somewhere in between. Steven Chen was put through his paces in this one, juggling lead guitar duties with not just one, but two different keyboards; bouncing back and forth between instruments throughout the song. Lyrically, Mikel serves up some memorable nuggets throughout, at one point crooning, “I remember the feeling but forget all the words.” Again, we’ve got two recordings for you.

And with that, we were a scant three songs from the finish line. “Sometime Around Midnight” saw the crowd singing along as it always does, while “All I Ever Wanted” and “Missy/I Fought the Law” whipped them into a frenzy, with Anna Bulbrook making her patented dive into a sea of waiting hands, tambourine aloft. For the first time that day, a band left the stage to persistent shouts of “ENCORE!” Sadly, it was not to be.

One final impression: after witnessing the band’s first performance without bassist Noah Harmon back in January, it was truly a marvel to see how Steven has grown into his new role in the spotlight. That he was going to take on much more prominence in Noah’s absence was clear from that first show, but on this night it was obvious that after six months of touring with bassist Adrian Rodriguez, Steven is much more confident taking center stage and lending vocal support. Adrian, for his part, seems to prefer to work a bit more in the shadows, rarely venturing far from his spot on the right side of the stage, but holding down the rhythm section with solid work on the bass, complimenting drummer Daren Taylor – who positively shone during an extended drum solo in “Missy.”

If Boonstock served as a preview for the fast approaching fall tour, let there be no doubt: it will be one to remember.

Click here for the setlist.

Reminder: The Airborne Toxic Event’s Aug. 3 set at Lollapalooza will be live streamed here, starting at 6 pm local time (4PT/7ET). Join us on our Facebook page for a live chat during the performance, which will hopefully provide an opportunity to hear one or both new songs in pristine audio quality.

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.

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Comments
  1. Nick Menor says:

    Their first new song is very reminiscent of Kings of Leon’s mid-career sound and the second one is VERY Springsteen-classic sounding- they’re definitely a new twist on the TATE we love and a dive in the right direction. I love it all.

    Like

  2. Michael Wons says:

    Creative, yet edgy. Awesome creations look forward to seeing them live in person!

    Like

  3. Keith Thompson says:

    Hi Glen, Ta for wicked quick uploads for new songs plus news of Adrian’s permanency. Would have preferred an official announcement rather than a throwaway line during an interview, just out of respect for the guy. Anyway, have sent my congrats to him.

    Just watched your videos uploads plus really great footage from the festival at Chicago. Two great catchy new songs which have airplay written all over them.

    My main overall impression though, there is a wind of change a’comin. I witnessed a subtle breeze, the start of it, live in Dublin. A change in the base guitar player may be instrumental in this, but they have a much heavier sound. They are tighter than ever. They rock. They mean business. If this year was good for them, 2015 will be mega. Batten down the hatches! A storm is brewing!

    Cheers, Keith

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Like

  4. kemilligan says:

    Thanks Glen – for keeping this Boston fan in the loop. Can’t wait for the Fall tour.

    Like

  5. […] Review: The Airborne Toxic Event Premieres Two New Songs at Boonstock […]

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  6. […] Review: The Airborne Toxic Event Premieres Two New Songs at Boonstock […]

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  7. […] Review: The Airborne Toxic Event Premieres Two New Songs at Boonstock […]

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  8. […] After witnessing these new songs at Boonstock, I’m champing at the bit to see them again. It’s always interesting to see new material evolve as the band gets comfortable with it in a live setting. Some have noted that Mikel’s falsetto in “Dope Machines” wasn’t entirely successful in its first couple of performances. Will he perhaps take it down an octave or three going forward? […]

    Like

  9. […] with every play. Watching Steven Chen juggle not just one but two sets of keys is a marvel. After witnessing the world premiere of this tune last month at Boonstock, it was fun to be able to sing along this time […]

    Like

  10. […] light was shed in August and September with the live premieres of three new songs: “Dope Machines” and “California” at Boonstock and other festivals, and “Wrong” on the first night of the San Francisco residency. In […]

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  11. […] 1: TATE fans get their first taste of the new direction when the band debuts two new songs (“Dope Machines” and “California”) at Boonstock Festival in Penticton, […]

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  12. […] Review: The Airborne Toxic Event Premieres Two New Songs at Boonstock: Two days before Lolla, TATE gave us the first taste of their promised new sound in the form of two […]

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