As I wait less than patiently for The Airborne Toxic Event’s San Francisco residency to get here already, on Saturday I got just what I needed to get me through the last few days: a shot of Airborne adrenaline. The band returned to my home province for the third time this year(!), closing out their summer festival season at Victoria’s Rifflandia Festival (which, in my estimation, has got to be the most relaxed, well-run and all around civilized festival in the history of mass rock events).
TATE took the stage at 4:15 for their final live tune-up before The Fillmore, though there will no doubt be a lot of rehearsing happening between now and then. From the opening salvo of “All At Once” and “Wishing Well,” it became apparent that technical issues would play a role on this day. Throughout the 55-minute set, the band waged war with uncooperative sound, with each of the players being spotted throwing hand signals to the booth at one time or another. Frontman Mikel Jollett, in particular, appeared visibly annoyed at times in the early going, even losing his place in “Numb,” for which the band admirably covered. But after that hiccup, he seemed to channel any lingering frustration into his performance, pulling out all the stops to forge a connection with a crowd that was largely unfamiliar with the band.
After blasting through “Changing,” the audience engagement reached its peak, as it often does, during the raucous crowd-favorite “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?” After scaling a tall stack of speakers and singing the first verse from that lofty perch, Mikel descended to ground level where he slapped hands with the front row before grabbing not one, but two cameras to snap selfies – one of which belonged to my companion Elva, whose photos are often showcased here on This Is Nowhere.
Though the setlist called for “Dope Machines” to precede “Moving On,” it was not played on this day – perhaps a casualty of the ongoing sound issues, which were particularly acute whenever synths were employed, as they are extensively in the new song. However, the band made up for the loss by calling an audible after “Moving On,” launching into a spontaneous “Happiness is Overrated.” A little “Happiness” is never a bad thing.
Following the sing-along barroom stomp that is “Hell and Back,” TATE dipped into their forthcoming album for “California,” which gets stronger 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 around.
The set closed with an electrifying “Sometime Around Midnight” that was more than the sound system could handle, and a brisk rendition of “Missy” which uncharacteristically omitted any covers (“I Fought the Law” had been planned).
Although the sound difficulties took a bit of a toll, the energy of the band more than made up for it, leaving no one disappointed. The Airborne Toxic Event heads into The Fillmore in top form.
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.