It turns out that writing show reviews at 3 am after a gig isn’t as difficult as I feared it would be – not even when you do it three nights in a row. The thrill of The Airborne Toxic Event’s San Francisco residency was a shot of adrenaline powerful enough to keep me awake until absurd hours – though it’s fair to say the effect wore off by the time my alarm alerted me all too early the next morning(s) that it was time to get moving and reclaim my uncomfortable spot on the concrete in front of the post office next to The Fillmore.
That being said, the middle of the night is no time for deep thoughts, and one really needs to let the euphoria fade for a few days in order to really be able to put into perspective an experience like this. And so, having already reported on the minutiae of each performance (see here, here and here), I’m ready to take a step back and reflect on the event as a whole.
The day after the dust settled, I tweeted this:
— This Is Nowhere (@TATEfanblog) September 21, 2014
I still can’t think of a better way to say it.
Any fan who has seen a band multiple times on the same tour knows that the most common refrain among such devotees is, “I wish they’d mix up the setlist more.” Bands generally plan their sets for the overwhelming majority of audience members who will only see them once, in their own city of residence – not for the diehards who follow them from town to town. The typical concert-goer wants to hear the hits, the songs they can sing along to, not the obscure deep cuts. Musicians play to this, and it’s perfectly understandable. But it does leave a lot of great music unplayed.
Even those acts with a well-earned reputation for drawing from their full catalog – your Pearl Jams, your Springsteens – still play just a handful of rarities on any given night, mixing them in amongst the tracks that made them famous. If you wanted to see them all, you’d have to hit the road for months.
But what if your favorite band announced that they were going to play virtually every song they’d ever released over the course of three nights in one city? It’s every music fan’s dream.
That’s what The Airborne Toxic Event did last week. From Sept. 18-20, they played three full albums plus every original song from the live All I Ever Wanted album. They played B-sides. They played covers. They played three songs from an album that is still months away from release. They played extended versions. They played new versions. They played radio hits. They played songs that only the biggest fans know. They played two songs for the first time ever, and they may very well have played several songs for the last time ever – time will tell.
And they did all this with a new bassist in tow. Adrian Rodriguez’s efforts are heroic in light of the sheer volume of material he had to learn in a short amount of time. Not that the other band members had it easy, mind you. They too had to remember how to play songs they hadn’t touched in years, while also figuring out how to perform tunes that they only recently put the finishing touches on in the recording studio. They had to rearrange songs in light of the lineup change, and, at least in Steven Chen’s case, they had to learn new instruments (mandolin). And as if all that isn’t enough pressure, they did it in front of a crowd of super fans who flew in from around the world who, let’s be honest, in addition to being the biggest supporters of the band, can also be the most critical audience when things aren’t up to snuff.
To say they pulled it off with flying colors would be a pitiable understatement. Over the course of three shows that were progressively longer, The Airborne Toxic Event played a total of 64 songs, including 43 unique tracks (see complete list below). It was an astounding display of musicianship, passion, hard work and dedication to both their craft and their fans, the likes of which we may never see again.
Or will we? True, another occasion like The Fillmore residency seems unlikely to ever happen again. But it does hold great promise for the immediate future. After all, the residency was only the beginning of an intensive seven-week North American tour. As the band heads out with nearly four-dozen songs polished up and ready to go, one expects that we’ll see more setlist variety than on any previous tour. Already, Tempe, AZ got a playlist that would’ve been shocking a year ago, including such rarely played numbers as “All for a Woman,” “Papillon” and “What’s in a Name?” – not to mention the very welcome return of former stalwart “Innocence.” What a treat it’s going to be to go to a TATE show this fall wondering what they’ll surprise us with tonight!
And then there’s the sheer scale of the show, which seems like it would be just as at home in a large arena as it is in a small club. From the massive bird spreading its wings over drummer Daren Taylor (who is himself elevated well above his bandmates), to the lively light and fog effects, to the crystal clear sound and the musicians’ ever-evolving showmanship, this tour is visually spectacular, with a different point of interest from every angle. We are in for a veritable cornucopia of photographic fun this fall, highlighted by the new favorite game of TATE fans everywhere: Pin the Wings on the Band Member.
The Fillmore residency was both a celebration of all that came before it, and a bold proclamation of what is coming next. The past was brought to life through the insights Mikel shared on each song leading up to the opening date, and in stories shared from the stage looking back on earlier visits to the city. The future was brought into the present through “Dope Machines” and “California” and especially “Wrong,” which combines the best of what TATE has been with the promise of what they will become.
In a week that created a thousand memories, one impression will remain long after the specific details have receded. It’s a picture of a fearless band with something to prove, taking on a herculean challenge and bringing it to its knees – a band that will never forget its past, even as it builds on it towards a new and exciting future.
Songs Played at the Fillmore Residency:
A Letter to Georgia
All At Once (x3)
All for a Woman
All I Ever Wanted (x3)
The Book of Love
Bride and Groom
Does This Mean You’re Moving On? (x2)
The Fifth Day
The Girls in Their Summer Dresses
The Graveyard Near the House (x3)
Half of Something Else
Happiness is Overrated (x2)
Hell and Back (x3)
It Doesn’t Mean a Thing
The Kids Are Ready to Die
Sometime Around Midnight (x3)
This is London
This is Nowhere
The Way Home (*world premiere)
Welcome to Your Wedding Day
What’s in a Name?
The Winning Side
Wishing Well (x2)
Wrong (x3) (*world premiere)
Video Highlights (all videos by Julie)
This Is Nowhere, Night One: I was on the receiving end of the handshake at the start of the song and the recipient of the guitar pick at the end of the song. So, an obvious personal highlight.
Wrong, Night One: A world premiere, preceded by some hilarious stories of the band’s early days.
Innocence, Night One: A welcome return for the best song ever.
This Losing, Night One: Bucket list – check!
All for a Woman, Night Two: Bucket list – check!
Strange Girl, Night Two: Slow arrangement or fast? Or how about both?
A Letter to Georgia, Night Two: Finally!
This is London, Night Three: Poetry in motion.
The Fifth Day, Night Three: Chills.
The Way Home, Night Three: A personal favorite, and another world premiere.
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.