I was hell-bent on combining what might be considered the world’s first Airborne fan convention with classic tourism. That might have been why my five-day adventure in San Francisco took on surrealist tones. Instead of visits to museums and sterile bus trips, I chose to frame The Airborne Toxic Event‘s three-night residency at the legendary Fillmore with a trip to Alcatraz, a rapid-fire visit to the remnants of 60s hippiedom at Golden Gate Park and Haight Street, and a Sunday stroll through the Latino-hipster enclave of The Mission District, with its exquisite modern cave drawings from a not yet lost civilization.
The Fillmore exudes a glamorous trashy elegance, with its multitude of chandeliers and the ghosts of music gods from bygone eras who soothed the souls of spirits for more than 60 years. This venerable venue contrasted nicely with its sketchy surroundings. The daily line of concert-going loiterers outside the Geary Boulevard post office down the street from the Fillmore’s main doors mingled with the homeless and disenfranchised. There was the man spouting existentialist poetry, who for a dollar, challenged people to a bet that he could make them laugh. Countless sad wanderers and harried workers running to catch the bus wanted to know who was playing that night. The comforter and pillows I dragged over from the Goodwill on day three to make the wait more comfortable were donated to the kind folks who added to the local flavor and put our rock shows in proper context.
What occurs to me a week later, as sights and sounds emerge from this crazy smorgasbord of a West Coast trip, is the immense respect and appreciation the Airborne fans have for their beloved band — and vice versa. On night three, Mikel said that this time in San Francisco had been “an eye opener” for them. I hope he was referring to the extreme dedication of fans that had traveled from as far away as the East Coast, England, Ireland and Switzerland to attend the shows, queuing in line all day for coveted front of the hall spots. The shows themselves were crazy communal love fests, with the entire audience singing along to all the old songs — and the few new ones as well.
For the band’s part in this ongoing love affair, they had dusted off many rarely played or never played deep cuts from their three albums, plus several songs not on albums, and crafted three stunning performances. They did this in amongst writing and recording a new album, embarking on a new (more synth-happy) sound for the band, a label switch and a new bass player in Adrian Rodriguez, who amazingly learned seven years of material in about six months.
The challenges Airborne has faced in the past few years are the type which every band in the trenches of the treacherous music business experiences, but I imagine they were especially formidable for a group that cares so deeply about the quality and integrity of their music and public persona.
Since this band is all about metaphor and symbolism, I must tip my hat to The New Bird in Town. Our feathered friend is no longer shot through with an arrow, still flying despite the blood pouring from its breast, but is now rising triumphant like a phoenix. Unlike the phoenix, which is formed from the ashes of its former self, the new incarnation of Airborne rises from a breathtaking legacy of some extremely fine music, as we bore witness to over three magical nights.
Not knowing how this year’s changes would fly with long-time or even newer fans, there had to be at least a little trepidation (on both sides of the stage). But after an exultant trilogy of performances, with the centerpiece of the worldwide Yahoo Live broadcast in all its chanting, swaying, hand clapping, fist pumping glory (starting with an audience sing-along to Bowie and Queen), there can be little doubt. So long as the band remains true to itself, unsullied by the lure of mainstream acceptance over artistic integrity, the fans, with great appreciation and admiration, will be ready to embrace T.A.T.E. 2.0 with open arms.
My sincere heartfelt gratitude to Mikel, Anna, Adrian, Daren and Steven, who performed virtually all the songs in their stunning catalog as though their very lives depended on it. Thank you also to their crew (especially Hoogie, a reluctant rock star in his own right) who created a gorgeous production of pristine sound, dazzling lights and one very large bird.
Along with writing regularly for This Is Nowhere, Julie publishes musingsfromboston.com, a music blog with the bipolar personality of wannabe philosopher and charlatan music critic, where she is just as likely to review the audience as she is the band. Her first Airborne show was at a lingerie party hosted by WFNX at an Irish-Mexican bar in Boston’s financial district. She does her best to live by the motto “only one who attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible.”