This was to be a rather straightforward affair. Upload my bundle of videos, pick through my heap of amateur photography for a handful of salvageable gems and jot down a few quick thoughts about The Airborne Toxic Event‘s autumn visit to Boston. But this isn’t just any band, and it isn’t any random stop on a busy tour schedule. This is Airborne in Boston — a beloved band in a city that has, over the course of a dozen plus previous visits, become a second home.
It began with the now defunct WFNX being an early supporter, playing their demo EP long before the debut album was out. From there it’s been a kaleidoscope of family album memories — lingerie and soundcheck parties, nutty radio interviews and a frozen turkey Thanksgiving dinner, a free concert at city hall plaza, epic balcony climbs at the House of Blues and the Orpheum Theatre, onstage marriage proposals, outings both whiskey-fueled and string quartet somber and acoustic sets in record stores, bars, a hotel and a museum. Put it this way: we have a history.
The first indication that something was amiss was after In The Valley Below performed their entrancing set. Their gear was cleared and the stage was set for Airborne. Setlists were put out, but the final soundchecks were delayed and tour manager Bill Handlin, who is usually all over the stage overseeing every detail, was nowhere to be seen. Some time passed, and then the setlists were pulled up with new ones put down in their place. What was going on?
We soon had the answer. After an incredibly powerful introduction for “Welcome To Your Wedding Day” (with spectacular dramatic lighting effects accentuating each pulse of the music), and the aural punch of “Gasoline” and “Changing” directly following it, we were to learn, through Mikel’s ongoing storytelling, that he had laryngitis. His doctor advised them to cancel the show, but instead he got a shot (which he said still hurt, gingerly touching, ahem, the place of said shot) and now here they were. We all knew it would be okay though, because this was family. The band would soldier on, we would be there to support them, and we would get through it together. That’s what families do.
What might have been a less than stellar performance, with a shortened set and Mikel not in top vocal form and having to use a lower register in some songs to be able to sing them, turned out to be one of the best Airborne shows I’ve ever seen. It was partly due to the band’s (and especially Mikel’s) sheer determination to put on a great performance despite their difficulties, and also because of the loving and deeply appreciative “hometown crowd.” As Mikel always seems to do, he thrived in the adverse conditions and turned it into an advantage, which created a fun atmosphere on stage that translated out into the audience. The Boston fans, for their part, assisted with the singing duties throughout the evening, which made the usually intimate, closely-knit feel of a Boston show even more so this night. It was magical. As Mikel himself said, “There is so much fucking love in this room.”
- The introduction into the opening song, “Welcome To Your Wedding Day.” Ferocious.
- “Something New,” where Mikel gets support (literally and figuratively) from his adoring audience.
- The introspective intimacy of “Safe.” It may be true that the songs from Such Hot Blood, more personal by nature, are best appreciated in solitude with headphones, but the fans clearly appreciate hearing them in a live setting. This song is one of my favorites. Again, it was perhaps due to the uniqueness of the situation, but Daren’s sticks, Steven’s piano, Anna’s pretty vocals and stunning viola and Mikel’s lower, quieter delivery made this incredibly special.
- Adrian and Anna performing side by side during “All I Ever Wanted” (if only for a brief moment). It seems as though from the start, Adrian has been respectfully easing his way into fully interacting with everyone on stage, and it’s a joy to witness his gradual “coming out” and coming into his own as an integral band member. His little playful moments with Mikel are priceless. It’s also a revelation to see that, in addition to being a great bassist, he is also not too shabby on synth.
- Mikel’s banter. For a man with laryngitis, he certainly had a lot he wanted to say. Perhaps in preparation for his forced vow of silence (not an easy thing for a Gemini), he spoke quite a bit about the situation, his appreciation for the audience support and how great it was to have friends “so far away from home.”
- The mini acoustic set, “The Graveyard Near the House” and “Elizabeth.” These are two fan favorites, of course, but there was something about the circumstances of the evening that made them seem even more lovely and poignant.
Although no new songs were played (obviously, falsetto was out of the question), you could still feel the transition and growth the band has been experiencing and working through this past year, and it’s fascinating to watch it unfold. From everyone (except Adrian, for now) singing backing vocals, to Steven (and now Adrian, gradually) becoming more dramatic and animated on stage, to a deeper incorporation of synthesizers into their sound, this is definitely a band in metamorphosis. As we widen our understanding and acceptance of what Airborne is all about, let’s see where they take us.
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.”