The Big Couch and a Gathering of Friends: Airborne at Higher Ground in Burlington, Vermont – October 9, 2014

Posted: October 12, 2014 in Clamoring of the Crowd
Tags: , , , , , ,
Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event had a surprise in store for the acoustic portion of The Airborne Toxic Event's set in Burlington. Photo by Julie.

Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event had a surprise in store for the acoustic portion of The Airborne Toxic Event’s set in Burlington. Photo by Julie.

By Julie

This evening with The Airborne Toxic Event felt like a special gift. Higher Ground is a small, unpretentious little rock ‘n’ roll club tucked unremarkably into a shopping center, back from the main road through town. It’s simple and intimate at 750 capacity. The town of Burlington, Vermont is deep into moose country, about 45 minutes from the Canadian border and an hour and 45 minutes from Montreal. After the pre-concert stress and cavernous venues of Boston and New York, I breathed a big sigh of relief, spending quality time before the show with awesome Mexican food at nearby Moe’s instead of staking out a space on line.

People didn’t even start lining up about an hour before doors were set to open. Everyone was super friendly and low key. It was announced that due to technical difficulties, doors would open about 15 minutes late. Though it was a chilly evening, there wasn’t a snowstorm underway, so we considered ourselves fortunate. A few minutes later, the Higher Ground staff was back outside with a big container and cups, serving hot cocoa to the crowd. This isn’t something that would happen at the House of Blues or Terminal 5.

The atmosphere inside was as friendly and fun as it was outside. It was a mix of Vermont hospitality and Canadian politeness for a deeply appreciative, engaged and respectful audience. A low stage, narrow stage barrier and a loose and extremely laid back band made for an especially intimate feeling and a hell of a great time. Airborne took advantage of the cool Vermont vibe to perform some of their quieter and sweeter songs, to the delight and cheers of the audience. There was some seriously crackling energy in the air, which Mikel made note of just before Half of Something Else. “You are all an excited group of people. I’m excited too. I don’t know if it’s all the maple syrup or the lack of sleep.” All For A Woman followed, another lovely surprise during a night of beautiful surprises.

“We’re going to play a song we don’t play very often. I feel like it’s a good night for it, so… It’s fun to sing for all of you up here. It’s nice, this little room of people. I wish there was no stage and it was like a big fucking couch, and we’d all pass around some whiskey and tell stories.” (Mikel, just before All For A Woman)

There was such a massive (and tuneful) sing-along that it felt like Airborne’s catalog had been remixed to include a professional choir. If it was a happy audience, it was an even happier band, with lots of playfulness and smiles, good-natured teasing and general messing around. After such a rocky start with Mikel’s laryngitis and the high stakes East Coast shows in decidedly stiff corporate venues, I’m sure they appreciated being able to loosen up, relax and just have fun with the crowd. Mikel’s vocal difficulties were now, thank god, a distant memory, as he belted out every song and went effortlessly up into the higher registers.

The setlist? Though it began as planned, it then took off in directions unknown and never came back. After a powerful volley of full-on rock songs, Mikel must have picked up on the campfire sing-along vibe. Some of their folky songs and ballads found their way into the set, and Mikel started shouting out titles to the band and popping between them to let them know what he wanted to play next. There were so many delightful unexpected favorites that I was literally shaking my head in disbelief.

Half Of Something Else, All For A Woman, It Doesn’t Mean A Thing, Safe and Goodbye Horses wrapped around us like a cozy warm blanket. The Winning Side, that gem of an anti-war statement and one of the band’s earliest songs, popped back in. “California” had a beautiful new viola introduction from Anna, which is a lovely addition. Wishing Well is continuing to evolve into a gorgeously complex and layered piece, with little instrumental interludes woven in that travel to unexpected places.

Duet took me by surprise, as I was expecting Graveyard. A lot of songs this evening took me by surprise, in the most beautiful of ways. What happened after Duet, however, would put this sweet little out-of-the-way venue into the Airborne Hall of Fame for all time — a world premiere! Anna got ready to play, but Mikel said something to her that must have been akin to, “no, I’ve got this,” and she walked offstage. He then performed, alone on acoustic guitar, an absolute stunner of a new song called The Fall of Rome. He began playing without any introduction and promptly messed up the first line. But even that mistake added to the immense charm of the moment. We happily got our introduction and the crowd was then hushed in reverence. This beautiful composition, seemingly about the personal sacrifices one makes for a life as a touring musician, was sang as a deeply personal reflection. It had all the poetic introspection and emotional heft that I found somewhat lacking in the new album offerings thus far. I was breathless and transfixed. If this is representative of at least some of the unheard portion of their upcoming fourth album, it is going to be a long and impatient wait indeed until “early next year.”

Thank you so very much to Airborne, the Vermont and Montreal audience and the super cool staff of my beloved Higher Ground rock club for a truly magical evening.


Photo Gallery

Anna Bulbrook of The Airborne Toxic Event. Photo by Julie.

Anna Bulbrook of The Airborne Toxic Event. Photo by Julie.

JulieAlong with writing regularly for This Is Nowhere, Julie publishes, 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.”

  1. Yet another beautiful piece or writing. Thanks Julie.


  2. Susan S. says:

    Thanks, Julie, for bringing the show alive for those of us who couldn’t be there. I’m not convinced Fall of Rome is going to be on the new LP, but I’m thrilled that new deeply lyrical songs are still finding their way into the mix.


  3. […] The Big Couch and a Gathering of Friends: Airborne at Higher Ground in Burlington, Vermont – O… […]


  4. […] On average, each show featured two songs from the forthcoming Dope Machines. Debut single “Wrong” led the way, performed 93% of the time, almost always leading into “Sometime Around Midnight.” “California” was a solid second at 53%, with the title track coming in at 33%. Future Dope Machines B-Side “The Fall of Rome” was played just once, in Burlington, VT. […]


  5. […] jaw dropped the first time I saw this photo by Ayaz Asif, captured in Burlington, and it continues to do so each time I look at it. The sheer joy radiating from Anna is […]


  6. […] it might have seemed like an odd reaction to what was really just a brief acoustic radio session. Did I not have the same reaction after the warm, cozy blanket of an Airborne show at Higher Ground in Burlington, Vermont back in […]


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