One of the more talked about posts from the early days of This Is Nowhere was our setlist analysis of the Such Hot Blood Tour. With the final chapter of The Airborne Toxic Event’s Fall 2014 Tour having been written this past weekend, we figured it was time to repeat the exercise.
The tone for the latest tour was set at The Fillmore in San Francisco, where the band took on the daunting task of playing through all three of their studio albums on successive nights. Not content with that challenge, the group upped the ante by throwing in B-sides and rarities from the corresponding time periods, as well as new material from the upcoming fourth album, Dope Machines. With their entire catalog rehearsed and ready to go, there was little doubt that this tour would feature more setlist variety than we’ve seen previously – and indeed, this proved to be the case, with wonderful surprises at every stop.
The stats used in this analysis are drawn from the setlists included in This is Nowhere’s show database. With the help of TATE fans across North America, we were able to get our hands on every setlist save for one: Oct. 15 in Lawrence, KS (incidentally, if you have that one, please submit it by e-mail). As a result, the numbers below are very close to comprehensive. It should be noted that we omitted the acoustic show held in Washington, DC on Oct. 2. That special event had a unique setlist that departed significantly from a regularly scheduled tour stop, and for the purposes of this exercise, we wanted to see what the band played at their typical shows. Based on this criteria, we had 30 shows with which to work.
It should also be noted that, to the best of our knowledge, we’ve only counted songs that were played. If a song was setlisted but skipped, we have not counted it as a performance. Of course there are likely some instances when this happened and we don’t know about it, so there may be a small degree of error.
The Big Picture
In all, the band played 44 different songs from their catalog over the course of the tour – up from 30 on the Such Hot Blood Tour. The graph below ranks these tracks by the percentage of shows in which each one has been played. (Click on the image to expand.)
Last time around, every song fell into one of two categories: either it was played at virtually every show (70% or more), or it was performed rarely (less than 30% of the time). There was no middle ground whatsoever, and the setlist on any given night was dominated by the 18 songs that comprised the upper echelon – including 9 songs that were played at every gig.
What a difference this time around! Only 3 songs (“Sometime Around Midnight,” “Changing” and “Hell and Back” were played 100% of the time, and there were just 13 songs that cracked the 70% threshold. Additionally, instead of the steep drop-off that relegated all other tunes to rarity status in 2013, this tour we see a smooth curve, a visual representation of the unprecedented variation and unpredictability of the setlist from night to night.
The average set length on the fall tour was 19.3 songs – almost a full song more than on the Such Hot Blood Tour. After accounting for the 13 songs that were played at the vast majority of shows, it still left a half dozen slots each night for the band to keep us guessing.
Breakdown by Album
The pie chart below details the percentage of the setlist dedicated to each album. The B-Sides/Singles category includes all the bonus tracks from each album, as well as “Hell and Back,” which was only ever released as a single. “The Fall of Rome” is included in this category as well, as Mikel Jollett has already served notice that it will not appear on Dope Machines. All I Ever Wanted includes those songs that have only ever been officially released on the live album – “The Book of Love,” “A Letter to Georgia,” “Duet” and “Goodbye Horses.”
Interestingly, despite the broader song selection, the percentage of the setlist dedicated to the debut album and All At Once dropped only by the slightest margin – a decrease of just 1% each. These two albums again combined for just under 70% of the average setlist, but there was much more variety in the songs chosen from each of these records. Such Hot Blood dropped from 22% to 12%, while All I Ever Wanted took a slight dip as well, making room for new tunes from Dope Machines and a big jump in the B-Sides/Singles category (from 2-9%), which can largely be attributed to the inclusion of “Hell and Back” in every show.
The Fillmore Effect
With so many songs learned (by new bassist Adrian Rodriguez) or re-learned (by the rest of the band) in preparation for the Fillmore residency, we wondered: would many of them be one-and-done, played once in San Francisco and then put back on the shelf for the duration of the tour? The answer: a resounding no.
Of the 43 songs played in San Francisco, only 6 of them failed to appear at least once more on the tour: “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses,” “The Book of Love,” “The Secret,” “This is London,” “The Fifth Day” and “The Way Home.” “The Fifth Day” came oh so close to being played again, being setlisted and skipped on a number of occasions and soundchecked in Vancouver, while “The Book of Love” was played again at the D.C. acoustic show. In short, all that practice was put to very good use.
Of course, working so many deep cuts into the set carries a cost, as some old standards had to be cast aside to make room for the new and old. Looking back at the 18 warhorses that made up the bulk of the Such Hot Blood Tour, we can see that the steepest price was paid by “Safe,” “Half of Something Else,” “Timeless,” “The Book of Love,” “True Love” and “The Storm,” all of which fell from the upper echelon to become more rare. Of these, “Safe” and “Half of Something Else” still clocked in about a third of the time, while the others were much more scarce this time around.
Missing in Action
Not surprisingly, there are very few TATE songs that were not played at least once on the tour. The only officially released songs that failed to make the cut were B-Sides “Parson Redheads,” “Tokyo Radio,” “Haille” and “Dublin,” along with special releases “Neda,” “I Don’t Want to Be on TV,” “The Wishing Song” and “Boots of Spanish Leather.” With this band I would never say never, but one would think that if these tunes were not trotted out for the Fillmore, we’d be wise not to hold our breath on seeing them again anytime soon though “Dublin” would be a natural for the band’s next appearance in Ireland.
A number of beloved tracks that had fallen by the wayside make very welcome returns this fall. Songs that were played at a healthy number of shows for the first time in awhile include “Welcome to Your Wedding Day,” “Elizabeth,” “Papillon,” “What’s in a Name?,” “The Winning Side,” “Bride and Groom” and “Innocence.”
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.
Openers and Closers
As befits a tour that was full of surprises, there were a lot of change-ups in the key slots of show opener, main set closer and the final song of the night. No fewer than 6 songs took a turn in the lead-off role, with “Welcome to Your Wedding Day” kicking off more than half the shows. This was definitely unexpected, as it had never been used as an opener before this tour. “All At Once,” “Wishing Well,” “Numb,” “Papillon” and “The Secret” were the other songs that opened shows.
Early in the tour, the main set generally came to a close with either “All At Once” or “Innocence,” before “All I Ever Wanted” came on strong as the last song prior to the encore at almost every show in the second half of the tour. “Sometime Around Midnight” also filled this slot once – on the second night at the Fillmore, with “All At Once” and “All I Ever Wanted” having been performed earlier in the set as part of the All At Once run through.
“Missy” continued to be the favored closer, though not as consistently as in the previous tour, when it closed every show but one. This time around, “All At Once” took the honors almost a quarter of the time, with “Missy” being dropped from the set entirely on a handful of occasions.
“All At Once” is clearly the most versatile song in the band’s arsenal, having filled all three power slots and also appearing earlier in the encore a few times.
A Tour for the Ages
Hardcore fans love to complain about setlists, don’t we? We’re the ones calling for “Tokyo Radio” when the rest of the crowd is screaming for “Sometime Around Midnight,” and when we travel to three, four, six or ten shows a tour, we long to see things mixed up from night to night.
The reality is, 99% of the audience on any given night is there for one night only, and that’s who the band is playing to. They want to give those fans the best night of their lives, and because they weren’t there last night and won’t be there tomorrow night, it matters not a bit if the set’s the same at each stop.
That’s why what we’ve witnessed over the past two months is so unusual, and such a treat. While the tour was anchored by crowd-pleasing mainstays like “Midnight,” “Changing,” “Hell and Back” and “All I Ever Wanted,” The Airborne Toxic Event left plenty of room to change things up, pulling multiple surprises out of their hat each time they took the stage. Tracking the playlists from afar was genuinely thrilling as I anticipated receiving the report each night and seeing what they got up to this time. The balance between old and new, classics and rarities, past, present and future was nailed to perfection, and this amidst the most ambitious lighting and stage show Airborne has ever mounted.
Thank you to the band and crew for an unforgettable tour. Thank you for the Fillmore. Thank you for the D.C. acoustic show and the Greek. Thank you for gutting it out in Boston and returning with ferocity in NYC. Thank you for “Strange Girl” and “All for a Woman” and “The Winning Side” and “This Losing” and “This is London” and “The Fifth Day.” Thank you for “True Love,” with Steven on the mandolin. Thank you for “Innocence,” with Adrian brandishing a bow. Thank you for “The Way Home.” Thank you for “This is Nowhere.” Thank you for playing the soundtrack to our lives. We can’t wait for the next time!
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.