The Airborne Toxic Event – Dope Machines Promotional Tour, Opening Night at Warsaw in Brooklyn, New York – March 11, 2015

Posted: March 14, 2015 in Clamoring of the Crowd
Tags: , , , , ,
Steven Chen and The Airborne Toxic Event debuted 4 new songs as the Dope Machines Tour opened Wednesday night in Brooklyn. Photo by Julie.

Steven Chen and The Airborne Toxic Event debuted 4 new songs as the Dope Machines Tour opened Wednesday night in Brooklyn. Photo by Julie.

By Julie

As Boston gets ready to welcome The Airborne Toxic Event with outstretched arms, recent memories of the overwhelming kaleidoscope of sights and sounds from Brooklyn are finally coming into focus.

Oddly (especially since I was born there), I had never been to any of Brooklyn’s hipster concert venues. Warsaw Polish National Home is exactly as it sounds, a large community event hall tucked into a Polish-speaking residential area of Greenpoint, next to the ultra-cool Williamsburg. It was an unlikely but ideal location for the celebratory kick-off of Airborne’s Dope Machines tour.

The opening night of a tour for a brand new album (or in Airborne’s case albums) has to be an edgy affair, especially when you’re playing the entire album in front of film footage that helps set the mood. But any first night jitters and technical hiccups were quickly brushed aside with the massive outpouring of love and appreciation from the capacity crowd.

To complement the stories of modern life and technology, loves and losses, there were appropriate images and scenes that encompassed the range of human emotion and experience. From the skeletal human form to images of people and places from archival film footage and home movies to cityscapes, bright lights, machines and modern civilization to skeletal remains strewn across a beach and images of vast celestial galaxies, nothing escaped notice. Musically, the performance was just as vast and all-encompassing. A small Korg synthesizer was added to the arsenal, as was a curious new box in Mikel’s collection of pedals that one fellow fan reckoned resembled an ATM machine (thanks for that, Gail!).

The band came out and launched right into Dope Machines, nicely reshaping the electronic synth-pop structure of those tracks with guitars, bass and drums. For every Airborne tour, there’s a reworking of album songs for live performance, but this time it must have been especially challenging. All the synth-driven songs had to be completely rewritten to incorporate guitar, bass, drums and the voices that would be physically present on stage. I must say that they did a really fantastic job with this.

The first half of Dope Machines, while still featuring synth and beats, had a more rocking feel. Since first hearing songs like “Wrong,” “Dope Machines” and “California” live, I greatly preferred these versions to the recorded ones, and this night was no exception. It comes down to personal preference, really. “One Time Thing” has become tighter now, with Anna on keys and backing vocals — plus dancing skeletons. You gotta have dancing skeletons in a rock ‘n’ roll show. The song ends with one of my favorite images of the evening — piles of bones scattered along a beach.

The Airborne Toxic Event was swallowed up by dynamic imagery as they played straight through their latest album, Dope Machines. Photo by Julie.

The Airborne Toxic Event was swallowed up by dynamic imagery as they played straight through their latest album, Dope Machines. Photo by Julie.

“California” begins with Mikel’s strummed Gretsch, happily rocking out and sounding much like it did on Songs of God and Whiskey rather than the Dope Machines version. Again, personal preference. There were keyboard melodies and more lovely backing vocals from Anna, who did a lot of singing this night and sounded fantastic. Oh, and did I mention the audience singalong? There was one, from start to finish. You’d expect it for singles like “California” and “Wrong,” but not so much for “My Childish Bride” and “The Fall of Rome.” This was clearly an audience who had done their homework.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. “California” sounded beautiful, with Daren, Anna, Mikel, Steven and Adrian just playing a great straight-ahead folk-flavored rock ‘n’ roll song, accompanied by images of California scenes and landscapes and what looked like home movies.

As much as I enjoy being up front, this might be a show best viewed from further back to get the full effect of the visuals. It would be interesting to know exactly what the footage was. “My Childish Bride” appropriately began with some rather beautiful black and white cartography projected behind them, along with Daren’s percussion, Steven on the baby Korg and Adrian leading the audience in little handclaps. Anna, meanwhile, contributed some pretty piano melodies on the other keyboard in addition to her lovely backing vocals from the opposite side of the stage. Visually there were some nature scenes and the map once again to close it all out. Very, very nice.

“The Thing About Dreams,” a personal favorite, was stunning. The two keyboards were moved side by side for this, with Steven on their older keyboard playing the piano melody and Anna playing the smaller synth and adding her ethereal vocals. Dreamy indeed. Mikel dusted off some very nice falsetto singing for this one, with Anna — and a good part of the audience — on backing vocals.

For “Something You Lost,” Steven was back on guitar for some dreamy melodies to complement Anna’s piano. The feelings of loneliness and isolation in this beautiful song felt even sadder and more desperate with the accompanying images of stars and distant galaxies flying past behind them. It was extremely haunting. This must have looked even more amazing from the back of the room.

Mikel moved to their older synth for “Chains” with Anna on the baby Korg, more backing vocals and the first viola of the evening, which elicited a huge cheer as soon as she began playing. Definitely a fan favorite. City scenes of Los Angeles played in the background, interspersed with vast expanses of sky. There were wonderful vocals from Mikel and Anna for the final verse, with a dramatic viola crescendo, very reminiscent of the ending of “All I Ever Wanted” and followed by rapturous cheering. Bravo!

To a breathless audience, Mikel proudly introduced his band with gestures in everyone’s direction. With the breathtaking live presentation of their new album now complete, we moved into the “hits” section of the evening and the down ‘n’ dirty rock ‘n’ roll show. “Gasoline” was a perfect kick-off. Everyone was well in the zone, so it now became one big crazy party. The main set ended magnificently with the epic “All I Ever Wanted,” with Anna and her beautiful viola in all their glory.

For the encore, Mikel came out alone with his acoustic guitar and talked about the two albums being released together, thanking everyone who had purchased them. He even seemed a little at a loss for words, which surely is not something Mikel experiences often! He then performed “The Fall of Rome” — simply stunning.

The full band perfectly closed this very special evening with a song that works brilliantly either as opener or closer, “All At Once,” to general crowd delirium. In a rather surreal moment (during what has certainly been a surreal 8+ year journey for this band) about a half dozen young girls hopped up on the stage, one after another, to give hugs to their favorite band members. Yes, it was that kind of an evening.


Photo Gallery

Mikel Jollett and Steven Chen of The Airborne Toxic Event on the opening night of the Dope Machines Tour. Photo by Julie.

Mikel Jollett and Steven Chen of The Airborne Toxic Event on the opening night of the Dope Machines Tour. 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. Evelyn says:

    yes, i was the first to jump on stage… please tell me you have footage on that?


  2. […] 11: The Dope Machines Tour begins in Brooklyn, NY, featuring the live premieres of “Time to Be a Man,” “My Childish Bride,” […]


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