The Airborne Toxic Event delighted the crowd when the Dope Machines Tour hit Boston. Photo by Ayaz Asif Photography,

The Airborne Toxic Event delighted the crowd when the Dope Machines Tour hit Boston. Photo by Ayaz Asif Photography,

By Glen

Lots of goodies in this week’s Airborne Toxic Event news update, as the band stirs up trouble overseas.

Songs of God and Whiskey Performance

In news that has me (once again) seriously contemplating relocating my family to Southern California, The Airborne Toxic Event have announced a special “one night only” front-to-back performance of Songs of God and Whiskey, their new acoustic rock record. The show, which will take place on May 31 at The Observatory in Santa Ana, CA, will also feature a selection of songs from the rest of the TATE catalog. (Excuse me while I wallow in envy. And as an aside – seriously – is there ANY band that goes to the lengths that TATE does to please their fans? Full album shows, acoustic shows, club shows, orchestra shows, residencies… it’s an endless string of special occasions.)

Meanwhile, the band has also been tapped to play Alternative Buffalo’s Kerfuffle, slated for July 25 at Canalside. If you’re interested in attending, take note: though TATE’s announcement and website both list the date as June 25, the one day festival actually takes place a month later.

Mikel Hits the Interview Circuit

Mikel Jollett has been doing a lot of talking of late, sitting down for a chat with whoever cares to listen as The Airborne Toxic Event traipses around the globe. This week alone there were three significant interviews.

In a print Q&A with Mind Equals Blown, the front man addressed the topic of indie rock and whether Airborne qualifies for that label anymore, to which he joked that no one knows what indie even means anymore, “except that perhaps someone is wearing plaid.” He also spelled out the irony at the heart of Dope Machines:

It (the irony) was deliberate. We can’t deny all these buggy little machines have changed our lives: heart monitors and laptops and apps and artificial lungs and smart phones and drones. It’s all so terrifying and exhilarating, like we have one foot in the future and one in the deep past, like a billion cavemen standing around an enormous fire as a big as a mountain, trading stories and singing songs.

So our little tongue-in-cheek commentary on all this was to take these terrifying and exhilarating little machines and use them to make a record.

I was pleased to hear Mikel address this directly, as it brought to mind something I mused back in October:

Mikel has called the album Airborne’s OK Computer. As a long-time U2 fan, another comparison comes to mind: Achtung Baby – not only because it represents a major departure from an established sound, but also in the artistic motivation behind each project.

On the surface, it seems contradictory for the band to make an entire album on machines as a means to comment on humanity’s over-reliance on machines. But that’s exactly what U2 did in the ’90’s, when they wholeheartedly embraced shallow celebrity and the worst of pop culture in order to undermine it (as on Achtung and the Zoo TV Tour), and again when they later clothed the Popmart Tour in crass commercialism to expose the inherent vapidness of consumer culture. Irony is a powerful way to make a point, and it sounds like The Airborne Toxic Event is attempting something akin to that with this new record. Since Achtung Baby is my all-time favorite non-TATE album, I cannot wait to enter into this experience with them.

With the group having landed in Europe a few days ago, a couple of German radio appearances have also become available. The first one found Mikel and Steven Chen in studio with PULS. They discussed life on the road, the perils of listing “black socks” on your rider and the optimal level of onstage drunkenness. Mikel had this to say about touring Dope Machines and the agenda for the rest of the year.

We did the primary leg for Dope Machines in the fall, actually. We split this up quite a bit. And then we’re doing another leg… we’re just in permanent touring. We’re doing another leg this fall, and between now and then we’re doing a bunch of festival stuff. It just kind of feels like you record for awhile, and then you’re just gone for a long period of time.

Later, Mikel was joined by Anna Bulbrook and Daren Taylor for a session with RBB. Mikel did most of the talking, but Anna and Daren got a chance to shine as the trio performed a gorgeous acoustic version of “California,” which gave Anna and her viola a starring role, and, notably, also included a lyric change in the chorus:

Here in California, I was
Just a name and a number, a thirst and a hunger.

Mikel also provided some interesting back story on the album art for Songs of God and Whiskey:

That’s a local artist named Mike Stilkey, who is part of Black Market Collective in Culver City, which is a collective that Shepherd Fairy belonged to, and a bunch of local Los Angeles artists – Shepherd Fairy, who did the big Obama poster that was really famous; almost looks like Russian constructivism. So he’s been part of that scene, and he’s a very prominent artist in Los Angeles, and he’s a friend, and we asked him if he would do a specialty cover for our record, and so he painted that for us.

Stilkey, it should be noted, was invited by the band to display his artwork at the All I Ever Wanted show at Disney Concert Hall in 2009; his work is seen briefly in the film and he gets a shout out during the “Missy” role call. A quick tour through his online gallery reveals a number of pieces that are very close in style to the God and Whiskey artwork (see especially paintings #9, 12, 13, 27, 32 and 33). A deeper dig unearthed this 2008 painting by Stilkey which shows that the cover image was actually adapted from an earlier Stilkey piece:

Mike Stilkey painting circa 2008, later adapted for The Airborne Toxic Event’s Songs of God and Whiskey.

As the interview with RBB progressed, Mikel also explained in more detail how the band was involved in different aspects of the recording of Dope Machines, including Daren providing input on beat programming, and Anna contributing vocals to a number of tracks.

13 Way of Looking at a Black Bird

Cornel Bonca is a Professor of English, an expert on White Noise and an appreciator of fine music. Thus, it’s no surprise that he’s a big fan of The Airborne Toxic Event.

For the third time, Cornel has published a masterpiece that provides a window into the soul of the band, and particularly Mikel. “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Bird” is ostensibly a review of Dope Machines and Songs of God and Whiskey, but it’s much more than that. Having had the privilege of sitting with Mikel on a number of occasions, Cornel understands what makes him tick, and brings uncommon insight to his analysis of his work, as he analyzes “the Jollett Guy” with as much precision as he does Jack Gladney in his college courses.

To quote everything that struck me as I read Cornel’s latest article would make this one far too long, so instead I’ll just recommend that you give it a read and select just my favorite passage:

Either album could’ve been called Songs of God and Whiskey. Every album The Airborne Toxic Event has ever done could’ve been called Songs of God and Whiskey. The whiskey part of it’s easy: like every red-meat rock band, Airborne’s songs are peppered with references to intoxicants: mescaline, cocaine, pills, pot, rye whiskey, vodka tonics, beer, “cheap ass wine,” etc. And we all know what “whiskey,” broadly conceived, is for: it’s, to bend a metaphor, another kind of dope machine, a powerful way to drown out fear, and the Jollett Guy is good at that. As for God, well: Mikel Jollett wasn’t raised into a particular faith, but he comes largely from Italian and Jewish stock, and besides guilt, what neither Italian nor Jew can ever completely get rid of is a looming intimidating God. On the two new records, God is cursed, appealed to, challenged and, at one particularly vulnerable point, called “unkind,” and it’s not a stretch to say that Jollett’s romanticism is pretty much “spilt religion,” spiritual aspiration re-directed at heart and flesh. But God is never quite absent in these songs. In DeLillo’s The Falling Man — there’s DeLillo again — “God is the voice that says, ‘I am not here.’” And it’s the uncanny rumble of that voice echoing in the sky that flutters through the black bird’s wings.

Road Coverage

As always, here’s a brief roundup of coverage of the most recent shows from The Airborne Toxic Event:

TuneArt: Photos from the European tour opener in München.

Rare Buzz (CD 102.5 Day Side B Columbus show review): “What a show they put on!  Much like Bleachers at Side A, Airborne is a true professional act – I could see either on a stadium tour, and just as easily at a smaller venue.  These guys genuinely love to perform…  They put on one of those shows where you look down at your watch after the set and realize an hour is passed without realizing it.”

Rachael Barbash: A nice gallery of images from TATE’s appearance at CD 102.5 Day Side B in Columbus.

Toxic Gold:

In honor of the upcoming Songs of God and Whiskey show, here’s “The Fall of Rome” at February’s Dope Machines release celebration at Amoeba Music, courtesy of Henry R.

Glen, Fan of The Airborne Toxic EventGlen 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.


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