Everything That Shine Ain’t Always Gold — The Airborne Toxic Event in Atlantic City

Posted: July 28, 2015 in Clamoring of the Crowd
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Anna Bulbrook, Daren Taylor and Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event at Atlantic City's Golden Nugget, July 24, 2015. Photo by Julie.

Anna Bulbrook, Daren Taylor and Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event at Atlantic City’s Golden Nugget, July 24, 2015. Photo by Julie.

By Julie

The Jersey Shore. Miles and miles of homogeneous towns, service areas and periodic tolls down the seemingly endless stretch of the Garden State Parkway from the Tappan Zee Bridge. Just as you think you’ve entered into a Twilight Zone timeless loop of nondescript suburbs, concrete overpasses and highway signs set to a Bruce Springsteen soundtrack on infinite repeat, the landscape suddenly opens up into flat expanses with small bodies of water. And then the biggest shock of all — the distant skyline of a space-age metropolis, rising up like a B-grade sci-fi movie set. The vision is of extravagant modern skyscrapers on a precarious strip of beach, plunked down in the midst of a derelict shanty town like polished gemstones in a junkyard. Atlantic City.

Though The Airborne Toxic Event has performed before in casinos and at theme parks, this seems an unlikely venue for a sophisticated rock ‘n’ roll band.

Bleary-eyed from the long drive, I spent some time having lunch on Golden Nugget’s pool deck, people watching. Overweight middle-aged women with tiny bikinis and crudely inked tattoos mingled with older men flaunting flimsy swim trunks and beer guts. Hotel guests sprawled on chaise lounges and actual full-sized beds, staggering back and forth from bar to bed to pool that overlooked an expansive marina filled with ostentatious yachts. Under no circumstance whatsoever could this scene ever be mistaken for the beautiful people paradise of Las Vegas or Lake Tahoe. Instead, it is a stunning portrait of opulence and decay, a tarnished Shangri-La.

For this intimate acoustic performance inside the 200-capacity Live Bar, just off the casino’s lobby, Philly’s indie rock station Radio 104.5 staged a cryptic series of contests. Though likely well-intentioned, it became a drawn-out exercise in frustration for desperate fans trying to win the coveted “Golden Tickets.” First there was a mind-numbing “pick a letter” fiasco that bordered on Chinese water torture. My suspicion is that 20 or 30 hardcore Airborne aficionados struggled to submit 100+ entries each. After that, there were various twitter contests with little advance notice and an incomprehensible Tuesday mid-day “ticket raid” at the casino itself, which I heard three people turned up for. It was a real head-scratcher, marketing a casino hotel where room prices start at $800 a night to Radio 104.5’s demographic of 20-something college students. However, when all this bizarre dust finally settled, a ridiculously stoked audience of about 150 that included many East Coast Airborne devotees sizzled with excitement in the cozy casino lounge and enjoyed a marvelously loose and informal Airborne show, not quite believing their good fortune.

An hour or two before the Radio 104.5 folks began checking people in and handing out the rest of the prize package, a $50 casino credit, fans who arrived early were treated to a soundcheck that was at least as long as the actual show. This tantalizing pre-show included “Poor Isaac,” which sadly wasn’t performed in the evening’s set, though it was done the next night in Buffalo.

The members of The Airborne Toxic Event show their appreciation for drummer Daren Taylor. Photo by Julie.

The members of The Airborne Toxic Event show their appreciation for drummer Daren Taylor. Photo by Julie.

The show was incredibly laid back, fun and delightful. The sound was crisp and clear, and though Mikel and Steven were playing their acoustic guitars, with Anna on her electric violin, Adrian playing his electric bass and Daren on his full kit, it was one seriously rocking acoustic set. The crowd was “half and half”—75 or so of the enthralled faithful who chanted along to each song, set on fire by an energetic, playful and happy band, and the other 75 mildly curious and aloof, some sitting at tables at the side of the room. Mikel made a few jokes about this during their blistering 9-song set (two songs more than Saratoga Springs, presumably to compensate for the additional two hours it took me to get to this godforsaken outpost). Paraphrasing here, but “Lady—it’s a rock show, in case you were wondering” (Mikel, to one of the less engaged audience members at the back of the room).

And a rock show it most certainly was, jumping head-first into a pounding rendition of “Hell and Back.” This mini-concert drew from all five albums, portending very good things for the fall Whiskey Machine Tour. From the debut, there was “Midnight” of course, and “Missy.” From All At Once, we got “All I Ever Wanted” and “Changing.” An acoustic premiere of “What’s In A Name” from the oft-forgotten Such Hot Blood sounded amazing and was very well received. “One Time Thing” joined “Hell and Back” to represent Dope Machines, while the angst-filled “Change and Change and Change and Change” paid loving tribute to the magnificent Songs of God and Whiskey.

The songs were powerfully and joyously performed by the band, who were obviously having a good time, feeding off the excitement and energy of the crowd. Lots of little smiles and joking around warmed the heart in this easygoing atmosphere. There was even time for an unexpected surprise. Since I was not previously familiar with Kid Cudi nor his wonderful song “Pursuit of Happiness,” I was breathless with what I thought was a mind-blowing new Airborne song. Instead, it was a mind-blowing new Airborne cover. Judging from the audience reaction and how perfectly it fits Airborne’s sound and Mikel’s sensibilities, I predict this may well become a staple of future shows.

“Tell me what you know about dreams, dreams
tell me what you know about night terrors, nothin’
you don’t really care about the trials of tomorrow
rather lay awake in a bed full of sorrow.”

“I’m on the pursuit of happiness and I know
everything that shine ain’t always gonna be gold
Hey, I’ll be fine once I get it
Yeah, I’ll be good.”

– Pursuit of Happiness, Kid Cudi

Appearances are a funny thing. The reality, once you reach that glowing mirage? Quite different. There you go, forever running from the past and chasing that salvation that seems to lie just beyond the horizon, never quite realizing that what you seek is right in front of you. Whether it’s meaning, recognition or purpose, there remains the constant striving for something more.

Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event comes face to face with a Dope Machines doppelganger. Photo by Julie.

Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event comes face to face with a Dope Machines doppelganger. Photo by Julie.

A wacky meet and greet with the entire audience followed, the line snaking around the small lounge. Formally posed photos and polite hellos devolved into nutty antics and amusingly staged shoots with impromptu props like a floral ottoman and a modern art figurine that bore a remarkable resemblance to Paul Himmel’s “Nude on White” that graced the cover of Dope Machines. Mikel was so taken with the statue that at one point he tried to make off with it through the curtained entrance.

Once everyone had a chance to meet and greet, the band hung out at the bar for a while with a small group of stragglers, partaking in a round of gifted shots. It was just one of those perfect evenings.

I would like to gratefully thank The Golden Nugget, Radio 104.5 and, of course, Airborne!

Photo Gallery


JulieAlong 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.”

  1. Susan S. says:

    This was such a special night and you described it perfectly, Julie. This is one that I know I’ll revisit fondly as time and other shows roll by.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. lzakov says:

    Great article Julie!! Wish I could have been there. So glad you got to experience such a cool laid back show. Hopefully they’ll do more like this on the west coast.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. StanS says:

    You described the whole process perfectly, Julie. Getting the “free tickets” was quite the choir and clicking the letters on the 104.5 website was particularly painful. But it was worth persevering. The venue had great acoustics and the only thing acoustic about the show were the guitars.


  4. […] Everything That Shine Ain’t Always Gold — The Airborne Toxic Event in Atlantic City […]


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