“Y’all are from Seattle,” observed Mikel Jollett with a smirk as The Airborne Toxic Event stormed the Bumbershoot stage to the opening strains of “All At Once.” “You can live with the fuckin’ rain, right?”
I’d say so. About an hour and a half earlier, as female punk group Babes in Toyland thrashed their way through a set that easily tripled the audience gathered at the #NeverTamed stage, the skies opened up and let loose an epic deluge. Remember last summer when YouTube was filled with people getting buckets of icy water dumped on their heads for the ALS ice bucket challenge? It was kind of like that, only it lasted several hours instead of mere seconds, and it was punctuated by lightning that became a growing concern for event organizers.
The Babes’ set was cut short by a song, the powers-that-be announcing that it was unsafe to continue under the circumstances. Even as they squeegeed the stage and the crew began assembling the familiar equipment of The Airborne Toxic Event, fans were required to clear the area and seek shelter. So much for the perfect spot on the barrier I’d been holding down the past four hours.
Throughout the delay, eager fans repeatedly tried to sneak their way down to the stage area, only to be rebuffed by security. When they finally gave the go ahead, it was a mad rush to the front. I managed to grab some barrier real estate again, albeit at the opposite end from what I had intended, standing in a puddle that reached my ankles (a fate shared by everyone in the front row).
Following a hasty sound check, the show finally began. It was clear from the outset that the band was in the mood for fun, and appreciative of the drenched crowd that had quickly reassembled.
After blazing through “All At Once” and “Numb,” Anna Bulbrook informed Jollett that she had lost power to her keyboard. After joking that he had no idea what to do now, Jollett instructed the band to skip to “What’s in a Name?” As they launched into the song, Bulbrook was hidden behind a swarm of technicians who attended to her needs as the rest of the band played around them. By the end of the number, order had been restored.
When Jollett and Adrian Rodriguez joined Daren Taylor to form a three-headed drum monster to begin “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?,” it signaled that things were about to get wild(er). Saying that if the crowd was willing to get soaked then he should do the same, Jollett took a seat on a stack of speakers just within range of the wet stuff. After singing the opening verse from there, he hopped down for an extended jaunt in the rain, jumping with fans at both ends of the stage, taking note of the mud in which most of them were standing: “This is the shit you guys are standing in? Oh that sucks!”
Up next was a raucous “Changing,” which I suspect was the song that had been skipped when the keyboard went down. “All these buckets of rain” has never been more apt.
That led to a pair of tunes from the recently released Dope Machines: “Hell and Back” and current single “One Time Thing.” The stops were pulled out for the latter, with Jollett barking out the plea, “Why won’t you tell me what you mean?” as if his life depended on it. It was all I could do to stop myself from running through the crowd and begging people to Shazam it.
A pair of favorites (“Happiness is Overrated” and “All I Ever Wanted”) kept the energy bubbling before Jollett announced that they were going to “try something different.” And with that it was time for a cover of Kid Cudi’s “The Pursuit of Happiness,” with lyrics that sound like they could have been plucked from the Jollett songbook, and which actually drew one of the loudest singalongs of the set. Having watched numerous crowd-shot videos of the song from recent TATE shows, I thought I knew what to expect, but the videos have hardly done it justice. The Airborne Toxic Event’s performance was powerful, and had me hoping that their recent time in the studio was spent laying down a proper recording of this cover.
The enraptured audience was more than ready as Bulbrook took center stage for the heartbreaking viola solo that signals the band’s beloved hit, “Sometime Around Midnight.” Glancing up at the now dry skies, one couldn’t help but notice the line of VIP ticket holders dancing at the edge of the balcony behind the stage.
Time was running out, but not before the band closed with their classic “Missy”-“I Fought the Law”-drum solo combo. Bulbrook capped off the memorable set by leaping into a sea of arms, tambourine aloft. She struggled to clamber back up onto the high stage, returning just in time to witness Taylor’s arm-numbing showcase, and to add her voice to the final stanza of “Missy” that brought the show to an end.
It may indeed have been a stereotypical Seattle day, but it was a standout performance that won’t soon be forgotten by anyone fortunate enough to have been there.
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.