Big Love and Lasting Friendships – The Airborne Toxic Event’s East Coast Whiskey Machine Tour Part I of III: Irving Plaza, New York City – September 24, 2015

Posted: October 1, 2015 in Clamoring of the Crowd
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Mikel Jollett's head may have felt like moonshine and cheap-ass wine, but that didn't stop he and The Airborne Toxic Event from killing it in NYC. Photo by Julie.

Mikel Jollett’s head may have felt like moonshine and cheap-ass wine, but that didn’t stop he and The Airborne Toxic Event from killing it in NYC. Photo by Julie.

By Julie

It isn’t always easy, this passage of time. The biggest mistake you can make is to try to hold on to the past, sadly nostalgic for what once was, hoping to recapture the early days of your youthful innocence, simpler times, past relationships, the early days of your favorite band. In clinging to what has faded into distant memory, you’re likely to miss exciting new possibilities and the awe-inspiring mystery of a future not yet unfurled. Though having said all that, there is still great comfort to be had in the company of old friends and the renewing of emotional bonds.

The Airborne Toxic Event has a long history of brilliant East Coast shows, and particularly when it comes to New York City. From their early days playing the CMJ music marathon and tiny clubs like Pianos and the Mercury Lounge, up to big important gigs like Terminal 5 and Central Park’s SummerStage, New York has always been a big deal for this band. Their audience has grown up with them, so it was a nice surprise to see them play the more intimate Irving Plaza. It’s gotten to the point where we all recognize each other, whether it’s from Webster Hall shows, Terminal 5, the Origins tour, the Bowery Ballroom or wherever. Heartwarming greetings from those you haven’t seen for a while, since the last show. It’s like a homecoming. And it means everything.

I’ll be honest. I’ve felt some uncertainty this year at what the future holds for Airborne. Those two wonderful new albums didn’t get anywhere near the attention I felt they deserved. There were fewer shows than expected after their release, with no additional shows (except for a single holiday gig) on the horizon. I suspect now that the original plan was to release Dope Machines late last year, which would have perfectly coincided with last autumn’s big tour. Rather than continuing an exhausting string of never-ending tours, the band is understandably weary so they’re planning shows more strategically now.

However, this dearth of live appearances made this handful of East Coast performances even more special, like rare glittering jewels. Maybe that isn’t such a terrible thing after all.

Anna Bulbrook of The Airborne Toxic Event: World's classiest bad-ass rock star. Photo by Julie.

Anna Bulbrook of The Airborne Toxic Event: World’s classiest bad-ass rock star. Photo by Julie.

It feels as though there are changes on the horizon, but Airborne’s fan community is as strong and vital as ever. Perhaps even more so. There have been times over the years when I’ve felt disconnected from what I saw developing around them. Those legions of “radio fans” who came to hear the hits and knew nothing more would be restless and chatting to their friends or playing with their phones during quieter songs. I’m not saying that doesn’t still happen, but there’s less of that now. We seem to be getting back to their loyal following, not huge but completely committed. And I can certainly live with that.

Random NYC thoughts – No Popepocalypse problems whatsoever, oddly enough (my travel woes would be in Boston). Irving Plaza, first time I’d been there; a nice smallish venue with good sound. A special show, with amazing band/audience symbiosis, and wow what a setlist! The band was so, so tight, and Adrian has really come into his own, infusing his mellow vibe into the band, balancing out the edginess. Ever more astonishing drum solos from Daren and ever more sophisticated guitar finesse and stage acrobatics from Steven. Anna has become the band’s rock star; incredible presence and self-confidence. Mikel is ever the enigma, full of smiles and angst in equal measure. When he’s really enjoying a show, his joy warms the heart; his beautiful smile fills the entire room and raises everyone in there up with him; everything feeds off his mood. He had incredible energy this evening, especially considering his recent car accident. I am always amazed by him, but never more so than this night.

You know what the problem with modern music is? There's not enough drum solos. (Unless you're at an Airborne Toxic Event gig, in which case Daren Taylor will take care of you.) Photo by Julie.

You know what the problem with modern music is? There’s not enough drum solos. (Unless you’re at an Airborne Toxic Event gig, in which case Daren Taylor has got you covered.) Photo by Julie.

The show began with the one-two Songs of God and Whiskey punch of “Poor Isaac” and “Cocaine and Abel,” which was so powerful and exhilarating that it left me breathless as if I’d had the air knocked out of my lungs. In a good way, of course. You could feel from the immediate surge of energy from the crowd that everyone was anxiously awaiting those Songs of God and Whiskey. Fans tried to keep up with Mikel’s considerable lyrical prowess in order to sing along. I’m so glad they’ve now introduced at least a small taste of that brilliant and obviously well-loved album into their live set. Hopefully these songs will continue to pop up every now and then in future shows.

Following on the heels of those first two were two older high-octane hits, “Gasoline” and “Changing.” Upon reviewing the set list, I can see very clearly something that I’ve always loved about Airborne’s live shows that many bands don’t have a good handle on — pacing. They’ve always carefully crafted their performance to be an intoxicating journey over varied terrain. A few fast and furious, then drop it down for a couple of slower, more emotional ones. In the case of NYC that night, that would be “Change and Change and Change and Change” and “Half of Something Else.” It’s a sign of true pros, to take the audience on an emotional roller coaster ride, alternately rocking out and drawing inward for shared introspection and intimacy. This up and down movement continued throughout the show, ending the main set with the breathtaking and intense triple-play of “Pursuit of Happiness,” “All I Ever Wanted” and “Midnight.” Epic.

“What’s In A Name,” admittedly not one of my favorites on Such Hot Blood, has taken on a new life for me when performed live. This feels like a real West Coast song to me, something quite personal and introspective from Mikel, about his upbringing, and I found it especially poignant when back to back with “California.” That was definitely a nice pairing, and another example of these little vignettes that are created with 2-3 song groupings. “Wishing Well,” another deeply personal moment, was the perfect song to round it out.

“Pursuit of Happiness” is turning out to be one of my favorite Airborne songs, except that it’s not an Airborne song. This angst-driven/sad confessional rap is so perfectly within Mikel’s emotional wheelhouse, it’s easy to forget that he didn’t actually write it. Suffice it to say they’ve really made this amazing song their own, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a recorded version someday.

For the encore, if anyone was at all disappointed by the absence of “Fall of Rome,” that immediately disappeared as soon as the “Heaven Is A Map” introduction to “Innocence” began. This deeply loved song typically doesn’t make it into the set list anymore, so when it does appear, you know it’s a good night — as in a really good night. Indeed, it was a 5-song encore that included another big audience favorite (that I’m guessing Mikel never would have guessed when he wrote it), “Elizabeth.” “Folsom Prison Blues” found its way into Missy, a very happy “side effect” to the looming Shazam show and the need to rehearse some of their lesser played songs. This would also happen the next evening in Boston.

Though they played in Brooklyn earlier this year and at the cavernous Terminal 5 last year, somehow this intimate appearance at the 1025-capacity Irving Plaza felt emotionally like a close sibling to those two mind-blowing gigs at Webster Hall back in 2013. It was definitely one of those evenings. The audience knew it, and Mikel knew it as well. As he said to me later, after meeting and greeting every single person in the 50+ crowd who patiently waited after the show for a moment of his time as the crew packed up their equipment, “that was a special one, wasn’t it?” Ohhhh yes.

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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. Tim de Monkey says:

    Thank you for this, Julie, and all those YouTube uploads. I’m really feeling the dearth of live appearances in my part of the world this year but live the shows a little through the efforts of fans like you. I also have to remember that the band came within spitting distance of me a remarkable 7 times in 2014, I have no reason to complain if they dialed it back a little this fall.

    A little off topic, but Irving Plaza is one of my favorite venues; I’ve seen some really great shows there. Glen might get a kick out of my nickname for it. The night a friend and I were checking out the Violent Femmes some guy was hitting on her. When he found out we were from Canada he said,
    “What do you know, I’m from Alberta.”
    Her: “Oh really, what part?”
    Him [long deer-in-headlights pause]; “uh…. the downtown part”
    Along with memories of a great show, Irving Plaza is now forever known to us as Downtown Alberta and a guy who couldn’t understand why we nearly fell on the floor laughing about what he just said.

    Liked by 2 people

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