Archive for the ‘Clamoring of the Crowd’ Category

The Airborne Toxic Event closed their Whiskey Machine Tour with a triumphant homecoming at The Wiltern in LA. Photo from Airborne's Instagram.

The Airborne Toxic Event closed their Whiskey Machine Tour with a triumphant homecoming at The Wiltern in LA. Photo from Airborne’s Instagram.

By Daniel

Effervescent: Adj. 1. A fizzy or bubbly drink. 2. Vivacious or enthusiastic.

Divine: Adj. 1. Of, from, or like a god. 2. Excellent or delightful.

Radiant: Adj. 1. Sending out light, shining or glowing brightly. 2. Heat transmitted by radiation, as opposed to convection or conduction.

On a breezy Los Angeles evening, a small group of friends and myself (including an Airborne first timer) assembled for a night inside the Whiskey Machine. And what a night it was. The first opener, Dear Boy, harkened back to The Cure but with a little more bite. And we ate it up. Australians’ Falls were our next experience, and their sweet acoustic vulnerability was a powerful experience. It was almost as though the openers were showing us two ends of the TATE spectrum to prepare us for the oncoming storm about to hit.

“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” set the stage for the band as The Bird was revealed, and we were already a chaotic mass ready to destruct. “Poor Isaac” was our booming intro, and we were hooked from then on. They were already working up a sweat by the time “Cocaine and Abel” began, and so were we. “Bride and Groom” followed, and I had never experienced it that early in a setlist before, and it was perfectly at home. While the song generally swings slightly mellow, they rode the energy from the first two tunes and completely gave it vigor and vibrancy that I had not heard before.

What followed was a swaggering, insane throng of a set that crackled like a freak lightning storm inside The Wiltern. That being said, there were a few moments that could be seen as snafus, but are hallmarks of just how fun Mikel and Co. can be. Before “Change and Change and Change,” Mikel’s guitar was fairly out of tune, and he lamented how his segue had now been ruined (with a grin) as he returned and started over. Right after giving a heartfelt speech about how it was great to be back home in California, he started “California” but realized he had his capo on the wrong key. With the lightness that Mikel can muster, he asked us to recreate the moment, and off they went!

The band was all smiles throughout the night, you could tell that everyone was having a blast. Before the show started, the stagehands brought out the usual beverages for the band, but I noticed a bottle of champagne stood out. Turns out Whiskey wasn’t the only alcoholic beverage involved in the evening. As the drum intro for “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?” began, Mikel fervently grabbed the bottle and gave us all a good dousing before launching into the song, and everyone went nuts. “Wishing Well” brought another unique moment in the show; during the bass breakdown, Mikel called the stage lights down and asked us all to light the stage with our phones. It was quite a sight to see, a few hundred dancing lights thumping to Adrian’s pounding solo.

In perusing the other setlists for the tour, the “All I Ever Wanted”/“Midnight” combo usually meant the end of the show was near; but then “Innocence” began, and all preconceived notions were shattered. My Airborne compatriots had talked up this song to my first time friend, but we were not expecting in the least to get to hear it. We were all floored. After a brief break, “Graveyard” was a gentle choir of voices in the crowd, and we were glad to be with each other and the band. The show concluded with a “Missy” medley that sent us all ballistic, and we were all exhausted once the festivities concluded.

I asked my two friends if they could describe the evening in one word, what would it be? My (now converted) friend said “Effervescent.” My longtime Airborne cohort said “Divine.” And I said “Radiant.” Enthusiastic would be an understatement of the passion that the band pours into each performance, and of course the fizzy beverage made a literal experience. For me, the magic of their shows is how the raw power behind each song brings the audience to life in an amazing way, and that ability to bring people together is spiritual. When a group of artists allows us to see their emotional truth, it shines on and reverberates in us in a glimmering, luminescent fashion.

Effervescent. Divine. Radiant. Not a bad way to spend the last night on Earth.

Setlist

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Diminutive Daren Taylor cowers beneath giant Anna Bulbrook and her mighty weapon. Photo by Glen.

Diminutive Daren Taylor cowers beneath giant Anna Bulbrook and her mighty weapon. Photo by Glen.

By Glen

Whatever drugs Mikel Jollett took on Saturday, it was some good shit.

Friday night in Reno found Jollett in somewhat subdued form, at least by his usual kinetic standards. The suspicion that he wasn’t feeling 100% was confirmed the following morning, when it was learned that The Airborne Toxic Event frontman was battling the flu.

Any lingering illness was not apparent Saturday night, however, as the band unleashed holy hell on Sacramento. From the opening bars of “Poor Isaac,” this was a different Jollett from the previous night, full of the piss and fury that make Airborne at their best such a riveting spectacle.

The band and crowd fed off his renewed vigor throughout a 90-minute rock’n’roll assault that lived up to the Whiskey Machine moniker, with selections from The Airborne Toxic Event’s pair of 2015 albums comprising a third of a set that was relentless in its energy.

The festivities began with a rollicking Songs of God and Whiskey segment, as “Poor Isaac,” “Cocaine and Abel” and “Change and Change and Change and Change” all featured in the first quartet of songs. “Isaac” found Jollett channeling a rage that was positively biblical in scope, threatening to swallow whole the Ace of Spades as he spat out sharp indictments of the Almighty.

Never before has an ill-advised coke trip sounded so fun as during the infectious “woooo-ooooohs” of “Cocaine and Abel.” Jollett’s wit was in fine form here, both in the actual lyrics and in the quips he sprinkled throughout. “Don’t do drugs… unless you want to write songs.”

The Whiskey segment was interrupted briefly for “Gasoline,” which couldn’t have felt more at home in the middle of a SOGAW sandwich. Stylistically it’s cut from the same cloth, and the crowd thrilled to the sight of Anna Bulbrook and Steven Chen perched at the edge of opposite ends of the stage while Jollett and Adrian Rodriguez attacked their instruments behind them.

“Change and Change” kept the party going with its self-deprecating “I suck” humor segueing flawlessly into the “Nope, I won’t change” declaration of “Changing.” The All at Once hit was swiftly followed by album mate “Half of Something Else.”

Mikel Jollett, Anna Bulbrook and The Airborne Toxic Event were "Something Else" Saturday in Sacramento. Photo by Glen.

Mikel Jollett, Anna Bulbrook and The Airborne Toxic Event were “Something Else” Saturday in Sacramento. Photo by Glen.

Hot on the heels of that came a back-to-basics rendering of “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?” in which the band abandoned the three-headed drum monster opening that has been standard for a number of years now. Jollett kept his flu to himself by refraining from leaping into the crowd, but it didn’t stop the patrons from jumping around like a bunch of fucking monkeys.

“Moving On” gave way to the Dope Machines portion of the show, with four of the next five numbers being culled from Airborne’s recent expedition into electro-rock. “Hell and Back” led things off, the fans impressing Jollett with their ability to echo back his gibberish. “That is the best singalong I’ve heard in Sacramento in a long time,” he noted wryly.

Current single “One Time Thing” had everyone bouncing, both on stage and off. How could it not? The song’s groovy verses and rhythmic bridges just elicit involuntary movement.

In a “there’s no place like home” moment, Jollett pointed out that the band has been all across the country and halfway around the world this year and, well… there’s no place like home. With that we were headlong into “California,” which never sounds better than when it’s performed in the musicians’ home state.

The band dipped back into their debut album briefly for “Wishing Well,” which was like a whole different song compared to the previous night’s performance. Back in the mix were Rodriguez’s thumping bass solo, punctuated by the tinkling of Jollett’s keys, that combine to give the pensive rock tune an almost dance club feel. It was an astonishing highlight on a night that was full of them.

It was back to Dope Machines for “Wrong,” which is just a massive heavyweight in a live setting. The album recording is marvellous, but the added guitar and pumped up vocals make it an utter beast.

A cover of “Pursuit of Happiness” followed. Each time it’s played you can hear happy surprise rippling through the venue amongst those who haven’t followed the group closely enough to know that it’s become a standard of late. It’s rare that a cover fits so seamlessly within a band’s arsenal, but The Airborne Toxic Event have clearly claimed this song and made it their own.

Once again, the main set concluded with the pairing of “All I Ever Wanted” and “Sometime Around Midnight.” I tend to gloss over these songs in my reviews, but I can assure you that it’s not because they’ve become rote. It’s just that I’ve run out of superlatives. How many ways can you say, “That was incredible?” Tonight was the first time I really focused on Adrian during the climactic instrumental break on “Midnight,” and it was truly a sight to behold. Dude was throttling the neck of his bass with a ferocity that had me expecting the head to pop off at any moment.

A slightly truncated encore saw the setlisted “The Fall of Rome” fall by the wayside, unfortunately, not that anyone was complaining when the opening notes of “Elizabeth” filled the air. The singing of the transfixed audience gave Jollett a backing chorus of hundreds for the evening’s only quiet moment.

That quiet was quickly stricken from the menu as a succession of cacophonous beats from Daren Taylor’s drum kit signaled “Happiness is Overrated.” Always a raucous affair, “Happiness” also yielded a moment of levity when Jollett whacked himself in the face with his microphone as he spun it around after extending it to the crowd for a final shout along chorus.

The band had one more song left in them, as “All at Once” returned to its more familiar place at the conclusion of the show after appearing mid-set 24 hours earlier. It was a bittersweet moment as the tune came to life, knowing that four minutes of perfection was all that stood between me and the end of #TATEweekend. With no more shows on the horizon, this high is going to have to last longer than usual. Thankfully, this show registered a 99.9 on the Richter scale, so it’ll have some legs.

I’ll close my weekend with four random observations that struck me at various points last night.

1. The Airborne Toxic Event has the nicest crew in the business. From Bill Handlin on down, they are gracious to a fault, and are actually a highlight in and of themselves for those who get the chance to interact with them. Thank you, crew, for all that you do.

2. Daren Taylor is a rock. From where I stood last night, there was a gaping hole between Jollett and Bulbrook, affording me a rare, unobstructed view of the band’s stiff backbone. Sometimes I feel like Taylor doesn’t get enough attention on the blog; I can assure you that it’s not because “nobody ever recognizes the drummer.” From his mad skills on the kit, to his crazy drummer faces and winks, to the way he sought out kids in the audience on both nights to gift them his drumsticks, Taylor is just another reason this band is so special.

3. TATE fans are awesome. I met so many This Is Nowhere readers this weekend while also reconnecting with a few I’ve run into previously, and you are all wonderful. I honestly find it ridiculous and surreal and more than a little embarrassing to have so many people approach me at shows – seriously folks, I’m just a guy who loves a band, same as you. Whatever time and energy I’ve sunk into this website has been repaid a hundredfold in the friendships made along the way. “Just as long as I’m never alone…” Looking forward to seeing you again down the road.

4. Those who know me well would probably have many words to describe me, but chipper is certainly not one of them. Somehow, though, The Airborne Toxic Event puts a smile on my face like nothing in my life outside my family. Starry-eyed perma-grin is not the coolest look on a 40-year-old, but in a year when happiness has been pretty tough to come by at many points, it is a rare gift – and not at all overrated, as it turns out. Thanks, band.

Setlist

GlenGlen 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.

The Airborne Toxic Event shone brighter than the lights of the Eldorado Friday night in Reno. Photo by Glen.

The Airborne Toxic Event shone brighter than the lights of the Eldorado Friday night in Reno. Photo by Glen.

By Glen

Reno, Nevada’s famed archway proudly proclaims the town, “The Biggest Little City in the World.” Friday night, the streets of said Little City echoed with a most glorious sound, courtesy of The Airborne Toxic Event.

“So, we’re basically all in a fucking parking lot in the middle of Reno,” noted Mikel Jollett, and that about summed it up. With the host Whitney Peak Hotel (complete with an outdoor climbing wall running up the full length of one side of the building) towering above the makeshift venue on one side, and the shining neon lights of the Eldorado Casino on the opposite side, it was a setting unlike any other Airborne show that I’ve experienced.

After blistering sets by Sir Sly and The Joy Formidable set the table, the Airborne Toxic Event took the stage to the delicate opening strains of “Wishing Well.” On this night, they played the classic arrangement, rather than the funked up, bass-heavy version that has become the norm in concert over the past couple of years.

It was a subdued start to the proceedings; the beginning of a workmanlike performance in which banter was kept to a bare minimum as the band focused on delivering one tight hit after another. The brisk pace may have been necessitated by a strict noise bylaw that required the show to end promptly at 10 pm, so the band had to make every minute count. And count they did.

Steven Chen holds court in Reno. Photo by Glen.

Steven Chen holds court in Reno. Photo by Glen.

“Wishing Well” was followed by a trio of “All at Once” favorites: “Numb,” “Half of Something Else” and “Changing.” Unless my ears deceived me, Jollett adjusted the “Numb” line, “I think I’ve lost something,” to, “I think I’ve lost my phone” – neatly tying it into the themes of the latest album, Dope Machines.

The energy ramped up with the evening’s lone track from Songs of God and Whiskey, “Change and Change and Change and Change.” With the rowdy crowd enthusiastically shouting back every word, it is quickly becoming a must play.

Next, we were treated to a pair of selections from Dope Machines: the singalong “Hell and Back” and the incredibly infectious “One Time Thing,” which had both singer and audience bouncing throughout. “Happiness is Overrated” then transported us back to 2008, Jollett joking at the outset that it took two years of singing lessons for him to be able to hold that “alwaaaaayyyysss” note for so long.

The next song was an unplanned addition to the setlist, and may actually have been a happy accident. After Jollett mouthed instructions to his bandmates, there appeared to be a bit of confusion as to what he was calling for. As Daren Taylor kicked into the “Gasoline” drumbeat, the other musicians laughed, shrugged and went with it. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the night, with Anna Bulbrook and Steven Chen perched high on speakers on opposite sides of the stage for their viola/guitar duel, as Adrian Rodriguez relentlessly pounded away on bass on stage right.

The energy was turned down a notch for one of the few times all night for the subsequent number, but that’s not to say it gave the audience a chance to catch its breath – more like, it took our breath away. “A Letter to Georgia” was voted the number one rare song that fans want to experience live in our recent survey, and it was thrilling to see that it survived the three-week break in between shows after being played a few times on the east coast. It was, quite simply, exquisite.

Anna Bulbrook captivated the Nevada crowd. Photo by Glen.

Anna Bulbrook captivated the Nevada crowd on a beautiful late summer night. Photo by Glen.

“Georgia” gave way to a bit of a surprise, as “All at Once” found a home towards the middle of the set, as opposed to its traditional placement at either the start or end. Shaking things up is always welcome, but I do think it makes a perfect opener or closer.

Next up was a thundering take on “Wrong,” which actually had me wishing I could have a redo on my vote for favorite live TATE song. It had been awhile since I’d seen it in concert, and I had forgotten how powerful it is on stage. Jollett’s voice never sounded better than it did during this electro-rock masterclass.

Like “Goodbye Horses” and “The Book of Love” before it, Airborne’s cover of “Pursuit of Happiness” has evolved to the point where maybe it’s time to stop thinking of it as a cover and just consider it a TATE song. The rap-turned-rocker blew the roof off the joint – which is really saying something, considering there was no actual roof to blow.

As has been the norm on this brief Whiskey Machine Tour, the main set came to a close with the unmatchable one-two punch of “All I Ever Wanted” and “Sometime Around Midnight.” It is hard to imagine that the band didn’t win itself some new fans after everyone within a few blocks of the arch was treated to this perfect pairing.

After briefly exiting the stage, the band hustled back into position for an encore, even as an event staffer approached the sound booth, frantically pointing at her watch. The time on my phone read 9:59, but the band went for it anyway. The single song encore was stretched to two as Jollett punctuated “Missy” with the statement that “we can’t play Reno without playing this song” – this song being Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die…

After the seven-hit finale, The Airborne Toxic Event made a hasty retreat, as security quickly ushered the crowd out of the venue. Fans streamed into the nearby casinos, because, what else are you going to do in downtown Reno on a Friday night?

Setlist

GlenGlen 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.

Anna Bulbrook and The Airborne Toxic Event tackled beloved rarities during the private pre-show at the Keswick Theatre. Photo by Julie.

Anna Bulbrook and The Airborne Toxic Event tackled beloved rarities during the private pre-show at the Keswick Theatre. Photo by Julie.

By Julie

The funny thing about revisiting the past is that it’s never quite the same as you remember it. But that’s ok. There are vestiges of what you recall, enhanced by new memories and new realizations.

For one, was the Keswick Theatre always that difficult to find? The last time in 2010, in the midst of The Airborne Toxic Event’s All I Ever Wanted tour to promote the DVD documentary and live album, The Calder Quartet was in tow and I arrived with my frat-boy concert buddies, Matt and Drew, elegantly guided directly to the door by Matt’s smartphone GPS. Alone this time and sans smartphone, I stopped at a yard sale for directions and clumsily stumbled my way into the quaint little Keswick Village.

Classy and a bit trashy, the Keswick was and still is charmingly run down, having seen better days, but in its state of disrepair, it makes an ideal if unlikely rock venue. The couple of streets that make up Keswick Village feel like a magical kingdom that time left behind. Even the over-attentive ushers and usherettes seem like a curious throwback to the 1950s.

When I ambled up to the theater, there were already a few people and a “Line Starts Here for Shazam Pre-Show Party” paper sign. The day was already surreal, what with my 4 hours of sleep back in Boston, a dazed bagels and lox breakfast with my dad in Connecticut, vague memories of a very large and very crowded bridge, a blown-off Pennsylvania Turnpike toll payment, a cryptic journey through Philadelphia suburb back roads and oh right, that Shazam contest. Well-meaning, clumsily executed, and I was very glad I had made it into the Top 20. I’ll never understand how, as it seemed I got more emails bounced back to me than I actually sent, but who am I to question such extraordinary things?

There were more pleasant meetings with familiar faces and familiar Internet handles, as the most dedicated of Airborne’s East Coast fan contingent converged. It felt like some sort of rock ‘n’ roll Survivor episode, seeing who had made the final cut. Who among us had endured the treacherous jungles of Shazamland to emerge triumphant?

This very special private show felt like a well-kept secret, but then again, so did the evening show. About 6 miles south, millions of people were greeting Pope Francis, and here we were, 80 of us being ushered in to a holy gathering of an entirely different kind.

Others have described The Shazam Show in loving detail, so what I’ll say is this — beyond giving the fans a chance to see their band up close in a different light, performing less frequently heard songs in an informal setting, it gave the band a chance to see, up close, some of their biggest fans. It felt very intimate and very real, more living room party than stage show. Bill Barrish, the Shazam grand prize winner, chose to share his prize with the other contest winners. His amazing generosity made a big impression on everyone, including Mikel, who said “Oh, you all picked songs? That was awfully democratic of you. That makes me proud to be in a band that has fans that would share. You’re all such nice people listening to such sad music.” As fate would have it, within that 12-song set, every Airborne album was honored with at least one selection.

There was a real spirit of fan community. Whether it was the communal selection of the setlist, Lalena periscoping the entire set to the many fans around the world who wished they could have been there or the friendly chats before and after the two shows, these signs of friendship and shared experience were truly heartwarming. It’s this type of community that will sustain Airborne’s fan base through the band’s quieter times, and it will sustain the band as well. Their following might be significantly less than what it was in the heady days following their debut, but it’s staunchly devoted.

The evening performance, in many ways, was no less magical than the private show earlier. The energy and love was palpable and the band performed beautifully, despite it being the third night in a row. The audience was a good deal older than in either New York City or Boston, with children in tow. This too felt like a memory, a snapshot of Airborne’s fan base when I first started following them. Despite Mikel’s comment that their typical fan is “a 16-year-old honors English student, a couple in their 30s, or an idealistic college kid who wants to be a novelist,” the Keswick that night was a strong reminder of how this band’s appeal cuts across multiple generations.

Assigned seating meant a rare 6th row vantage point for Julie at The Airborne Toxic Event's evening show. The experience was no less stunning.

Assigned seating meant a rare 6th row vantage point for Julie at The Airborne Toxic Event’s evening show. The experience was no less stunning.

From my sixth row vantage point, I witnessed an incredibly powerful performance with beautiful, rich sound in a venerable old theatre. As much as all fans love to be up at the front of the stage, there are things you miss up there. For one, the breadth of the entire show, audio and visuals, with a full experience of band/audience symbiosis. The intended mix of the instruments through a state-of-the-art (or even less than state-of-the-art) sound system, rather than from, at least partly, the band’s monitors. The full audience reaction, physical and verbal, to each song. Heady. Overwhelming. Awe-inspiring.

Those who weren’t at the private show still got to hear “A Letter to Georgia” and “The Thing About Dreams,” in addition to glorious Songs of God and Whiskey selections “Poor Isaac,” “Cocaine and Abel” and “Change and Change and Change and Change.” Dope Machines was well represented, with “One Time Thing,” “Wrong” and “California,” in addition to “Dreams” (plus “Hell and Back,” if you count that one as a DM song). “What’s in a Name?” and “Elizabeth” were welcome additions from too-often-overlooked Such Hot Blood. “Elizabeth” in particular is always deeply appreciated, as it has become an audience favorite.

Yet another blast from the past was The Philly Hiss, in its place of birth. “You guys are so silly,” said Mikel. But I remembered, as did many others. Five years later, we all remembered that silly little joke and we all remembered why we love this band, so very much.

Mikel Jollett leans into

Mikel Jollett leans into “Wishing Well.” Photo by Julie.

A few songs in, it became difficult to stay confined in the assigned seats. When ushers tried to keep people from moving into the aisles, Mikel stepped in to say it was ok, and after that, the front of the theater filled with enthusiastic fans and indeed, it was then a full-blown rock show. Albeit a very classy and sophisticated one.

In a slight variation from 2010, the after-show reception was held not in the lobby but in the thankfully mild evening air in the parking lot behind the theater. One by one, our hosts (and hostess) came out to meet and greet the 50 or so revelers. Many selfies and more formally posed photos ensued, autographs on various materials were signed, there were brief discussions about what songs were played and not played at The Shazam Show, there was an overheard conversation with Mikel and some fans discussing the meaning of “The Fall of Rome” and an admiring fan asking him to write out lyrics, quite a few of them, for a tattoo design.

I have no memory whatsoever of the hours between 1 and 3 am, or of checking in to an upstate New York hotel a few hours before dawn (though I think there’s a tweet to confirm this). All I recall is feeling lighter than air and amazed at the rejuvenating powers of truly wonderful music.

Random Observations
1) Airborne fans will go to the ends of the earth for their favorite band (or at least to the wilds of a strange little retro village).
2) Sitting six rows back from the stage can at times be even more extraordinary and overwhelming than leaning against the stage or barrier.
3) If you ever find yourself in a ‘50s-style diner, you should order the fries and not the side salad.
4) A particular fan’s dedication to a band can be measured by the length of the lyrics she is willing to have permanently tattooed on her body.

———————————————————-

There are changes in the autumn air,
I can feel it rustling among the leaves
Can we honor the past, respect its importance
and then let it go?

As dear as it all was, and remains, in our hearts
in time, familiarity becomes a kind of comfortable prison
that prevents us from growing and moving beyond our safe boundaries
and keeps us from realizing that there are no boundaries
but only the limitations we place on ourselves
It is the fear of change.

But the fear of stagnation is stronger
and the discomfort of standing still
becomes a great motivator
to move us past our familiar surroundings
into the unknowable but beckoning future.

Thanks so much, Glen, for this wonderful opportunity, and hello to everyone I’ve met on the road. I hope to see you out there again. Soon.

Photo Gallery – Shazam Show

Photo Gallery – Evening Show

Setlist – Shazam Show

Setlist – Evening Show

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.”


The fans put The Airborne Toxic Event through their paces by selecting a challenging setlist at the private Shazam show in Philly. Photo by Sarah.

The fans put The Airborne Toxic Event through their paces by selecting a challenging setlist at the private Shazam show in Philly. Photo by Sarah.

By Sarah

I’ve never been much of a writer. Not a good one anyway. I greatly admire those who can string their words together beautifully and make anything sound like poetry, but I’m simply not quite there. This certainly isn’t for lack of trying, as there’s really no skill I work harder to sharpen than this one. That being said, the events of this day were significant enough for me to really want to try to put into words, so I imposed upon myself the challenge of reflecting on and writing about an experience that was truly unlike any other for me.

In order to give a more complete picture of how the day went for me, I feel I should go back a bit. For weeks preceding The Airborne Toxic Event’s show in Glenside, PA, enthusiasm and nervous excitement had been running high for me. A worrier by nature, I had seemingly endless concerns: What if traffic is a nightmare because of the papal visit? What if I get my ticket and find that my seat is crap? What if I don’t make it into the top 20 Shazammers and all of my time was spent for nothing? I lost track of how many times I expressed these worries and many more to The World’s Most Patient Boyfriend™ since buying my ticket back in June.

Overall, however, I was elated to be able to see them again and to even be allowed the chance to potentially win my way into a private show. I was still bitter about the two nearby free shows that I would’ve been unable to get into over the summer and the New York show that I couldn’t feasibly make this time around, so I wasn’t about to let this opportunity slip through my fingers; I was going to try. And try I did! For about six weeks I did what any sane and reasonable person would do, and I captured and sent at least 12,000 “One Time Thing” Shazam screenshots.

After arriving at the Keswick Village, I waited in line for a little over three hours, sitting under a sign that read “LINE STARTS HERE FOR SHAZAM PRE-SHOW PARTY”—a sign I later took as a token of having been first in line. The line slowly but surely began to grow as fervent and enthusiastic super-fans arrived, ready to enjoy the fruit of their labor. We shared our setlist contributions (mine was “Duet,” which didn’t make the cut) and joked about having the band play “One Time Thing,” which had literally been infiltrating my dreams during the last few days leading up to the concert. (For the record, they did play it during the main show and I was thrilled; somehow it still hasn’t gotten old for me).

My early arrival paid off, and after the doors opened I eagerly marched down to a seat in the front row and direct center, just feet away from where my favorite band would soon play. I later joked that I’d have to continue to settle for spitting distance until lap seats became an option.

It wasn’t long before they took the stage and was greeted by our tiny but excited crowd, which Mikel remarked was probably the smallest one they’ve ever had. He also joked about the setlist choices and the challenge of relearning older, lesser-played songs like “Tokyo Radio” and “A Letter to Georgia.” “You guys couldn’t have picked ‘Midnight’ or something?”

Spirits were high as song after song was played beautifully and movingly, and chill after chill rippled through my skin. I was in deep denial when Mikel mentioned that they were already about halfway through their set. All throughout the show I was euphoric, my goofy fangirl smile growing like wild when the band played “Strangers,” and only leaving my face when I was brought close to tears by “A Letter to Georgia,” “The Thing About Dreams,” and “The Fifth Day.” Those three songs were played back to back, and the emotional punch that they provided made that section my favorite one of the private show. The vocals in all three were enough to nearly take my breath away; “A Letter to Georgia” was a bona fide spiritual experience, Mikel’s falsetto in “The Thing About Dreams” was the best I’ve ever heard it sound, and hearing Anna’s voice as clearly as I could during “The Fifth Day” was life changing and absolutely divine.

It turns out that one of my concerns was valid—my ticket from the band’s website presale put me way further back than I would’ve liked for the main show, and I was bummed about it and ready to complain. My heart audibly broke with every step that I took to move from my center seat in the front row to “middle left” section, which sent me back several rows and pretty far off to the side. Regardless, I continued to enjoy my evening as I heard “A Letter to Georgia” for the second time and “Cocaine and Abel,” which I adore, for the very first, as well as old live favorites like “Changing” and “Gasoline.”

It wasn’t long before I discovered that my luck for the day hadn’t even come close to running out yet. “Security’s making everyone move, but I really don’t care if you’re in the aisle,” Mikel announced a few songs in. I was off before you could say “Change and Change and Change and Change.” I was eventually able to make my way down to join a few of the people I had met and hung out with in line earlier in the day as well as during the time between the private show and the performance from the opening band, Dreamers. Together we jumped and danced, really enjoying the full rock show aspect of the TATE experience.

The set closed with “Midnight,” complete with the full, powerful “and you WAAAAALLLKKKK” treatment rather than being replaced by falsetto this time. Very few people moved after the song finished, as we knew we’d be graced with an encore shortly.

“Elizabeth” is one of several TATE songs that have held a special place in my heart from the very first listen, so it was wonderful to hear its opening notes soon after the band returned to the stage. As the final chords of the encore’s third song, “All At Once,” were struck, it was clear that the show had come to a beautiful, albeit unwanted end.

The friendliness and generosity of TATE fans never ceases to amaze me, and while I’m always fine with going to concerts alone, it’s safe to say that this one was made exponentially better by the good company around me. I timidly but excitedly introduced myself to several other fans whose names I had seen online for months, and also reconnected with ones that I had met at previous shows. Drinks were offered, hugs were shared, and I was even handed a setlist by Jamie, who I brought as one of my three wonderful guests to the party. It was with TATE fans that I counted down the minutes until we’d be allowed in the building for the private show, and with TATE fans that I screamed the lyrics to “All I Ever Wanted,” “Happiness Is Overrated,” and others towards the end of the main show. The amazing day was made even better due to the kind, welcoming, fun nature of people to whom I was almost a stranger just hours before.

At the end of the night I had the pleasure of briefly talking to the band, which was a really fun and lovely experience that topped off an already incredible day. For several days prior to this show I was trying to make the decision about what I should bring to have them sign for me. A CD? Which one? Should I get a poster? The thought very briefly crossed my mind to bring something that I had made, as I recently taught myself how to embroider and have been putting TATE lyrics and symbols on everything. The specific item I thought of bringing was a denim jacket that I had bought for $4 at a thrift store and decorated with the band’s bird and arrow. However, I guess at this point I should note that the first time I met The Airborne Toxic Event I was so nervous I couldn’t speak, and that’s not an exaggeration. So that idea was short-lived; I couldn’t imagine bringing one of my silly little projects to them to look at and sign when I could barely say hello to them just six months before.

The weather began to cool down as one by one, the band members appeared to say their hellos, and I found myself feeling that same nervousness that I felt the first time. Little did I know that by the end of that night, Mikel would be telling me that my selfie game is strong and I’d be joking with Anna about how I think she’s way cooler than the Pope. They were all even friendlier and funnier than I had remembered, and that made it easy for me to quickly gather my courage and speak with the quick wit that I like to make people think I always have. Since the show I’ve found myself smiling and giggling throughout my days when I think about my exchanges and goofy selfies with all of them.

I expect that the entirety of that day is one that will forever remain unique and special for me. I feel unbelievably fortunate to have been able to experience everything the way I did, complete with a traffic-less drive home with my windows down and my favorite band’s discography on shuffle. All of the different components of the day seemed to work in perfect harmony, making for an unforgettable time. It’s a day that I’m sure I’ll recount to anybody willing to listen for a long time to come.

Steven Chen, Mikel Jollett and The Airborne Toxic Event brought their frenetic energy to Boston for the third time this year. Photo by Julie.

Steven Chen, Mikel Jollett and The Airborne Toxic Event brought their frenetic energy to Boston for the third time this year. Photo by Julie.

By Julie

I was thinking, while stuck in standstill traffic on the Tobin Bridge, just ahead of the standstill traffic on Storrow Drive, that if the Pope had included Boston in his U.S. visit, I would probably be having no trouble whatsoever getting to the show. Indeed, with all the hand-wringing over logistics for New York City and Philadelphia/Glenside, all the closed highways, roadblocks and massive crowds, the only traffic clusterfuck ended up being in my hometown, on a busy but not unusual Friday night in Boston. It was bizarre. Between Boston Calling at City Plaza, Frank Turner at the House of Blues and good lord, the Red Sox at Fenway, I never stood a chance.

Despite the odds stacked against me, I did finally make it to The Airborne Toxic Event’s third Orpheum Theatre appearance. There was WFNX’s Miracle on Tremont Street in 2008, when they opened for Franz Ferdinand and the audience was completely mystified, sitting totally still while Mikel jumped on one of the empty seats and tried to rouse them, Iggy-style. Then there was their own headlining show in 2011, the evening after The Drowning Men were hit by a drunk driver and spent the night as guests in Airborne’s tour bus. That evening, as tired as they all were, was filled with heartfelt poignancy. Airborne has been all over this town, performing in clubs and theaters, at radio stations, in an art gallery and a record store and a hotel suite, at Irish pubs and outside at City Hall, in what feels like a long, drawn-out residency. After two joyous and decidedly scrappy shows at the Paradise back in March, it made perfect sense that they should grace this uber-classy and legendary stage once more.

What you give up in terms of sweaty sticky floor dancing you more than gain back in sound quality and grandeur. It’s fun and intense to see them in an intimate club setting, but this world class band truly deserves to be on a proper stage, and their music seemed to expand majestically to fill the spacious, acoustically sweet Orpheum Theatre. Yes, we all classed it up. Due to a sudden major upgrade to my seating assignment (thanks concert buddies; you know who you are) and not having perused and contemplated the set list beforehand, “A Letter To Georgia” as a show opener caught me completely by surprise, in absolutely the best way imaginable. It may have been just 80 fans who got to experience The Private Shazam Show, but the two shows leading up to it (plus the one that followed) most certainly benefitted. “Georgia,” “The Thing About Dreams” and “This Losing” were delightful additions and gave Airborne the chance for a little extra rehearsal ahead of performing those special songs for discriminating palates. These are quieter and incredibly sweet moments in the band’s repertoire, except that this particular version of “This Losing” had what we’ll call the “angst ending,” which is neither quiet nor sweet. It’s in fact rather gut-wrenching, in a good way (though likely not for the narrator).

Adrian Rodriguez: Coming into his own with The Airborne Toxic Event. Photo by Julie.

Adrian Rodriguez: Coming into his own with The Airborne Toxic Event. Photo by Julie.

If New York City is an important market and a magical place to see Airborne, then Boston is akin to a family gathering. For Anna, the Boston native, it literally is that, with her folks religiously in attendance. But for the entire band, there’s a relaxed and comfortable feeling of familiarity even in a formal setting like the Orpheum that makes for a unique warmth which permeates the entire evening.

Again, I was taken by the enlightened pairings of songs that wove together so beautifully. This evening, it was “Half of Something Else” and “The Thing About Dreams” that seemed amazingly made for each other. A few special mentions are in order. “Dreams” is a very special song for me, and it was simply gorgeous this night, with Steven playing these exquisite piano flourishes while Anna provided backing vocals and what I’ll call “cosmic drones” on a baby synth. Yes, that’s the technical term – baby synth. So pretty. “Wishing Well” was an especially lovely version, with Mikel’s piano, Anna’s viola and Steven’s EBow on top of Daren and Adrian’s driving rhythm. And speaking of Adrian, he did a jamming bass solo in there which was quite wonderful from my up close and personal vantage point. In addition to admiring his new haircut and funky chops, I was able to really hear him play (which hasn’t always been the case in every venue). This beautifully composed song, as did others like “Poor Isaac,” “All I Ever Wanted,” “Midnight” and “All At Once,” greatly benefited from the Orpheum’s pristine sound. “California” was another selection that sounded rich, warm and magnificent in that special setting.

“Pursuit of Happiness” continues to be the Airborne song that Kid Cudi happened to write, and there’s something about Boston and The Magnetic Fields’ “The Book of Love.” Stephin Merritt and the crew are from Boston, which may be part of it, but I seem to recall at least two onstage marriage proposals that happened around this song. Suffice it to say it’s become something of a tradition for Airborne to perform it here. It’s a local audience favorite that’s always rewarded with a reverent singalong, and predictably, it sounded fantastic. This song always makes me smile, since Mikel, sans guitar and earnestly singing with his arms at his sides or his hands clasped in front of him, puts forth the vibe of a nervous schoolboy reciting a poem in class. To which all I can say is, “A+.” And I would be perfectly ok with “All At Once” replacing “Missy” as a standard show closer, as it’s such an epic experience at either side, beginning or end.

Airborne shows for me are always deeply satisfying on a cellular level, like a full body blood transfusion. Not that I’ve ever had one, but I imagine that’s what it must feel like, albeit with a really great soundtrack. On this electric early autumn night in downtown Boston, it was no exception.

Rumor has it that later in the evening, Mikel ventured down the alleyway to the street for the traditional Orpheum meet & greet, but I had a short night and a long day ahead of me that involved a birthday breakfast for my dad in Connecticut, a date with a very crowded Tappan Zee Bridge in upstate New York, an audience with the Pope in Philly and a pair of rock ‘n’ roll shows in a secretly hidden village in Glenside, Pennsylvania. Ok, I might be kidding about one of those.

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Setlist

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.”


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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Setlist

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.”