As unlikely as it sounds, the impossibly amazing Airborne Toxic Event performed a life-altering hour-long set at WFNX’s celebration of debauchery, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Featuring sexy scantily clad ladies and creepy guys in bathrobes and cowboy hats, shirttails and athletic socks, and the obligatory “dick in a box”, the event begged the eternal question: how is it that people EVER hook up?

While on their MySpace page yesterday morning to get some info. on their upcoming Orpheum Theatre show with The Fratellis, I saw the listing “July 30 – Jose McIntyre’s – Boston, MA”. Say what?!? I tuned in to WFNX for probably the first time since the early 1990s and ended up winning tickets, only to find out that evening that in fact it was a free show anyway. I guess ‘FNX has been an ardent supporter of the band for some time now. Who knew?

I first discovered A.T.E. while checking out the MySpace pages of several bands based in L.A. that had been getting a lot of “buzz”, including a few they’ve played with like Castledoor and Deadly Syndrome. In fact, those three bands had a now legendary gig together at the cozy Silver Lake establishment, Spaceland, back in January, which by reports had a record-breaking line around the building to get in, with a few hundred people turned away. A lot of record biz people attended, and soon after that, A.T.E. was signed by Majordomo Records to release their debut album, out August 5.

So… surreal and bizarre as the situation was, at 10pm the band came on stage upstairs in this small space, the “stage” being the far end of the room, with the audience about 2 feet from the band, challenging the concept of “personal space”. I had serious doubts about that party crowd and how they’d react, if they’d be engaged in the music, or drunk and stupid, but it turned out to be one of the hottest sets I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve never liked trying to describe a band by comparing them to other bands, so let me just say that Airborne Toxic Event are… hard-rocking and poetic, melancholy and life-affirming, orchestral, jangly, and infectiously danceable. Their music starts out slow and seductive and builds to a raging fury that they ride like a cresting wave, taking the audience along with them in such a way that you lose all sense of time and place. Mikel Jollett’s lyrics pull at your soul, and Anna Bulbrook’s mournful viola adds a veil of wistful sadness that runs through their music and elevates it to something very uniquely theirs. Steven Chen is marvelous on lead guitar and some keyboards, as is Noah Harmon on bass guitar (sometimes playing it with a bow; I see now that he also plays stand-up bass and has a jazz background). Adding to the heart-pounding energy is Daren Taylor on drums. Together, they are quite simply magic.

As if an incredibly energetic, tight, and beautiful set weren’t enough, the band’s appreciation and genuine surprise at how well-received they were and how familiar this East Coast audience was with their songs (everyone sang along to their iTunes/MySpace hit “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?”) put my already high opinion of them over the top. One special highlight that comes to mind – Mikel at the keyboards for a heart-rending version of what he said was his first song, the gorgeous and desperate “Wishing Well.”

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