[Warning: the following contains gushing praise & fangirl adoration, so if you’re allergic to that sort of thing, you might want to bail now…]

Knott’s Berry Farm may have at first seemed like an unlikely venue for The Airborne Toxic Event, but having Santa Claus ride by in a train just before the soundcheck, and hearing the faint sounds of carnival rides between songs made perfect sense, in a strange sort of cosmic way. During the soundcheck, the band discussed if Mikel should perhaps do the opening of “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?” from the back of one of those trains. I spoke to a woman who had brought her young daughter along for her first TATE concert, and she was clearly as excited to see them as mom was.

It’s one thing to be a great bar band (which they are) and to connect with people on that level. Or in a larger club like Roseland, or a theatre like the Orpheum or the El Rey, to draw people in, even those sitting at the back, to the point where everyone is singing along. But for a show to work as well in an amusement park is something quite cool indeed.

We dutifully forfeited our toys at the front gate in exchange for free admission – an awesome deal, and a great cause. When we arrived at about 3:30 at the Calico Stage in the Wild West (conveniently located next to the Calico Saloon) there were already people beginning to gather in front of the stage. The band is obviously not yet accustomed to fans staking out spots for a show hours before it’s scheduled to begin, or delighting in watching them set up and soundcheck (“it’s like having someone watching me while I’m shaving” – Mikel).

An impromptu band meeting, with the five of them gathered in a huddle to discuss some aspect of that night’s performance, brought to mind the wonderful chemistry they have onstage. There’s no doubt they’re all on the same wavelength, as they seem to have so much fun performing together, roaming around during the show, climbing up on stuff, playing off each other – and that joy is contagious.

They were announced by someone from 98.7 (the radio station that sponsored the show and Toys for Tots toy drive), and came onstage (again) to wild cheering.

From Mikel, a heartfelt “it’s good to be home.” He went on to mention that his mom, dad, and brother were in the audience,

You could feel how happy the band was to be back in L.A. and playing for their hometown fans. Their joy just radiated from them in waves, and the audience of about 1,000 drank it in like parched desert survivors, singing along to every song and cheering as loud as a crowd of several thousand.

Honestly, I don’t know how they had so much energy and enthusiasm after that 30-day straight touring, followed by several radio station Christmas shows on which they were often the 2nd or 3rd band on a 5 or 6-band lineup. But they sounded amazing, put on a fantastic, very intimate and special sort of show, and it was such a great honor for me to see them here, amongst many who had probably seen those early club dates when they first got together. It was a beautiful, warm loving feeling, despite the rather chilly temperatures for Southern Californians, and I could feel the stress of a particularly gruesome few weeks of work back in Boston melt away.

It was the standard set they’ve been playing, but this time the full album, plus a gorgeous version of one of my favorites, “This Losing.” That, and a lot of friendly chatter from Mikel in between.

Airborne continues to impress me with how dedicated and generous they are to their fans. After what’s surely the longest time they’ve been away from friends and family (it had been almost 2 months since the Anaheim in-store, and over 3 months since the Wiltern show), they took the time to come out after their set to say hello and happily grant what seemed to be an endless stream of requests for autographs and photos. Truly a lovely evening.

Set List

Wishing Well
Papillon
Gasoline
Does This Mean You’re Moving On?
Happiness Is Overrated
Something New
This Losing
This Is Nowhere
Sometime Around Midnight
Innocence

(encore)
Missy

A note on the weather: while back in Boston before my flight, I checked the forecast, saw solid rain scheduled for all day Sunday, and wondered how they were going to pull that off with an outdoor venue. But when Mikel first walked out on stage, spread his arms out to the heavens, and inquired “Rain?,” questioning the predicting prowess of the weather forecasters, I knew that even mother nature had not dared to spoil this magical evening. [A few hours later, back in Silverlake, the skies opened up in a major way.]

P.S. Many more photos – and video – when I’m back in cold, dreary Boston and can assemble stuff.

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