The Airborne Toxic Event, The Henry Clay People, and Red Cortez at the House of Blues, Boston, MA, October 13, 2009

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On a chilly autumn night in the rather impersonal caverns of the new Landsdown Street House of Blues, this show had the feeling of a family barbecue on a lazy, warm summer afternoon. Anna’s hometown and the rest of the band’s adopted one, it’s clearly a special place for them, and while it’s not like being back home in L.A. with family and friends, I like to think it a reasonable facsimile. A comforting respite from the long and weary road.

Before the show…

Tayla and Mike of the Island Records street team hands out posters to those who braved the dropping temperatures for a spot up front… and a shout-out to Linda and Joe, who had been there since mid-afternoon to be first in line.

Tayla and Mike and some pretty posters

Tayla and Mike and some pretty posters

Hello also to Sharon and Ethan from New Hampshire, and the two Dave Matthews fans seeing Airborne for the first time. If you guys are reading this, let me know your thoughts!

Red Cortez

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These guys are seriously growing on me… such a powerful stage presence, led by their charismatic lead singer, Harley Prechtel – Cortez. Harley, Ryan, Diego and Calvin are once again explosive and engaging. A favorite song emerging – “Western Front” – with Harley on piano… incredible. The last song of their set (not sure of the name) had a crazy sort of ‘spaghetti western’ thing going on in the middle – or at least, that’s what came to mind.

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As I’m headed down to NYC for another show, I’ll let some photos tell the story…

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The Henry Clay People

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Joey once again kicked off a shoe, I believe it was during “This Ain’t A Scene”. Maybe it is part of the choreography; if so, it’s the weirdest stage choreography I’ve ever seen, which also included Andy up on Jason’s stool at the keyboard while he was playing. Joey went wandering out into the audience and ended up halfway back on the floor. And however off-balance things seem visually, musically it all stays together in a jangly, happy, rocking way.

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May I also say how lovely Andy’s slide guitar playing is? I don’t think I’ve mentioned that before, but I really took notice of it this night. Damn, he’s really good!

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The rock ‘n’ roll medley at the end included snippets of “Take a Walk on the Wild Side”, Bowie’s “Heroes”, “Sometime Around Midnight”, and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.

The Airborne Toxic Event

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From the opener of “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?”, it was apparent this would be one over-the-top, kick-it-out, slightly unhinged evening. From what seemed to me like extra-explosive playing from everyone, pushed just a little past their usually wildly energetic performance; coupled with an unusually loose and informal stage presence, with lots of camaraderie and playfulness. Steven, who’s usually a bit more reserved, ran up and down the steps at one point (one of quite a few “whoa, did I just see that?” moments)… Anna was just on fire all night, and even more of a supernova as usual (the highest film speed on my camera finally did the trick and I was able to catch her *in focus*). Mikel is always chatty, vivacious, engaging, and hypnotic during shows, but this was something else entirely. His many sincere words of thanks and gratitude to the loving Boston audience (with brief discussions of everything imaginable); introductions of the entire touring party – and Anna’s parents as well, who watched from the balcony; dancing and hopping from one end of the stage to the other, up and down the steps and on top of the video screen, and down into the pit. Absolutely exuberant.

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“This Magic Moment” – god, I love this. I knew the song before, of course, and I guess I thought of it as a sweet little love song, but nothing special. But their version… whether it’s the arrangement and the way it’s played, or the emotion Mikel pours into it, I’m not sure, but I have a new appreciation for the sheer loveliness of this song.

Yo La Tengo’s “Sugarcube” – this is just wonderful as well.

“try to be more assured
try to be more right there
try to be less uptight
try to be more aware
whatever you want from me
is what I want to do for you
sweeter than a drop of blood
from a sugarcube”

“This Losing” had a different ending, conveying more a sense of desperation rather than the previous wistfulness.

The acoustic set tonight included The Magnetic Fields’ “Book Of Love”. Another very lovely song, done beautifully.

“I love it when you read to me
and you you can read me anything
The book of love has music in it
In fact that’s where music comes from”

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Perhaps I was in an especially emotional mood, but the beginning of “Innocence” seemed especially poignant and touching.

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“The world’s going by 100 miles a minute, so it’s nice to come to Boston and feel welcomed.” – Mikel

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Crazy, wonderful encore. The beginning lines of “Happiness Is Overrated” sung with great gusto by the audience, at Mikel’s behest.

All three bands onstage (with Red Cortez’s bassist, Ryan, in just his briefs) during “People Who Died”. Madness ensues.

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Mikel on the edge of the stage and then down in the audience for “Missy”. Anna has one of the longest and successful crowd surfs I’ve ever seen, carried on people’s hands halfway to the back of the place. Roaring admiration. What an amazing night.

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“I don’t know what’s going on with this band, but nights like this make it all worthwhile.” – Mikel

Intro
Does This Mean You’re Moving On?
Something New
This Magic Moment
Gasoline
Sugarcube
This Losing
Papillon
This Is Nowhere

(Acoustic set)
Letter To Georgia
Wishing Well
Book Of Love

Sometime Around Midnight
Goodbye Horses
All I Ever Wanted
Innocence

(Encore)
Happiness Is Overrated
People Who Died
Missy

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[A special ‘shout out’ to Anna’s (and Andrew’s) parents, whom Mikel introduced from onstage. Andrew Bulbrook plays second violin in the amazing classical group, the Calder Quartet, and their parents regularly attend both Airborne and Calder Quartet performances. It’s awesome to see how supportive they are, and anyone who would brave a WFNX lingerie party in a packed and sweaty upstairs room of a bar to see their daughter’s rock band has my deepest respect and admiration.]

More photos to be uploaded to Flickr… eventually.

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