screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

How I Spent My (end of) Summer Vacation: The Airborne Toxic Event and The Calder Quartet Acoustic East Coast Tour

The Town Hall, New York City, Sept. 11

The Town Hall, New York City, Sept. 11

So I saw some really cool shows a few weeks ago. The Airborne Toxic Event, along with their uber-classy pals The Calder Quartet, blessed the East Coast with a handful of magnificent concerts. Part lush string arrangements and heartfelt ballads, part good ol’ sweaty and leaping around like monkeys rock ‘n roll. I’m hard pressed to come up with superlatives that I haven’t already used (in great abundance) in connection with Airborne Tox. Because, you know, I’ve written about these guys a few times before. If it’s ok with you, I’m going to combine the shows I attended – Somerville Theatre, Kewsick Theatre, and New York City’s Town Hall, plus a movie night with some good friends at an old Yiddish theatre on the Lower East Side. It was a magical and spectacular road trip holiday with some of my favorite music as the soundtrack.

Somerville Theatre, Sept. 8
Somerville Theatre, Sept. 8

Apart from sheer beauty of hearing Airborne with the lush, majestic string arrangements of The Calder Quartet (quite a combination), they radiated such joy during the show, it was beautiful to watch and be part of. With time back home in L.A. to regroup (and to sleep a little) after a crazy 2-year world tour, focused virtually all this year on writing and recording the new album, they were obviously very happy to be out playing again, performing new songs (and several beloved old ones) for wildly appreciative audiences.

This performance was designed to give those outside of Los Angeles a little taste of that very special Disney Hall show back in December, which happily has been released on DVD (a review of that amazing thing is coming up next). The show was split into two sets; the first more acoustic, and the second more rock ‘n’ roll (though the latter half included plenty of classical grace, in the form of Calder Quartet-enhanced versions of “Midnight”, “Innocence”, and a wonderful new arrangement of “All I Ever Wanted,” with a slight structural and lyric change in the middle… very nice.

It began, as did the Disney Hall show, with The Calder Quartet performing “String Quartet: II – Assez Vif: Trés Rhythmé” and Airborne walking out near the end, gracefully gliding into the familiar opening notes of “Wishing Well.” A really gorgeous arrangement. Followed by a perfect segue into “This Losing,” which I for one am very happy to hear is on the new album. “The Book of Love” was next, with Mikel’s touching story about the song, which he sings as a tribute to his grandmother who sadly passed away a week before the Disney Hall show. “Duet” has really come into its own since I first heard it last October when it was known as “Untitled”… heartbreaking and beautiful.

Two more new songs from the forthcoming album made an appearance at these shows. “All For A Woman” is Mikel’s deeply personal thoughts on touring, with Noah playing some really wonderful lead guitar and Steven switching to bass.

“All these grateful looks, all these grateful eyes
all these furious stares, all these fretful sighs
promising everything to everyone
we’ll be back soon, you’re our favorite ones…” – All For A Woman

These special arrangements the band crafted for the Calder Quartet are quite gorgeous. Their performance together of the extended version of “Innocence” is well-known to fans, but the strings in “All I Ever Wanted” (especially Eric Byers’ cello with Noah’s upright bass) are stunning. As was Mikel’s beautiful speech at the beginning, about how music is a celebration of something that brings us all together.

The setlist, as well-crafted as it was, turned out to be a suggestion rather than rigidly adhered to, with the band opting to switch things around here and there, adding a few unexpected but warmly welcomed old friends – “Does The Mean You’re Moving On?” and “Papillon”. In Pennsylvania and NYC, we were treated to “Something You Own,” introduced with some delightful tinkly toy piano and then backing vocals from Anna and Noah (and a few lyric changes as well). The audience, perplexed as to whether or not it was ok to jump up and down while others were seated behind you, chose to sit for the first half and dance during the second. On the set list, “Gasoline” was listed just before “Innocence,” but it never happened that way, because “Gasoline” proved to be so, um, incendiary, it was decided that, as starkly gorgeous as the introduction to “Innocence” is, it would have been a major buzz kill. When it was performed, the Calder Quartet’s accompaniment raised that amazing song to new heights.

For the encore, they performed the title track of the new album, the very anthemic-sounding “All At Once” (“I feel the world changing all at once, I guess we’ll be ok”).

Somerville Theatre ~ September 8, 2010

The Somerville Theatre was at the top of my “wish list” of possible Airborne venues. An old theatre from vaudeville days, it has an art deco charm and laid-back vibe, and hosts many awesome concerts. Wicked comfortable, great acoustics, in a cool neighborhood, and they serve beer and wine. What’s not to love? A low-key, no-stress place, unlike… (well, never mind, as I’ll probably find myself there again when Tox tours the new album). Oh yeah, and a good place to see a movie, too.

Airborne’s last date with Boston was back in April, for the odd and wonderful ‘Jack Daniel’s show’ (and Ames acoustic session). Five months later and so deeply missed that this Somerville show was sold out weeks before, they had been holed up in the studio since early summer recording and seemed as anxious to share their new music as we were to hear it.

Other videos from Somerville: Goodbye Horses | Innocence







“All I Ever Wanted: Live from the Walt Disney Concert Hall” Film Premiere, Sunshine Cinema, New York City ~ September 9, 2010

A very special evening in a small art-house theatre to see a film that literally brought tears to my eyes. Several times. And I don’t often cry at movies. This concert film and ‘making of’ documentary is incredibly beautiful – a full review to follow soon.

Keswick Theatre, Glenside, PA ~ September 10, 2010

A charming old theatre in “Keswick Village”, North of Philadelphia, and a beautifully warm audience with an odd habit of hissing instead of applauding after songs… (see YouTube video of “Happiness Is Overrated”). “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?” was introduced with “hey everybody, we’re gonna play a song we didn’t practice” (though it sounded perfect), and Mikel was so happy with the vibe, he invited everyone over for lunch.







Town Hall, New York City ~ September 11, 2010

It was a poignant day to be in New York City, on the anniversary of 9/11. The streets were amazingly vibrant with tribute events and concerts, and an especially strong feeling of community. And oh yes, let us not forget the Naked Cowboy of Times Square.

The show itself felt somewhat “unhinged” and teetering on the edge of disaster, as NYC shows often do to me. “All For A Woman” was introduced as being about “when you spend a lot of time on tour, your life starts to become a bit of a blur, and you forget what it all started with.” After “Gasoline” raised everyone’s energy level to fever pitch, they followed with “Does The Mean You’re Moving On?”, and then, not wanting to lose that delirious, transcendent moment, continued into “Papillon” to absolute audience frenzy. Mikel, lost in the moment, sprayed the front rows and part of the stage with water, then proceeded to spin around, slip, and wipe out. He handled the awkward (and obviously painful) experience with tremendous grace and good humor (“See, that’s why you don’t do this at home”… “I think I broke my rib. If I keep playing, is that part of rock ‘n’ roll?”… “Does anybody have any fuckin’ Icy Hot?”).

This was also the first time, I believe, that “Missy” paid a visit not only to Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” but also Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” Both blending in so perfectly, they sound like they belong there.








I have only one question… when’s the next tour?

[For a review of their Washington, D.C. show, see my friend Mary Chang’s article on there goes the fear.]

Keswick Theatre, Glenside PA, Sept. 10

Keswick Theatre, Glenside PA, Sept. 10

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  1. Tammy Asaki

    Fantastic review and the videos and pictures are gorgeous!

  2. Excellent work.

  3. Rebecca

    Upon reading your review I was slammed with many different feelings, a mix of a rush of emotion brought on by both the concert and the rest of the night that followed, and the insane jealousy at your grace with words. I was the eccentric one to your right at the Keswick. I don’t think that there has been a day since that concert where I haven’t listened to The Airborne Toxic Event. I am also absolutely giddy that you were able to get so many videos, what with the staff going around and tapping shoulders. I got a few decent shots of the band if you’d like. Oh, and as for that band I was telling you about, we have about four songs now. It’s coming along quite swimmingly.

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