This hot and hazy summer marks The Airborne Toxic Event‘s five-year anniversary of their existence, and this coming Saturday marks the third-year anniversary of my first time seeing them. Though I’ll actually be at the Newport Folk Festival this weekend, covering this legendary event for Ryan’s Smashing Life, my band has very thoughtfully put together a string of East Coast dates, so we can properly celebrate. What’s more, they’ve just announced a big autumn tour (Orpheum Theatre, Sat 11/19!) that will see them visiting many places, including – for their first time – Anchorage, Alaska. I mean, how could you not want to see them in a place called Bear Tooth Theatre?
U.S. Summer Tour
07/29 Detroit, MI ~ Majestic Theatre
07/30 Syracuse, NY ~ NYS Fairgrounds (K-Rockathan radio show)
07/31 Rochester, NY ~ Monroe County Fairgrounds (Bonzai 2001 – The Zone 94.1 radio show)
08/02 Burlington, VT ~ Higher Ground
08/03 Clifton Park, NY ~ Northern Lights
08/04 Hartford, CT ~ Webster Theatre
08/05 Pawtucket, RI ~ The Met *SOLD OUT*
08/06 Philadelphia, PA ~ The Piazza at Schmidts (104.5 Free Summer Block Party)
08/26 Del Mar, CA ~ Del Mar Racetrack (free if attending the races)
Autumn Tour (selected dates)
09/01 Anchorage, AK ~ Bear Tooth Theatre
09/18 Austin, TX ~ Austin City Limits Festival
10/14 New Orleans, LA ~ Howlin Wolf
10/16 Pensacola, FL ~ DeLuna Fest
10/21 San Francisco, CA ~ The Fillmore
10/23 Los Angeles, CA ~ Gibson Amphitheatre ~ LA Weekly Presents LA 101
(10/26-11/7 Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, UK, Ireland, Scotland)
(11/09-12/07 U.S., Canada)
11/18 New York, NY ~ Terminal 5
11/19 Boston, MA ~ Orpheum Theatre
11/20 Philadelphia, PA ~ Electric Factory
A Cultural Experience: The Airborne Toxic Event in Boston
(Museum of Fine Arts, House of Blues – May 11, 2011)
High culture and rowdy rock ‘n’ roll: The Airborne Toxic Event’s last visit to Boston.
This was the inaugural “Acoustic Session” at the Museum of Fine Arts, co-sponsored by the MFA and WFNX, with 50 lucky contest winners being treated to a beautiful 6-song set performed amongst religious paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries in one of their elegant galleries. It was a dramatic backdrop with phenomenal acoustics. The band joked about playing in such close proximity to priceless works of art (and I warily eyed the end of Anna’s bow), but it was the perfect setting.
A serene and regal afternoon at the MFA gave way to a full-on extravaganza at a sold out House of Blues for 2400 adoring fans, happy to see Airborne back in their adopted home. It was a special evening that had the vibe of a family reunion, with an onstage marriage proposal and the return of a dearly departed spirit – a heartfelt tribute to Boston legend and Airborne superfan Billy Ruane.
Fellow L.A. Eastsiders Voxhaul Broadcast put out a strong set, with lead singer/guitarist David Dennis a kinetic, whirling dervish. The highlight was most definitely “Loose Change” a crazed space jam from their latest album, Timing Is Everything. They managed to win over an audience virtually unfamiliar with them, even with the restless anticipation of the headliners.
Airborne last played Boston back in September (along with the Calder Quartet at the Somerville Theatre), though by the crowd’s reaction, it seemed like it had been a decade. Their two-hour set was, pardon the pun, a work of art. Beginning with “Numb”, a song from the new album ‘All At Once’ about the rigors of the road, it led into a wonderful selection of their quieter, more emotional ballads, both old and new. The Magnetic Fields’ “Book Of Love” was dedicated to Mikel’s grandparents. “Days of Wine and Poses”, performed in memory of Mr. Ruane (it was his favorite Airborne song), was a special treat, as it’s rarely performed.
“Happiness is Overrated” ushered in the more rambunctious portion of the evening; “Gasoline” was Mikel’s first (and not last) foray into the audience thicket, creating happy chaos. “Something New” was better still, with him running up to the balcony with a cordless mic, attempting an up-close performance for everyone in the room. The band played so beautifully, interacting with that special symbiosis that comes from a multitude of live shows. It’s great to hear more prominent backing vocals from Anna Bulbrook (who has a beautiful voice that perfectly complements Mikel’s) and some serious jazz bass jams from Noah (especially at the start of “Gasoline”), who also brought his upright along for some classical interludes with Anna’s viola.
Their arrangements for the new songs are more layered and complex, nowhere more evident than with “The Kids Are Ready To Die” elegantly transitioning into “Welcome To Your Wedding Day”. Powerful. As an answer to Europeans thinking “Kids” was anti-American, Mikel responded with “We’re not anti-American; we’re just anti- government sending kids to die for somebody’s fucking lie.”
The set design this time out is simple and sophisticated, with a dash of whimsy – a dramatic back curtain and 6 upside-down umbrellas that are illuminated, holding colors like cosmic goblets. Their “literary keyboard stand” (made up of books) is a nice touch for a band that named themselves after a chapter in a DeLillo novel.
Slowly building from quietly romantic into heart-pounding, the concert reached an emotional crescendo with “Sometime Around Midnight” and “Innocence”, breathlessly offered back-to-back, with some eloquent words of appreciation from Mikel to a wildly cheering, enraptured audience – “You know, once you get past all the bullshit of rock ‘n’ roll…all you really want is for someone to hear your song. To know that the songs become part of people’s lives, it just means everything to us.”
A 30-minute encore that became a jumping, celebratory sea of madness closed with the majestic “All At Once,” a reflection of life’s journey encapsulated into a five-minute rock song. It was a perfect evening of fine music with old friends.
~ Setlist ~
All I Ever Wanted
The Book Of Love (by the Magnetic Fields)
Days Of Wine and Poses (for Billy Ruane)
All For A Woman
Half Of Something Else
Happiness Is Overrated
The Kids Are Ready To Die
Welcome To Your Wedding Day
Sometime Around Midnight
Does This Mean You’re Moving On?
Missy ‘medley’ (w/I’m On Fire (Bruce Springsteen)/I Fought The Law (The Clash)/Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash)
All At Once