musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Category: The Airborne Toxic Event (Page 1 of 7)

The Airborne Toxic Event’s February Mini Tour

The last time I saw Airborne, they were tearing it up during an incendiary 45-minute set at Boston Calling.

The last time I saw Airborne, they were tearing it up during an incendiary 45-minute set at Boston Calling.

Consider this a continuation of my flakey attempt to see what my L.A. bands have been up to lately. I started this exercise in earnest at the end of last year with Black Hi-lighter, went boldly into the new year with Summer Darling and Sea Wolf, and then promptly fell off the face of the earth. Chalk it up to 2014’s strange beginnings, a curious job situation and the on again, off again polar vortex. Call it what you will.

I’m back now to have a look at what The Airborne Toxic Event have been up to recently. By recently, I mean since last October, when they finished off with 13 European shows, marking the end of the “on again, off again” tour to support the brilliant Such Hot Blood. So what have they been up to? Uh, not a whole lot. Or I should say, not a whole lot that they’ve been talking about. One can extrapolate, however, from various sources. Their single “Hell and Back”, from the Dallas Buyer’s Club soundtrack album, has been doing really well, in the top 20 of Billboard’s “Alternative National Airplay” chart for 13 weeks now. Mikel Jollett has been all but invisible, save for a cryptic tweet every two or three weeks. There’s been a virtual “radio silence” from the rest of the band, except for Anna Bulbrook doing a few side projects, setting up her own studio, picking up some new musical skills and tweeting about her canine roommate, io. All signs point to a pre-recording scenario (writing, collaborating, arranging), and sure enough, a recent tweet from Anna announced a vague “listening session with Mikel Jollett,” so I guess that’s probably right.

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My Musical Highlights of 2013

(clockwise from upper left): A blessing to see all my favorites this year - The Henry Clay People, The Happy Hollows, Malcolm Sosa's 123Death and The Airborne Toxic Event

(clockwise from upper left): A blessing to see all my favorites this year - The Henry Clay People, The Happy Hollows, Malcolm Sosa's 123Death and The Airborne Toxic Event

I’ll be honest — 2013 was a bitch of an “all work and no play” year, but the times I did get to cut loose with some fine music were pretty spectacular. There were a few really nice festivals (not a format I’m typically fond of), an intimate backyard deck show in Echo Park and the swan song of a beloved L.A. band. What might have lacked in quantity was well compensated in quality. Due to my work circumstances, I had to select carefully, so what you’ll find here are mostly old favorites. As the year winds down, it does so on a rather ominous note, and I’m not entirely certain what the future holds. Ok, no one is ever certain; I’m especially not certain. If there’s anything in a musical vein that I hope for in 2014, it’s that however my life changes, it does so in a way that I can experience a wider range of musical delights in the new year. For a comprehensive overview of top recordings released in 2013, visit Ryan’s Smashing Life for his ’50 Best Albums of 2013.’ Meanwhile, here are six of my personal live performance highlights, in chronological order.

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Lost and Found (X of XII)

A Los Angeles story of madness and awakening, in twelve parts

The Airborne Toxic Event with the Pacific Symphony at the Pacific Amphitheatre

The Airborne Toxic Event with the Pacific Symphony at the Pacific Amphitheatre

Part X: Impressions of Costa Mesa, missteps at Laguna Beach and the Wavelength Festival with Delta Spirit and The Airborne Toxic Event

Driving around Costa Mesa, looking for a decent vegetarian breakfast, it occurred to me how much the city is like a sprawling Simsbury, Connecticut — or, for you Bostonians, perhaps Newton. There were the endless upscale shopping centers, pristine landscaping and not a single non-white person to be seen at the outdoor yuppie-style cafe I finally came across in one of the many fancy yet nondescript strip malls. Even the name was vaguely elitist: Haute Cakes. Perfect. Two haute couture women were sitting next to me, chattering non-stop, while their equally stuffy and primped little dog wound itself around my leg. The food was good but no match for the ‘Angel’s Mess’ at Millie’s in Silver Lake, which was life-affirming.

I was thinking about the importance of the show I would be seeing that night. I’d been a fan of The Airborne Toxic Event since 2008, and though they’ve performed with an orchestra before, this was the first time they’d done so in the Los Angeles area. It was part of the Wavelength Festival, and they’d be appearing with the 85-piece Pacific Symphony at the state-of-the-art Pacific Amphitheatre. Fellow Angelinos Delta Spirit, a marvelous band and headliner in their own right, was opening for them. Over the five years I’ve known Airborne, they’ve continuously raised their game. They’ve become more accomplished musicians and performers, and their musical arrangements, particularly for the orchestral shows, ever more impressive. I can’t imagine how much time and energy it takes to work out parts for 85 additional players. Add to this the majesty of performing in a world-class amphitheatre with a world-class symphony orchestra, in front of what most certainly would be Southern California’s finest in terms of sophisticated music aficionados. All of that was bound to add up to a beautiful experience, right?

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Boston Calling, Day 1 ~ beautiful vibes, pretty music

Daren Taylor, Mikel Jollett and Noah Harmon of The Airborne Toxic Event at Boston Calling

Daren Taylor, Mikel Jollett and Noah Harmon of The Airborne Toxic Event at Boston Calling

Despite it being a rather corporate affair and priced out of the reach of many of this city’s music fans, the Boston Calling Festival did a lot of things right, as large outdoor concerts go. They made an effort to include two more local bands and support a Boston charity through their Sonicbids contest, with a portion of proceeds from the submission fee donated to Boston Children’s Hospital (VIVA VIVA! played on Saturday and Royal Teeth on Sunday). Though they served alcohol (naturally), they did so in a special “beer garden” set away from the stages, which I think contributed to the fact that most of those close to the music were there for the music, and not just to get shitfaced with their friends. This was no small thing, and was greatly appreciated. The downtown setting was unique, convenient and was I’m sure a great sales boost to local businesses. There were a few problems at the start (mostly to do with what was and wasn’t allowed on site and consistency between various entities), but as they sorted out the stage placement, I’m sure they can deal with this as well. I still believe the cost is prohibitive, considering that festivals elsewhere with more performers and stages are similarly priced. I’m disheartened by all shows that cost more than $20-25, but the whole “concert-going elite” subject is a much larger topic.

Boston Calling, City Hall Plaza, at high noon.

Boston Calling, City Hall Plaza, at high noon.

People begin to gather at the blue stage.

People begin to gather at the blue stage.

Onto the music, which was absolutely superb. They wisely divided up the bands between the more “indie rock” types and the “dance/hip-hop/electro” types, which made sense and helped those who could only afford to go one day. I planted myself in front of the blue stage for most of the day, so my photos are of those bands. Everyone was clearly energized by the audience, which was among the best I’ve seen at something like this. Extremely engaged, friendly, supportive… just great. I’m sure this might not have been the case further back or as the night wore on, but my experience was very positive, and typically I’m not a lover of large music events, far preferring the small sweaty (more intimate) club scene. But I have to say, this was a lovely day. Onto the photos and my personal favorites.

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Apologies and I.O.U.s

Airborne sans symphony will be performing at Boston Calling tomorrow (photo: Costa Mesa, CA 8/23/13)

Airborne sans symphony will be performing at Boston Calling tomorrow (photo: Costa Mesa, CA 8/23/13)

So I had thought that most certainly by now I would have checked in with at least Part I of my “L.A. Phantasmagorical” report (which looks to be a whopping 12-parter — plus a short story, when it happens, and which may come with a different title, if no one gets the joke). Or perhaps my “review” of The Airborne Toxic Event’s dramatic performance with a really big symphony orchestra in Costa Mesa, California. However, work and general madness ensued (and not the fun sort of madness either). So to commemorate Airborne’s appearance tomorrow at Boston Calling, I present to you… an I.O.U. For now, here’s a few photos of an evening under the stars with a spectacular rock ‘n’ roll band, a stunning orchestra and a lot of inebriated people.

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On my Airborne Toxic Event anniversary…

(from The Beantown Bloggery, posted 7/30/2008)

(from The Beantown Bloggery, posted 7/30/2008)

A brief commemoration is in order today. On this very evening five years ago, I first saw The Airborne Toxic Event. It was upstairs at an Irish-Mexican bar in downtown Boston called Jose McIntyre’s, a curious gathering called “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” sponsored by WFNX. I actually just stumbled upon an advertisement of this event on The Beantown Bloggery. How cool. here’s my review of that pivotal event in my life. Sadly, this was before I started documenting, but you can see my first video of the band from later that year at Knott’s Berry Farm (see below). And be sure to check out (sorry, can’t seem to embed) this extremely cool video I unearthed of an old interview with the ‘FNX guys backstage at their Miracle on Tremont Street show in December ’08, where they talk about the show back in July. Good times.

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The East Coast in June with The Airborne Toxic Event ~ feverish devotion in three flavors

SummerStage in Central Park, New York City

SummerStage in Central Park, New York City

In my attempt to tell the story of a bleary and beautiful three days of travel underscored by the music of The Airborne Toxic Event, it occurs to me that the backdrops were dramatically different and provided a glimpse into three distinct East Coast ecosystems. What links them all together is a relatively new emergence of a rabidly devoted — and slowly growing — community of fans. The beautifully written and exquisitely performed new songs from Such Hot Blood have been embraced like dear old friends and added to the communal singalong repertoire in this rock ‘n’ roll moveable feast.

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The Airborne Toxic Event in Boston & Burlington: All Good Things Great and Small

Boston House of Blues

Boston House of Blues

This is to be a tale about an epic performance in a big hall, and those little things that most people will never notice. The massive preparation and myriad of minute details of a touring rock ‘n’ roll band, and the inexplicable magic of people reaching a place of connection in a piece of music.

A Grand Production

It’s obvious that a lot of forethought goes into The Airborne Toxic Event’s live shows. There’s the planning of the set list, which on this current tour to support their new release, Such Hot Blood, seems to mutate not only to keep things fresh for the band and for the “frequent flyers” in the audience, but also to reflect particular local favorites and tweeted requests as they come along. Additionally, set lists are adjusted “on the fly” to accommodate mood shifts and atmospheric changes in the venue. Seriously. You rarely if ever see that level of attentiveness on the part of a touring musician. For a full stage performance like the House of Blues in Boston, there’s the stage set, which for the last few tours has been minimalist but incorporating the emotionally-charged, instantly recognizable symbols from their debut album. Those leafless winter trees and the injured bird who flies bravely on despite being pierced through by one of life’s arrows are a metaphor for the band’s central theme of enduring hardship and dancing through disaster. There’s even synchronized lighting, which helps turn a cool rock show into musical theater, complementing the orchestral arrangements and poetic lyrics and visuals. All of it comes together to bring the audience along on an emotional journey. Each song is a mini soundtrack unto itself for a loosely choreographed act of a play where band members move between instruments, interacting with the fans and with each other. Nothing less would be fitting to introduce such a dramatic and emotional album.

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The Airborne Toxic Event: Such Hot Blood ~ Out Tuesday!

Such Hot Blood

(Island Def Jam)
Produced by Jacquire King

Release Date: Tuesday, April 30

 


There are so many ghosts. Whether it’s the lingering scent of a departed lover or the voices of departed family members, the feeling of loss is profound, and dealing with loss over and over again can disfigure you. But despite that, there is also strength to be gathered from all those memories and the ceaseless voices. Since The Airborne Toxic Event’s first album in 2008, loss has been a central theme. It’s been a yin and yang of heartbreak and hope, mournful melancholy and ecstatic release, untempered passion and raw emotions. What has changed is that now the band has a richer, more varied palette at their disposal with which to tell their stories. There has been a progression from their debut to All At Once to this new album in terms of the narrator’s viewpoint. It began with the immediate gut reaction to pain and hurt, told from within. The second time around, it was an assessment from the road, with the miles of separation lending objectivity to the storytelling. That’s even more pronounced now, as the view pulls out wider. It’s the sort of perspective that comes naturally with the passage of time.

The band took a bit of a risk here with Such Hot Blood. With its deeply personal narrative and chock full of sentimental, romantic ballads, it’s not going to be what everyone wants to hear. This is not an album you can dance to, unless perhaps it’s a dramatic waltz. On All At Once, they wanted to show the world what they could do, and prove that they weren’t fixed to any one genre. For this third album, there was less pressure to “prove themselves,” leaving them free to explore where each individual song took them.

This beautiful album requires complete immersion with a good pair of headphones to realize how closely bound the song arrangements are with Mikel’s introspective mini novellas. Anna, Daren, Noah and Steven each add their trademark flourishes—a pinch of piano notes here, a dash of viola melody there, a vibrant guitar burst, a percolating bass, a dramatic drum roll… There are also cameo appearances of everything else imaginable, from horns to mandolin, glockenspiel to a touch of tambourine, synthesizer to string section, and even a wistful bit of whistling. Barely a measure goes by that the instrumentation doesn’t change—something goes away, something else dances in. Melodies ebb and flow throughout each song in a complex weave, with poetic lines and repeated phrases that cast light on key issues, the repetitions themselves a metaphor for getting “stuck” in repeating life patterns. What results is a rich soundtrack that tells the story in Greek chorus fashion.

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The Secret’s Out Now (but you’ll have to wait for the full album)

Ok, that was pretty corny, but inevitable. The Airborne Toxic Event release their teaser EP called The Secret today (3/11), just ahead of their third full-length studio album, Such Hot Blood, which might be out April 16 (no formal date from Island Def Jam). The album was recorded at the legendary Blackbird Studios in Nashville with producer Jacquire King (Of Monsters and Men, Tom Waits, Modest Mouse, Buddy Guy, Cold War Kids, Dawes).


Timeless by The Airborne Toxic Event

I will be reviewing the new album, so stay tuned. But for now… The Secret, locked inside feverish memories, with a sense of urgency and the madness of a remembered love; you can’t hide, and everyone knows everything anyway… Timeless, the enduring soul, visitations from spirit; a close bond that transcends time, ageless, ancient, celebratory, defiant… The Storm, a wistful longing, the yearning not to be alone… Safe, lost in one’s thoughts, in a half-forgotten dream; the past is relived in the telling of a story, with words repeated like a chanted meditation. These songs feel more than ever like a sleepwalk into the pages of a novel, into the author’s memories with a small, focused light left on to guide you. This is poetic folk music infused with a pounding heartbeat and the dramatic flourish they’ve become known for.

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