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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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.
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.
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.
If night #1 was the formal unveiling of the new songs (with Island Records folks in attendance), the first show of 2013 and official “kick off” for the new album and tour, then night #2 of The Airborne Toxic Event in New York City was a goofy get-together with your buddies hanging out in an exceptionally large living room.
After Mikel made the mistake of announcing that this was “the good night,” the technical snafus began and kept coming, making for some off-the-cuff hilarity and loads of great fun. I’ll never stop loving the quirky personality of this band and the sheer joy they have in performing, to the point that even when something screwy happens that might throw someone else off their game, they seem to delight in those unexpected moments. Mikel, ever the showman, especially thrives in those situations. As he says, that’s what rock ‘n’ roll is all about; never really knowing what’s going to happen, where everything can completely go off the rails at any moment. That’s what makes the evening exciting and special. And it most certainly was.
The set list for tonight (more or less) was: All I Ever Wanted, The Secret, Numb, Changing, What’s In A Name, Gasoline, Does This Mean You’re Moving On?, Papillon, Wishing Well, Timeless, This Losing, Welcome To Your Wedding Day, Sometime Around Midnight, Innocence, All At Once // Happiness Is Overrated, Missy.
After a two-night high like that, I’m crashing pretty hard now, but there’s already been the promise of more tour dates being announced next week. Bring it on!
Thanks again to my friend citybug for the great videos.
It was an incredibly powerful evening with old friends. I’m at a complete loss for words, so don’t expect this to be eloquent, but after a performance like that, I had to stay up and post something.
It’s been over a year since The Airborne Toxic Event played in New York, and from the emotional outpouring of all their fans, it was obvious they had been deeply missed. We witnessed a dramatic unveiling of four new songs from the upcoming album, Such Hot Blood, and there were massive chanting sing-a-longs of beloved favorites (that would be everything else). They opened with “All At Once,” then moved in to “Wishing Well,” and from there, it was a breathtaking, dizzying smorgasbord of the following, in no particular order (apologies if I missed anything): new songs – The Secret, Timeless, The Storm, What’s In A Name. And also… Half Of Something Else, The Graveyard Near The House, The Book Of Love, All I Ever Wanted (with the original lyrics), Gasoline, Sometime Around Midnight, Does This Mean You’re Moving On?, Happiness Is Overrated, Welcome To Your Wedding Day, Numb, Changing, and Missy bedecked in dazzling new clothes, with snippets of Johnny Cash’s “Ring Of Fire,” Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” and a long cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA.” Mind-blowing.
I will speak about the new songs when the album comes out and I do a proper review. Too much to process and absorb, and that takes some time. For now, let’s just say absolutely stunning, and there’s no doubt it’s going to be a HUGE year for them.
Here’s “Timeless,” filmed by my friend Charles (a.k.a. citybug). See his other videos on YouTube. Thanks for handling the filming duties, buddy!
I hope you enjoyed part I of the Eastside L.A. 2013 Roundup. In part II, we pick up where we left off, with the lovely Miss Sarah Negahdari‘s side project, Pisces.
Same rules apply. If the last update was last summer and not a word since then, I’m going to call the band MIA and assumed gone or on extended hiatus, unless I hear otherwise. Confirmed as defunct: Shadow Shadow Shade and Walking Sleep.
We continue now with the rest of our roundup. Good night, and good luck. >>
It’s a good thing I held off posting this, because I’ve just made it an even dozen in honor of the year that just flew by, 2012. The last one? A band I had the immense pleasure of seeing for the first time, on First Night just last night at the majestic Symphony Hall. [Why do they call it “First Night”? Shouldn’t it be “Last Night”?]
I saw a total of 24 shows this year. Not a whole lot for a music blogger, but I’ll tell you—nearly all of them were spectacular. That’s damn good odds. I’ve heard some people say that 2012 was an awful year. What I’ll say, from my personal perspective, is this: 2012 was a year of massive challenges and difficulties, but the rewards, if you were prepared to step up, and I mean step up in a major way, were equally impressive. It was most definitely not a year for lightweights. But it’s all moving forward, and it’s moving forward quickly. Hold on to something sturdy, because I have a feeling 2013 is going to be just as intense. Remember, with challenge comes opportunity. Happy New Year, everyone.
and The Airborne Toxic Event Saves Osheaga! (for a few hours, anyway)
It was the smartest thing I could have done. Stuck in a nerve-wracking holding pattern for so long, getting nowhere, I needed something just outside my comfort level – the uncertainty of a long road trip in my beat-up ’93 Corolla, a looming border crossing, unfamiliar roads with speed signs in kilometers, and mostly unfamiliar language. Despite the edginess, there was this temporary freedom from the expected, the ordinary, the noose that had been tightening around my neck.
Continuing on with part II of my Eastside L.A. Bands 2012 Roundup. Again, I’m only including artists who either are doing significant touring this year, or who have a new album just out, very recently out, or are working on something. If I’ve missed anyone or something big, please let me know. I’m going to bed now. Goodnight and good luck.