The Airborne Toxic Event
Webster Hall, New York, NY
January 16, 2013
Concert Review: Airborne Toxic Event at Webster Hall
Since the first time I’ve seen Martin Scorcese’s 1995 film “Casino,” any time I catch it on cable, I find myself unable to change channels regardless of which part in the film’s progress I wind up joining. It’s not the finest movie ever created, nor is it even the director’s finest work, but there’s a certain likability to the film itself that is captivating enough that it can engulf my interest at any time. I thought about “Casino” quite a bit on Wednesday night when I found myself inside of Webster Hall in the East Village. While Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci were noticeably absent from the main stage, the band performing there invoked the same sort of emotive qualities in me that I liken to the film, despite this being my first time seeing them. I’m referring to Los Angeles quintet The Airborne Toxic Event, in what would be their second of two consecutive sold out shows in New York City. And just like “Casino,” you don’t necessarily need to know the band’s back story, nor even the songs themselves; but you can join one of the band’s shows anywhere in progress and manage to enjoy yourself.
If you’ve not heard The Airborne Toxic Event’s music before, they aren’t the sludgy sort of death metal outfit that their moniker might suggest- quite the contrary in fact. The five piece band, comprised of talented musicians who switch up the instruments they’re playing seemingly at will, sounds like a combination of influential elements blended together that result in the straight forward rock sounds of The Gaslight Anthem, the punk-laden British aggression of The Clash, and the same fine line walked between rock and pop that brought The Cure to our consciousness in the early 1980s. But perhaps best of all is the fact that the band’s identity and sound is uniquely their own- as the back to back sold out nights in Manhattan would seem to indicate. With a 2013 release on the way titled “Such Hot Blood” (the band’s third full length album), The Airborne Toxic Event pulled out all the stops during a mostly high energy ninety plus minute set that ran the gamut of the band’s catalog to date.
As much more of a rock outfit than their indie cred would seem to indicate, the fast paced live show did little to wake up a mostly lethargic crowd for much of the evening- through no fault of the band, who did everything but come out into the audience and literally revive them, to put on a great show. Led by frontman/guitarist Mikel Jollett, The Airborne Toxic Event marched to center stage to a rousing ovation, opening with the electric and slow building “All I Ever Wanted.” The band’s impassioned playing did manage to rally the crowd from the start, especially during Anna Bulbrook’s opportunities to shine on the viola and Noah Harmon’s turns on the upright bass; the strings seemed to resonate with the New York City audience on this night, like a magician pulling out a special unexpected trick to his fans’ delight. Jollett meanwhile remained the focal point throughout the show, pounding his boot practically through the stage floor repeatedly during “Numb,” and joining lead guitarist Steven Chen in guiding the entire room to an overhead applause during a particularly stirring rendition of “Changing.” All the while Bulbrook’s blonde mop of hair bounced around from song to song behind her keyboard, which she shared as the show wore on with at least two of her other bandmates.
After three restarts, the band jolted into perhaps the show’s finest moment with the catchy “Gasoline,” kicked off by Jollett’s deafening scream- “We’re gonna get fucked up and play some rock and roll!” The upbeat verse and infectious chorus were particularly memorable before a flaring of strobe lights triggered repeatedly behind the band during a stimulating version of “Welcome to Your Wedding Day,” which, in similar fashion, briefly awoke a mostly stoic crowd. The band’s cover medley of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” enveloped between their song “Missy,” felt like a bit of a tired cliché that a band this talented should not have needed to rely upon to close an otherwise respectable show. But watching the crowd sing along to every word with Jollett in unison showcased a band that seems to give their fans exactly what they want- whether they know it or not. And who are we kidding? I was singing right along with them.
- Jane Van Arsdale
The Airborne Toxic Event - Webster Hall, New York, NY
January 17th, 2013
1. All I Ever Wanted
2. The Secret
5. What’s in a Name?
7. Does This Mean You’re Moving On?
9. Wishing Well
11. This Losing12. Welcome to Your Wedding Day
13. Sometime Around Midnight
15. All At Once
16. Happiness is Overrated
17. Missy / Ring of Fire / American Girl / Born in the USA / Missy