The Airborne Toxic Event
By: Cornel Bonca
From the moment that The Airborne Toxic Event opened their Pacific Amphitheatre set with “All At Once,” an epic, rocking meditation on how to live life once you've been confronted with death (“in the gut, in the back, in the face”), the crowd was on its feet. And they stayed there for the entire 100-minute, 19-song performance. Though that's not unusual for a typical Airborne show, the show was anything but typical. This was Airborne backed by the 88-piece Pacific Symphony, whom they'd never met until the day of the gig. This was Airborne restricted to a set list, and arrangements, that were score-able for a big orchestra. And this was Airborne playing to front rows that, for some lame security reason, were kept thirty feet from the stage until the encore, whereupon the crowd surged into the empty semicircle of space in front of the band.
But the band surmounted these obstacles with aplomb. It helped that this was their 903rd show, as frontman Mikel Jollett helpfully mentioned (903 shows in six years, mind you), and that this is one band that knows its obligation to its fans to deliver up the goods. It also helps that, with the release of their third studio album, Such Hot Blood, they've got a superb catalog of songs to choose from, from wrenching romantic dramas like “Sometime Around Midnight,” “Innocence,” “This Losing,” or “All I Ever Wanted” (songwriter Jollett is, um, into wrenching romantic drama), Springsteenian grandeur (“The Secret,” “The Storm”), or painfully etched ballads like “The Graveyard Near The House” or “Dublin.” The latter song, a touching paean to faraway love set to one of Jollett's best-ever melodies, is slated to be released in September on the British version of Such Hot Blood and, to these ears, promises to be the hit single that they haven't managed to generate from the album so far.
The mood was buoyant if not quite as raucous as usual (no “Gasoline,” no “Papillon” or the punk version of “Kids Are Ready to Die”), but when you've got a fleet of violins and flutes behind you, better to highlight Anna Bulbrook's gorgeous viola solos or Noah Harmon's stand-up bass-bowing. They underscored the essential seriousness of Jollett's recent songwriting, whose basic theme is learning to face yourself when death hits you–say it with me again–“in the gut, in the back, in the face.” But don't say it like Airborne fans last Friday night, scream it, polite classical orchestra behind you or not.
Follow us on Twitter @OCWeeklyMusic and like us on Facebook at Heard Mentality.