The Airborne Toxic Event
It is not an easy task to review The Airborne Toxic Event.
Have a go at Google and you will find two factions.
On one side there is Pitchfork notorious 1.6/10 review which caused such a rare thing as a band replying with an open letter to the reviewer.
On the other side there is an excessive number of stars falling from the sky to decorate their debut album.
A split on the music press as clear as the Red Sea waters parted in front of Moses.
The negative reviews point the finger on a lack of inspiration and a lot of imitation.
The positive reviews emphasize the capability of writing melodies that are catchy and easy.
Both tend to be emotional overreactions colluding one against the other.
I reckon the truth is in the usual place: the middle, but it is the perspective that needs to be changed.
Approaching TATE (I love this acronym) it’d be wise to put apart prejudices and indie-radicalism.
Better to stop thinking that pureness means not being derivative, not being catchy, It goes without saying, being “commercial”.
TATE are at the same time indie, catchy, derivative and commercial enough to be aired beyond Radio1 and MTV2. Sacrilege!
On a sold out Koko, five people come on stage. Four blokes and a girl. Their passports say: Los Angeles, California.
Deducing from their pale skin, dark hair, black suits, black ties I would have guessed somewhere around the Midlands, UK. Blame the globalization.
Consequence is that the independent Californian scene is blossoming. From a state that historically didn’t go much beyond hardcore and the Pavement it’s good news.
The alternative scene there has been deafened by the decibel and crushed by the stadium crowds of Californian “heroes”. Guns’n’Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tool, Rage Against The Machine.
In California small indie bands have always been the exception, not the rule.
Until today. Film School’s shoegaze, No Age noise and now The Airborn Toxic Event indie-pop are among the many leading the alternative Californian scene.
A guitarist of clear Asiatic origins, who has been studying all the cool music of the last two decades, purposely avoiding James Iha.
The bassist reminded me of the Maccabees guitarist, the girl on violin and synths looks alike Dandy Warhols’ Zia. A drummer sit on the back and the singer looks exactly as the person that would come to your mind if someone asks to imagine the opposite of a Californian rockstar.
Nevermind the look doesn’t count, does it?
Since I listened to the album, I knew this was going to be the equivalent of a pub quiz night. They play a song, you guess who inspired them. Cool ain’t it? Let’s play this.
It opens with This Is Nowhere. First question is always an easy one. Jangly guitar, deep low voice it is the Editors they were listening while writing this.
Papilllon follows, both the audience and the bassist get very excited.
The guitar riff marks out a song which, if came out from Julian Casablanca pen and ended up on Albert Hammond Jr six strings, would guarantee the Strokes were still among us.
Gasoline closes the photoset and opens my series of reflections.
The Airborn Toxic Event songs works well, but are extremely predictable. The bass enters, drums follow, the first guitar strums some chords and the second turns up to counterpoint. A choral bridge, the voice breaks in. You play it safe folks.
No space for that inventive moment able to turn a simple song in a memorable one.
Happiness is overrated slows the concert down. Back to deep voice, melancholic lyrics even the title would be perfect on the next National album. Again the song lacks an edge, a “punctum” as Roland Barthes would write. Nevertheless it works to the point that thousand people are singing along “sorry I really lost my head”. Why not in the end? The expected choice for the new single.
The snap of the setlist I got before the start, says Echo Park. No idea where this song comes from.
Something New instead must originate from a night listening to the early Coral stuff. The guitar is there directing the traffig. A light traffic and absolutely nothing new in it.
This Losing induces the second consideration. I realize all the songs tonight are played very much like they sound on CD. Not sure if this is a merit, a burden or just my impression but I wonder if the lack of full flavor is because I am eating a precooked ready meal. I yawn (but I am not sleepy).
Sensibly this is the right moment to hold the trump card and cheer up the crowd. Sometime Around Midnight is the single that made them famous. It has a title that reminds me of the entire history of jazz but it sounds as the best song U2 missed to write since Joshua Tree. Audience knows it by heart risking to transform this live rendition in an embarrassing karaoke.
Goodbye Horses and Georgia either are B-sides or new songs. They don’t introduce them so I can’t help (probably you do?). They live on the previous single income and are here as fillers before the grand final.
When Wishing Well starts I perceive The Edge‘s ghost kidnapped from his 360º tour reharsal and brought back on stage to supply something similar to the guitar intro of Where The Streets Have No Name . Transposed on to the synth, though.
Innoncence is the last song and, for God’s sake, the band finally shows its face and remember they are playing a live gig not a CD.
Guitar and violin start harmoniously as two good friends, then begin to bother each other. Drums crescendo is indicating they haven’t forgotten Arcade Fire on the list of favourite bands, but the jam that follows is by far the most adventourous bit of the night. Seven minutes on the CD, probably something more here, a sign they got nerves, if only they used them.
It closes in a clapping that follows the rhythm, goes on while the band leaves the stage and don’t stop until they come back.
The encore gave us Does This Mean You’re Moving On. If they gave it to Carl Barat instead, the Dirty Pretty Things will still be among us.
The Girls in Their Summer Dresses, voice, music and title is the missing homage to the Smiths without Moz on vocal, which we may agree it is not a tiny detail.
The concert closes with Missy. This goes on as a kind of spaghetti western tempo that I am sure reminds me of something else but I am too tired to think whoever this is. Discover it yourselves and if you get it, please let me know.
The quiz night is over, the concert too.
Frankly I didn’t come out dissatisfied. This slipped in my mind a third, ample (and last) thought.
Is it a problem to be openly inspired to the music you love to write your own songs? If, in the end, you are creative enough to come up with some good tunes, who cares? (… beyond Pitchfork and the purists of indie of course).
The Airborne Toxic Event will never be the band to indicate the music of the next decade but they clearly make good use of the music of the past two decades to write songs which are catchy, easy, light.
Theirs is not the music for a conceptual rock night, not the music to show off to your friends, not the music to write essays on.
It is simply a bunch of songs to play in the background, to put on the i-pod gym playlist, to listen while involved in something else as taking pictures and videos of the band on stage with your mobile. A thousand people have been doing nothing more for the entire gig.
I will never stop to stress the importance of requesting and always bringing with you the e-mail that confirms your photopass. Best if there is a telephone (mobile!) number of the PR person printed on it. Why so much hassle?
Read? Well that is not always enough.
The tip today is to write another e-mail to confirm that you are going to shoot the gig a couple of day before it, specially if you were okayed the photopass quite in advance.
Something like this one:
Which gave a quick positive answer:
If only… When I arrived at Koko the sadistic guy at the guestlists box (the same that with a similar procedure didn’t want to let me enter at the Rakes ) told me uncaring
“I am sorry, you are not on the list I can’t help, you can’t enter you have to sort it out yourself”.
That is the time to pick up the e-mail and call the number on it.
I passed the phone to the guy, they talked, ten minutes wait and I was finally sorted.
Without it I would have travelled 2 hours to get there and 2 more to get back home without pictures.