This was a much anticipated gig and so, as we walked up the long double stair case to the reception area in The Garage on Glasgow’s famous Sauchiehall Street, I was full of anticipation and was readily expectant. The band’s third album Such Hot Blood has been an ever present on my phone since I first heard it.
The Garage, formally the Mayfair ballroom, has a total capacity of 1000 and the main hall has the ability to entertain 700 folk. Tonight, the place was so packed that it seemed that spare tickets would have been as easy to come by as hen’s teeth! The current reinvigoration of this venerable old hall took place back in 1994 when, with its bright yellow trademark half truck emblem suspended over the entrance, the Garage opened its doors for live entertainment again. It very quickly became a place that aspiring up and coming bands wanted to play on their way to larger venues.
The support on the night was The Drowning Men, a five piece of well honed musicians who played a thrilling set. I should say that I hadn’t heard of them before, but was taken with what I heard. For me, the stand out tracks were A Fool’s Campaign, Lost In A Lullaby, Rita and Smile. The band were on their first visit to Glasgow and were very well received by the audience who were fired up for the main act. They had brought their powerful, pumping version of indie-rock over from Oceanside, California and I hope to see more of them in the future. Nato Bardeen on guitar and vocals (he also plays keys & mandolin) has a great voice and and a well defined stage presence. He fronted James Smith (great subtle lead guitar, vocals), Todd Eisenkerch (bass, vocals), the prodigiously bearded Rory Dolan (percussion), and the slightly less bearded Gabelani Messer (keys, vocals). Since their first performances in 2006 they have developed as a great, tight, throbbing unit who are powered on mainly by Nato Bardeen’s song writing skills. We were well warmed up for the main event, cheers lads.
At 21:00 the lights went down, the crowd went ‘tonto’ and The Airborne Toxic Event (named after a section in the book White Noise by Don DeLillo) bounded onto the five foot high stage and blasted into their opening number. I have included a set list at the end which is from their official print out, however, the songs were played in whatever order the ebullient, efflorescent, energetic, exuberant Mikel Jollett decided at the time! From the outset I was reminded of the enthusiastic proto-punk of bands like the Clash, the Jam, Television and Elvis Costello. The excitable, frenetic, pumped up sound and energy was further enhanced by the drain pipe jeans and 4″ turn ups that some of the band favoured. In addition, the three guitarists made use of the sturdy monitors to stand up and tower over the front rows of adoring fans. Indeed, the sprightly 39 year old Mr Jollett sprang from the stage and walked along the front crush barrier on several occasions and at one point was helped up on top of the barrier as he sang and swayed some five and a half feet above the ecstatic crowd. Thrilling stuff indeed!
The Airborne Toxic Event, an American indie rock band from Los Feliz, Los Angeles, California, is the ‘brain child’ of Mikel Jollett (vocals, guitar, keyboards) and a candidate for Robbie Williams’ brother. The band released their début, self-titled album in 2008 and followed it up in 2011 with All AT Once. Jollett took to writing music fairly late in that he was 32 by the time he started. It is perhaps no surprise that the person he would like to spend time with most, dead or alive, is Leonard Cohen who started writing music when he was 33!
Meanwhile, on stage, the band were trashing out song after song with metronomic pulsation and little said between tunes. They were thoroughly enjoying themselves, if the smiles of appreciation were much to go by. Having said that, Anna Bulbrook (tambourine, keyboards, violin, backing vocals) played some stunning violin parts, some of which sounded like horns, appeared to have an interesting moody, bored, disinterested thing going on which contrasted with Mikel’s grinning, smiling, chirpy features! Indeed, at one point he told us that all we really had was “today”. Oh so true, Mikel, oh so prescient.
At one point the lights dimmed and the band stood mannequin-esque, frozen to their respective spots as the audience went ‘bat-shit’ (that’s x decibels louder than ‘ape-shit’ by the way!) and as the crescendo intensified to industrial strength, Mikel, for one, stood there with an ever increasingly appreciative grin which worked itself into a full blown smile of absolute wonderment at what he and his cohorts were capable of creating. This is a group of artists who not only produce an excellent product but are also grounded enough to fully enjoy the reaction their art produces. They are still humbled by the experience and long may that continue, it is an essential connection between artists and their public. Yin and yang, give and take, joy and pleasure.
During the set both Noah Harmon (electric bass, backing vocals) and Mikel Jollett struck classic guitar player stances, reminiscent of both Eddie Cochran and Joe Strummer. Excellent choices in my opinion! However, this gig wasn’t about poses, it was about high octane, energised, stoked up, sweating, simmering songs set to scintillating syncopation! The shear joy expressed by the band was tangible and Mr Jollett kept the surprises set to the max by hand picking the order of play from the set list. OK, the band knew what they were playing but the order was pure ‘Russian roulette’! From what I have been able to determine this was about the 920 th time that this lot have stepped out on a stage and therefore it was inevitable that they would sound ‘spot on’. We were witnessing a well oiled machine at the top of their game, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean calculated, soulless, mechanical. I mean, powerful, vibrant, immediate, zestful, fun and exhilarating.
Over to the right of the stage Steven Chen (guitar, keyboards) was working magic playing some smashing guitar and acting as a foil to whatever Mikel was laying down. Occasionally, he dropped his guitar over his shoulder and hammered out some joyful additional beats on a stand-alone drum. Meanwhile, and inevitably stationed back there in the furthest reaches, was Daren Taylor (drums) who kept everything pinned down with his pin sharp drumming. Often the ‘custodian of the skins’ is a beefy kinda guy but Daren is a slight lad but no less able for that. He laid down some wonderful beats, filling in where necessary and cajoling things along excellently with some snappy rim shots! Half way through the gig Daren had to contend with a latter-day helium balloon which had lost its ability to stay in the stratosphere above the stage and had drooped, dropping to the level of the drum kit. It floated aimlessly about but due to unseen heat currents it drifted randomly back and forth in front of his elevated position like an uninvited drunken, dipsomaniac at an AA meeting. I doubt that even Mikel could have scripted this intrusion!
Nor do I believe that he orchestrated his ‘amnesia’ during one of the slower songs. Mikel genuinely seemed aghast that he had temporarily forgotten the lyrics, however, several members of the audience were able to prompt him along and on a couple of accessions he asked for help to get things back on track. For me, it was all part and parcel, the joys of live music.
On this wonderfully melodic meandering journey through the gig, we had Noah swapping bass for rhythm guitar & keyboards; Steven swapping electric guitar for keyboards and drum & bass and Anna swapping violin for keyboards and tambourine. The instrumental interchanging was infectious and the audience celebrated every incarnation of the band with wild applause.
And so, nearly an hour after the band bounded on stage, they exited stage right at a canter. There then followed the raucous encouragement from the audience to entice them back. Mercifully, things have evolved in this regard. I am old enough to remember clapping, stamping, cheering, enticing, imploring and extolling bands to return for their encore for 15 – 20 minutes! These days bands are more commercially aware and so The Airborne Toxic Event returned after an acceptable pause. However, the down side of this commercial awareness is that encores are now scripted. No one seems to play an unscheduled song and almost nobody returns for a second encore (Costello often did if he was having fun!). Indeed, I saw the set list as the roadies taped it to the stage and the three encore songs were listed. So much for spontaneity!
However, as the band in question was TATE we were still in for a couple of surprises. The set list had Timeless as the first song, but they played All For A Woman instead! And so to finish things off the band set to with Missy, the ninth track from their début album. It was during this song that the band let loose, for example five days earlier in Manchester during this finale they played Ring of Fire, American Girl and Born in the USA (Cash/Petty/Springsteen! Wow). We were treated to a song written by a member of Buddy Holly’s band, Sonny Curtis who penned the wonderful I Fought The Law, which, as if to bring things full circle, is perhaps best know in the UK as a song made famous by Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Nicky “Topper” Headon aka The Clash! As Costello once sang “….there’s no such thing as an original sin…”
So, as were trooped out of the hall, our ears dulled by the majestic musical onslaught, our feet scuffing plastic beer ‘glasses’ and our minds full of the intricacies of the last 80 minutes or so I thought about my highlights. The following sprang to mind: energy, spirit, joyously precocious talent, melody and commitment. The songs that stood out? Gasoline, Bride And Groom, Timeless, The Graveyard Near The House, and All At Once.
I was left with a slow burning, warming ember of satisfaction. I had seen the band on their game, perhaps at the top of their game. They will get better, but sadly that means bigger and that means stadiums and that means further away, that means more isolated, that means more removed and that means more remote. But hay, with modern technology (see my Springsteen review) we can still be part of the action. However, as I left I felt privileged to have been there, in the front row, in the Garage on Sunday 6 October 2013, a mere three feet away from The Airborne Toxic Event.
Official Set List:
Happiness Is Overrated
Does This Mean You’re Moving On?
Bride & Groom
Hell And Back
Sometime Around Midnight
All I Ever Wanted
All At Once
All For A Woman
The Graveyard Near The House
Missy/I Fought The Law/Missy