The Airborne Toxic Event delight sold out crowd

A review of The Airborne Toxic Event at the Paradise Rock Club on March 7, 2009

, Staff Writer

Paradise was sold out on Saturday night for The Airborne Toxic Event, a band with exactly one album and one hit song, but one with no shortage of dedicated fans. Those fans cheered long and loud for the performers all night long, even when the applause didn’t seem all that warranted. While the band wasn’t bad, they weren’t great, and while that’s hardly something to fault them for, it certainly made for a slightly strange evening.

It was hot in the Paradise thanks to the max attendance, but things started off nice and easy with "Wishing Well", incidentally the lead track on the band’s self-titled debut album. Mikel Jollett sang out his true story from behind the keys, but it wasn’t until he moved on over to guitar for "Papillon" (the album’s second song) that things really got going. The opening riff drew solid cheers and the bouncy tune led Steven Chen, Anna Bulbrook (a Boston native), and Noah Harmon to play their guitar, viola, and bass, respectively, on top of road cases from the side of the stage.

"Gasoline", the third song from the album, was a bit slower than the album take but was no less playful, as Jollett and Bulbrook danced about together and Chen and his guitar traded phrases with Bulbrook and her viola. Everything on stage was going off alright, but not so well that it made the crowd’s raucous reactions seem justified. Chalk it up to The Airborne Toxic Event building a rabid fanbase through their previous shows and the quality of their album, I guess.

Speaking of the album, it’s next song sequentially also popped up next in the setlist as Jollett took a couple of tries to find the new key for "Happiness Is Overrated’ due to his recent bout with laryngitis. After a few false starts the song started in earnest, carried along by it’s backbeat stomp courtesy of drummer Daren Taylor and a quality bouncing bass line from Harmon. "Echo Park", a new song, broke the album streak and provided a bit of a different sound, with Jollett taking a Lou Reed approach in his spoken-ish lyrics. It was a good song that shows promise for a follow-up album, although the band would do well to do away with the annoyingly abrupt ending.

"The Girls In Their Summer Dresses" sounded like Will Sheff but not as histrionic, and it was greeted by a fair amount of white noise from the crowd, the first time that the concertgoers were not enthralled by the action onstage. Another new song called "Letter to Georgia", which Jollett described as "kind of a quiet song," didn’t help things much. It borrowed the vocal pattern from Neutral Milk Hotel’s "Communist Daughter" (good for you if you get what that means) with some extra embellishments around it, but it didn’t do much to draw the crowd back in.

A cover of Q Lazzarus’& "Goodbye Horses" waited until about halfway through before providing the pick me up that the crowd desperately needed, but that was followed up by a merely nice version of "This Is Nowhere". Jollett again took to the keyboard for the moody intro to "Sometime Around Midnight", a song that is really, really good and noticeably better than the Airborne Toxic Event’s other material. It set the ‘Dise off for approximately 5 minutes and 42 seconds (the tempo was a bit slower than the album version) and for the first time it looked like the Event deserved to be playing a sold out Saturday night show.

"Innocence" closed out the main set by running a bit long, turning from its delicate beginning into a droning dance outro without much sense for segueway, but the four on the floor clap along seemed to be exactly what the audience wanted, so who am I to argue. The band took to the stage one last time to furious applause,& tossing mini-tambourines into the crowd before launcing into "Does This Mean You’re Moving On?" and "Missy", which sounded like The Fratelli’s on a laid back night where they wanted to sit at home and watch TV.

The dance party that let the crowd spill onto the stage looked like harmless fun, and perhaps that’s the best way to describe the entire night. It’s obvious that a lot of people like The Airborne Toxic Event. It’s obvious that they have a fair degree of talent, and also some pretty decent songs as well as one very good / great one. It’s just was not clear from Saturday’s performance why so many people like them so much, and therein lies the problem of being a critic (and we all know what the band thinks of critics…). So, to each his own, and even if they’re not the best band I’ve ever seen, you could certainly do a lot worse.

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