The Airborne Toxic Event: 8 March 2009 – New York, Bowery Ballroom
With two upcoming sold out performances at the Bowery Ballroom, The Airborne Toxic Event (TATE) – a five-piece band from Los Angeles—arrived in New York City to expand their audience base. TATE’s eponymous debut album won acclaim from the NME while U2’s Adam Clayton praised their song “Sometime Around Midnight”, but the audience might have been more familiar with a damning review that bashed the album for basically assimilating the sounds of other major indie acts, provoking controversy but adding overall intrigue to the band’s rock credentials. People could pick a side or take the opportunity to form their own opinions. And yet TATE’s hour long performance on Sunday, the first of two shows, may not have been enough to sway the audience from any preconceived notions.
As TATE took the stage, the opening swells of “Wishing Well”, which could have flowed from the calming currents of Death in Vegas’ “Girls”, turned raucous and roused the crowd. The thrashing guitar riffs of “Papillon” and “Gasoline”, which followed with Strokes-like aplomb, persuaded people to jump and stomp about.
The highlight of the evening was the back-to-back pair of string driven stories that would play well on pop-rock radio. “Sometime Around Midnight”, where singer/guitarist Mikel Jollett practically speaks as the music verges to climax as he gets to release with a roar, and the majestic “Innocence”, which slowly colored the venue with Anna Bulbrook’s soaring violin as the band looked towards the sky.
An encore break after these songs allowed TATE to change up the pace; during “Does this Mean You’re Moving On?” instead of pensive gazing, Bulbrook lead the crowd to clap along before teasing the them with her tambourine and then diving in. The final song allowed people to swarm up to the stage; Jollett got to share his microphone with some guy (whether he wanted to or not) as people danced, jumped off amplifiers, and even made attempts to crowd surf.
Just like the album reviews, the audience gave off mixed vibes. Some obvious fans held their own through the show; one youthful group stood front and center in ecstasy and another girl repeatedly shouted her love to bassist Noah Harmon. Yet several people on the sides and back attempted conversations with little regard to the concert. For me, the show did not bode well for future TATE interest; nothing about it seemed particularly memorable. TATE may prove as ephemeral as cheap chic clothes—flashy, disposable, and out of style fast. But maybe for all their talent, TATE could meld their influences more cohesively, rather than emulate them, and fine-tune it into a sound of their own.