Photo Credit: Claude Gassian
It was quite an arduous decision to go to the show in Cambridge when the reviews of the London show were unenthusiastic. But attending an Air concert reminded me of the first time I went on a new rollercoaster at King’s Dominion: named The Outer Limits, the entire path leading into a high security airplane hangar encasing the indoor coaster gradually twisted around and into the mouth of a giant flying saucer surrounded by alien paraphernalia. When the band began to play, the smallish venue, also resembling a hangar on the inside, metamorphosed into a Parisian salon on a space bus destined for the moon caressed by the ethereal sounds and lights and the sexy-as-hell vocals of Nicolas Godin. The spacey feel of Air’s retro electronica and elaborate light show is perhaps best summed up in the title of the duo’s new album, Talkie Walkie—a title meant to signify what both Godin and co-writer J.B. (Jean-Benoit) Dunckel describe as the telepathic sense of communication shared between them in making the new album.
17 Feb 2004: Cambridge Corn Exchange Cambridge, United Kingdom
“Radian” opened the show, complete with a smoky stage pierced by black lights. Along a backdrop of dramatic synthesized movements, Godin and Dunckel harmoniously contributed vocals to a couple of new songs, “Alpha Beta Gaga” and “Venus”. With a robust “merci beaucoup” and a terse “hello,” Godin seemed to disappear into a veil of white lights that stabbed the darkness behind him like pin pricks through black construction papver along to the drum beats of “Surfing on a Rocket.” Though at times it was difficult to distinguish Godin’s voice from Dunckel’s, the pair’s combined vocals were, at times, reminiscent of the Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant. Given the relatively mediocre caliber of the tunes featured on Talkie Walkie in comparison to Air’s highly acclaimed Moon Safari and the soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides, the light show visually punctuated the new songs.
And then there came strangely surreal moments that felt, well, weird. When performing “Alpha Beta Gaga”, Godin’s onstage whistling along to the song (and on the album as well) was a strange intervention into the stream of synthesizers, as were the lyrics and vocals of “Cherry Blossom Girl”. A live number that demonstrates that some vocals should not be electronically manipulated, it seemed a lonely chipmunk’s elegy for lost love as it hops through a moon forest with a herd of flute-playing fauns. Yeah, weird. Bringing things back to earth a little, the band played the coveted single “Talisman”, which was featured on Doug Liman’s acclaimed film Go. A sultry instrumental, the stage became aflame with red and orange lights crosscutting streamers of smoke. With this musical respite, it became easier to survey Godin and Dunckel: Godin in black with his long brown bangs obscuring his face, and Godin in smart clothes with a whitish cap tilted on the side of his head. In addition to “Talisman”, the latter half of the first set included old school faves “Wonder Milky Bitch” from 10,000 Hz Legend and “Kelly Watch the Stars” from Moon Safari.
Perhaps the two most intense and melancholy songs of the night, the band pumped out “Another Day” and “Run” with the accents of an acoustic guitar played by Godin. Fine numbers as far as they were performed onstage, the lyrics of these two songs (as with many of the songs on Talkie Walkie) are fairly pedestrian in contrast to the ethereal sounds that texturise them. Then one encounters the sound and light production of a song like “Biological”, and recalls the reason Air is such an appealing band with the musical prowess to orchestrate the loveliest symphonies of synthesized sounds. Yet despite the odd and lackluster stage moments, the stage exploded into life during the encore. Moon Safari fans became thrilled upon hearing the heavy introduction of “Sexy Boy”, and were more so pleased by a stage version much faster with heavier drumming than the studio version. As if coming alive as the body of the song whose visual gestures conveyed the meaning of the sounds, bright white lights and black lights gyrated up and down a vertical axis while spinning in sync to the beats and vocals of the song. “La Femme D’Argent” ended the interstellar bus ride, suddenly warming up the venue by chilling it out some. The band’s ability to seamlessly catalyze this movement from the Parisian moon salon to the full-throttle blast-off encore back down to a cozier, candlelit lounge by the end of the night ultimately demonstrated that Air’s live show is quite a mood-creating event, even if you prefer Moon Safari to Talkie Walkie.