Back in my hometown of Las Vegas, I had the privilege to see The Airborne Toxic Event play Sin City for their first time. So, on this characteristically warm Sunday night I cruised through the refreshingly un-traffic-y streets and down to the bright strip. I lurched into the parking lot of The Mandalay Bay, and navigated through the familiar smoky haze and chirping slot machines to the House of Blues within.
Now, let me just preface this review with something. After seeing TATE two times prior, it’s a given that their going to put on a great show. Their music is solid, their talent is undeniable, and their stage presence basically slaps you in the face. The amazing part of seeing this band live is the emotion. Listening to their albums can be a moving experience, and for me, personally, always is. Seeing them live takes that moving experience, injects it with adrenaline, and paints it gold.
So, at this concert, I found myself watching the crowd and watching the band watch the crowd. I was wrapped up in the unity of the house while exploring the individual reaction. People bobbed and whooped, yes, but they also squeezed the hands of their boyfriends or girlfriends at somber moments—Mikel Jollet’s sad, rich voice over Anna Bullbrook’s trembling violin—and they shut their eyes tight and held their breath at the reeling instrumentals and the hungry anticipation they bring. They danced and yelled and looked onstage longingly, looked around longingly. If you were alone, you wished you had someone by your side; if you were with someone, you appreciated every moment; if you were drunk and yelling at Mikel that you wanted to have his babies, well, that’s embarrassing.
The band also eyed the crowd lovingly. Mikel gazed around the venue as if absorbing every moment and seemed to pause occasionally to appreciate the life he was living. Bassist Noah Harmon and guitarist Steven Chen were happy to show off their skills, and got the crowd going with a couple clap-a-longs. Effortlessly cool Anna played coy and made every girl in the audience jealous as she flitted around with violin or tambourine in hand, as she dropped her head and liquefied her movements behind the keyboard stacked on books, and as she appeared to be Mikel’s object of playful affection. Drummer Daren Taylor sat silently behind and brought the band its heartbeat, seeming to simplify some beats during songs for a more powerful, direct effect. As a whole, they were grateful and happy and into it, and they wanted to be onstage (or, in Mikel’s case at times, weaving through the crowd) as much as the crowd wanted to watch them onstage.
The Airborne Toxic Event’s second album, All at Once, which dropped in April.
The set was strong and really fun, mostly because Mikel interacts wonderfully with the crowd, telling stories, turning the mic out as the audience yells his line for him, and dropping f-bombs like it’s his day job. There was a hilariously notable segment of the night: the intro of “Happiness is Overrated” (off the first album), was very drawn out, with Mikel interjecting anecdotes and comments in between chords and lines. This resulted in the antsy crowd yelling the next lines as Mikel took a breath for another comment. He laughed and made it a little back and forth game, toying with the audience on the quavering line “diiiiiid so weeelllllll” before finally launching into the body of the song. They played a lot of songs from the first self-titled album, including the crowd favorite “Sometime Around Midnight” and my personal favorite “Something New” (which I was super excited for because they didn’t play it when I saw them last at the Music Box in LA). For the encore, they broke up “Missy” with their version of “I Fought the Law”, a song originally written by Sonny Curtis and made famous by covers from The Clash and Green Day (and now The Airborne Toxic Event), and a cover of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues, which fit Mikel’s baritone voice quite beautifully. The night closed with a particularly passionate “All at Once”, the title track from their new album, and left the crowd dazed but fulfilled.
What I’m geting at here is that an Airborne Toxic Event concert is a special experience, one that touches each person in his or her own way. It’s one that leaves everyone feeling joyful or sad or inspired or awestruck—you’re guaranteed to feel something, to self-reflect, to long for something more. This is a rare thing, and something every audience member will remember for a long time.
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