Evidence from tonight’s show suggests this fate of inflated self-worth has befallen California’s Airborne Toxic Event.
The Airborne Toxic Event, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Friday 6th November 2009
Should bands read their own press? There is an argument that they should – if it is disparaging they might learn from the criticism, or they may give up altogether and go back to working in a supermarket. Alternatively, there is an argument that they shouldn’t. If a band’s reviews are glowing and replete with compliments, it may puff up the member’s egos and turn them into repugnant narcissists. Evidence from tonight’s show suggests this fate of inflated self-worth has befallen California’s Airborne Toxic Event.
The Friday night Shepherd’s Bush Empire is full, and the crowd seem determined to have a good time. For some this means bouncing around and singing along to songs from Airbone Toxic Event’s debut self-titled record, for others this means chatting to their friends at the bar while they order pints of lager, and then throwing these pints of lager around the venue. Unfortunately this means the enthusiastic atmosphere created by some fans is outweighed by the minority who aren’t here to listen, and the band notice. During a lacklustre acoustic three-song interlude singer Mikel Jollett tells people they will get what they came for; “To all those chatting at the bar, we’ll play the radio single, don’t worry, we’ll get there,” he frets.
Of course he is referring to the anthemic Sometime Around Midnight, and it does provide the stand-out highlight of the set. The energetic Gasoline and Papillon are also enjoyable – they are delivered with spirit, and are noisy enough to obscure the chatting at the bar. Slower and quieter songs make little impact though, and this emphasises a problem Airborne Toxic Event have – their three or four good songs are in a different league to everything else they have written. Perhaps they realise this weakness, and this would explain their including Yo La Tengo’s Sugarcube and an embarrassing rendition of Jim Carrol’s People Who Died in the set. This padding means the 100 minutes they are on stage drags, when they could more comfortably play for 50 minutes and leave the crowd wanting more.
Further embarrassment is caused by band members leaping around, and assuming positions on raised platforms on the stage, in a misguided attempt to bring stadium rock to the medium-sized stage. At this stage in their career ATE should be honing their live act into a tight, frenetic burst to cement the fans they have and win new ones, but instead they have cultivated a bloated monster of a show. This smacks of them thinking they have reached the top, when in fact they could fall very quickly from the tentative position they currently occupy as one-album – even one-song – wonders. As the end of the evening nears Jollett again speaks to the audience. “We’re just a small band from California, we don’t know how you know who we are,” he states.
The reason people know who Airborne Toxic Event are is because of the aforementioned “radio single”, but unless they can write something else of that standard soon, or at least concentrate their live show on playing good songs well, the fickle public will forget pretty quickly.
Words: Craig Pearce