The Airborne Toxic Event - Manchester Academy 2 - 05.04.11

For me, any band that shares their name with a chapter in a Don DeLillo novel earns instant cool-points. So for that reason, and many more, tonight I’m wholly looking forward to seeing The Airborne Toxic Experience for the first time. The Los Angeles five-piece grace Manchester with their presence armed with songs from a critically acclaimed debut album, a highly-anticipated forthcoming second, and a frontman with an unrivalled connection with his audience.

The Airborne Toxic Event are musically hard to pin down. One minute they’re playing some defiantly noisy indie rock n roll, and the next they’re performing painstakingly stripped-down numbers, complete with haunting viola accompaniment. Arguably, the band’s versatility is what makes them so appealing. And, kicking off with a couple of new songs - the stunning ‘All I Ever Wanted’ and latest single ‘Numb’ - it is immediately clear that the band members are maturing as songwriters and musicians with every performance. Not that there was anything wrong at all with their old formula, but it has to be said that their latest offerings sound incredibly promising in terms of musical progression; guitar hooks, bass lines and drum beats sound more complex and more developed, and the layering of keyboard and viola over the standard guitar/bass/drum outfit is often what really makes these songs stand out. One listen to another new song performed tonight, ‘Changing’, confirms to any doubters that The Airborne Toxic Event are moving on to bigger and even better things.

Of course, the band’s older songs from their self-titled debut go down an absolute storm with the audience, particularly some wildly energetic renditions of ‘Gasoline’ and ‘Papillon’ (a personal favourite of mine), the latter as part of an unforgettable encore. Songs such as ‘Innocence’ and the gorgeous breakout hit ‘Sometime Around Midnight’ make for an incredible atmosphere, transforming a notably varied crowd into one bouncing, singing mass of appreciation for The Airborne Toxic Event. The five band members have this effect on their fans, and yet they make it look absolutely effortless, performing more or less flawlessly throughout. The introduction of two more new songs, the politically-motivated ‘The Kids Are Ready To Die’ and ‘Welcome To Your Wedding Day’ are powerful additions to the band’s setlist, the former song having gained attention for being a lament of young soldiers losing their lives, and questioning how this can ever be justified. This further heralds a shift in the band’s style, both musically and lyrically, and both songs have a palpable effect on tonight’s audience.

Frontman Mikel Jollett is possibly one of the most sincerely open and honest singer-songwriters performing today – he has an undeniable ability to tear down the barrier between musician and audience, effectively baring his soul for the world to see both through his heartfelt lyrics and conversation with the crowd. Jollett describes the circumstances behind the conception of a number of songs, explaining that whilst the majority of the band’s first album was fuelled by a painful break-up, his experiences talking to fans and sharing break-up stories have helped to shape the forthcoming second release. Jollett’s honesty and complete lack of ostentation here is one of many reasons that he and his fellow musicians are absolutely adored by their audience.

As The Airborne Toxic Event conclude a triumphant set with ‘All At Once’, the title-track to their promising and eagerly-awaited second album, the crowd steadily disperses to reveal a group of die-hard fans waiting to shake Jollett’s hand, and presumably to ask him to please visit Manchester again, as soon as humanly possible.

Ashley West


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