Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Band On The Rise

, an hour before doors open at Bowery Ballroom for the Airborne Toxic Event show, and the 2 Johns, Steve and me are walking down a side street off Delancey, heading to a Spring Street bar working on a spliff when who should we run into but Mikel, lead singer of the a-4-mentioned, and in true New York rapid-fire fashion the 4 of us start peppering the poor guy with questions and comments -- asking him which other Don DeLillo books has he read (Airborne Toxic Event being named for his novel "White Noise"), offering him a hit (for the record, he just said no), and telling him how his band blew the Fratelli's off the stage at Roseland Ballroom when they opened for them back in September. It wouldn't be that great an exaggeration to say that there's been a nightly Toxic Event sighting since then, with a relentless, almost show-a-night pace the rule more than the exception; according to their MySpace page, they're in the midst of a busy 25-shows-in-29-days stretch that takes them to Europe at the end of March. Add in the fact that we knew ATE had to cancel a few recent shows because of Mikel's bout with laryngitis, and we decided to cut off the conversation after 5 lively minutes, not wanting to put a strain on his voice so close to the band taking the stage. Mikel came across as a regular guy who might've gone on talking with us indefinitely. But we took mercy on him, letting him go about his pre-show business while we in turn went on with ours.
After a quick beer and slice we hit the Ballroom, where the warmup act, the Henry Clay People, was just beginning its set. Pretty good blend of grunge and alt-country, Screaming Trees for a reference point, and we kept debating who Henry Clay was. I guessed Civil War figure, one of the Johns thought he might have been the Great Liberator, until we set him straight that Abe Lincoln kind of had that designation wrapped up. Turns out Clay was a U.S. Senator known as the "Great Compromiser" or "Great Pacifier" who had something to do with causing the War of 1812. The Henry Clay People, however, don't appear to rate a Wikipedia page, so for now I'm left wondering what the connection might be between band and statesman, or why they chose the curious name in the first place.

The next band to hit the stage, unfortunately, was not named Airborne Toxic Event but was instead what's known in the music business as the opening act. When we saw the name, Alberta Cross, we thought it might be a folk chick or all-girl band, but alas we were dismayed when they took the stage and, after tuning up for the better part of 15 minutes, launched into a set revealing a deep-seated Neil Young "jones" both musical (okay) and visual (not so much). The lead singer let loose an unbelievably high-pitched screech that made the a-4-mentioned Mr. Young sound like your local basso profundo. I'm talking only dogs might have heard some of the higher notes in the Alberta dude's register. They weren't terrible, but suffice to say, none of us are likely to be running out and buying Alberta Cross tickets any time soon. Once = enough.

Finally, at around 10, Airborne Toxic Event came onstage to thunderous applause. If anything, the band is even more confident than six months ago at Roseland, attacking the first song with gusto. Second song is Papillon, which opens with a ringing guitar riff that is answered like a clarion call by the rest of the instruments in a Strokes-like rush. The debut album is full of just such rousing, smart and literate stuff: either songs of love gone wrong, which is what all the songs are about really, or else an occasional paean to love which hasn't gone wrong yet, the stuff of thousands of stellar pop songs written through the decades, and with songs like Papillon this ATE are poised to join the legions of terrific rock bands who have composed them.

There's not a whole lot of banter or tuning up or other lulls between songs, just a cryptic line or two, such as "What happened is we wrote a bunch of songs and we're gonna play 'em here for you tonight, I think we're gonna have a good time." It's partly that no-frills, no-pretense approach that accounts for the steadily growing buzz this band is generating based on a handful of solid songs off their one album.

The one new song, introduced as never having been played live in New York, bodes well for the band if it's part of a new album, because to me it was the best thing they did all night. ATE on this Sunday night seemed to start out strong but then started to noticeably flag a little halfway through the set. Maybe the recent stretch of shows caught up with them or the jet lag kicked in, but the crew seemed to be in agreement that their energy level was a little off on the night. In my opinion, they played too many similarly paced, slower songs toward the end, where the violin player seemed to dominate the overly orchestral arrangements. I mean, one song where the bass player uses a bow on his guitar a la Jimmy Page is cool and novel, but 2 and 3 in a row where this happens and we're straying into Yanni territory here, folks. But that's about my only complaint, or would be if I didn't bring up the disturbing trend of 20-somethings who refuse to shut the hell up even when the band hits the stage, chattering away cluelessly song after song while the band we all paid good money to see is playing their fucking set. But I did bring it up, and now I guess we can move on.

Overall, for a mere $13 ticket price, it was a good rock & roll night in the Big City, with old friends and new music proving a good combo. And just like old times there was a McBurney alumni sighting, which, given the size of the school, the size of the crowd and the fact that McB hasn't existed at all in any form for over 20 years,
is truly an event worth noting. Consider it done.

1 comment:

jimithegreek said...

yeah brother, you are still at it strong!!!