Airborne Toxic Event at Metro, Chicago 5/19/11

Last year I had the opportunity to see The Airborne Toxic Event play a show with the Calder Quartet at Park West. Previous to that I had seen them at Lollapalooza in 2009, but I don’t really remember it because as soon as their set was over I got my nose broken. Tonight was the first time I think I saw them in a venue that really suited them as a group.

It was also the first time I’ve seen them with an opener. At Lolla we just got there during their set time, so we didn’t see who was up before them. There was no opener at Park West, billed as An Evening With The Airborne Toxic Event and Calder Quartet. So it was different in that way, but it was a joy, because they picked a very fitting band to open for them.

I had no previous knowledge of Voxhaul Broadcast, but I know who they are now. Even though they only played for about 25 minutes, it was a blistering 25 minutes. They put on a great, high-energy show that kept building and building until that final gasp of breath is knocked out of the audience at the end.

I liked these guys a lot more than I figured I would. The lead singer’s voice reminded me a little bit of Jim Morrison, especially when he was yelling. The music was like a harder version of Razorlight, to me anyway. Maybe I’m the only one who heard it like that (likely).  The song “Loose Change” is an absolute scorcher. It was the third or fourth song in, and I was hooked after that. I recommend checking these guys out before they get big.

One thing that I really like about Airborne Toxic Event’s live show is that there is absolutely no pretentiousness. They never try to be anything other than what they are: a 5-piece rock band who loves performing and treating audiences to a great time. I’ve seen plenty of bigger rock bands who come to stage with the predisposed notion that the people who came to see them are lesser than, and that isn’t the case with these guys. If anything the gratitude they display is too much.

Having seen them perform before, I have a little bit to go off of as far as comparisons. This show was definitely more exciting. The performance they gave with the string quartet was a bit subdued (well, half of it was), but this show was electric from start to finish. Another comparison would be that the sound system at Park West was better than Metro‘s, which I found odd because normally I think Metro has a really great sound. Guitars were a bit muddy at times, but the vocals were always crisp, so it didn’t hurt the show too much.

I was surprised at the amount of balance in the shows setlist. When a band puts a new record out, I usually go in expecting a show heavy on the new stuff. I would have been happy with just new stuff if that were all they played, but I’m glad they went back and played all those great songs off their debut. Especially songs like “Gasoline” and “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?,” which are great numbers to get the audience moving and shaking.

Of the new stuff, the obvious crowdpleasers did their job well. “Changing” sounded fantastic and “Welcome To Your Wedding Day” actually came off a bit better live. In fact, the only song I thought didn’t play very well was the cover of “Goodbye Horses.” They play it all the time, but this was the one time where the vocals were drowned out, except when Noah sang for some reason.

The biggest song of the night, without question, was “Sometime Around Midnight.” No surprise there, but I was amazed how loud the crowd was cheering after the song ended. I haven’t heard that kind of applause for a long time. I mean, I applaud every time it plays on my iPod, but there aren’t 1,200 of me screaming at the top of our collective lungs. But for me, that performance pales in comparison to what came during the encore.

While I had seen them perform the medley that they do during “Missy,” I still couldn’t wait to hear it again. I kinda wish I was hearing it right now. In it they blend their own song with Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” Sonny Curtis’s song made famous by The Clash’ “I Fought the Law,” and Johnny Cash’s iconic “Folsom Prison Blues.” It’s a great medley, and I love the fact that they use songs from different genres that blend together to form what I think I would call ATE’s “sound.”

They ended with the title track from their new album, “All At Once.” It was a near-perfect encore that left the crowd amped up like ten Jolt Cola’s. As we were walking out of the show, a girl behind us said to her friend, “I’m sorry. I don’t usually cry at concerts. I couldn’t help it.” At the time I laughed to myself and thought it was funny, but the more I think about it the more I’m surprised more people weren’t crying. Airborne Toxic Event presents itself with pure sincerity and the group bares its heart on its sleeve. Maybe Kleenex should sponsor their next tour.

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