Hail to the power of radio play. Tonight is testament to what remains the number one force for pushing a band around these parts. Following five previous visits to these shores, one album and a considerable radio hit under their belt, The Airborne Toxic Event walk onstage at The Olympia, reaching something of a benchmark of success in this country. They’ve drawn a sizeable crowd too, though there are very few of the skinny-jeaned posse in attendance tonight. This is not a draw for those who like to think they’re on the cusp of things and – at the risk of casting much derision on those present – this is very much an audience made-up of those grappling to keep in touch with an ever-evolving list of -must-see’ acts and changing musical landscapes. For those on the wrong side of 30, and who just didn’t -get’ Arcade Fire, The Strokes, The Libertines and The National, The Airborne Toxic Event are their new band, their exciting new find. To the musically astute however, they simply represent a watered-down, pop-infused and accessible alternative for the masses. Bland is probably an apt description. One hit wonder is probably the label that will stick.
Like all American acts of such ilk, ATE feel that they’ve too put on a -show’ rather than a concert. Music alone is not enough. The stage is set up with two giant television screens, while drummer Darren Taylor is set up on a high riser with sets of steps leading up to him. This is all fine. It’s the calculated scissor kicks and jumps from bassist Noah Harmon, the leaps from the staircase, the practised stage theatrics and the over-whelming feeling that they move around to -perform’ the exact same routine every night that dilutes any of the emotion in the music. At one stage frontman Mikel Jollett describes the group’s music as Punk, and you have to wonder if the man has ever heard a Punk record in his life. This is a band that, in action and appearance, have been styled to the nines and thus stripped of any form of individuality. They’re just another -here today, gone tomorrow’ five piece. It’s a pity because strip-back the gloss and the irritating stage demeanour and you’ve got signs of things that can work.
Jollett, a novel writer, formed the group after finding himself writing stories more suited to lyrics than fiction and thus somewhat stumbled into musical success. Songs such as -Gasoline’, -Wishing Well’, -Does This mean You’re Moving On?’ and the ubiquitous -Sometime Around Midnight’ are lyrically engaging and on record are sung with the emotion and conviction to match. Get past the bland musical arrangements and tonight they’re the songs which fire-up the crowd and, connect with people.
Yet there’s so much filler in here, songs that sound like Razorlight b-sides and are delivered with feigned intensity, that it’s a struggle to sit through the hour and a bit set. With -Missy’ they’ve even taken the time out to rip-off The Fratellis. A couple of new songs are also aired – -A Letter For Georgia’ and -Echo Park’ amongst them – and neither bode well for the future. In fact, it’s two covers, which mark tonight’s highlights – a fine version of Yo La Tengo’s -Sugarcube’ and a ramshackle run-through of Bruce Springsteen’s -I’m On Fire’.
In truth, ATE should serve as a one-off vehicle for Jollett in expressing the troubled period in his life that led to the band’s formation. He should return to the novel form. There’s little further ATE can go. As players they’re sloppy and musically unimaginative. Let’s hope they enjoyed their night in The Olympia. If they do return to these four walls again, it will be as audience members.
Photos of Codes and Airbourne Toxic Event by Kieran Frost.