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Review Thu May 19 2011

Review: The Airborne Toxic Event @ The Metro

"You know, when I wrote that I really meant it," remarked The Airborne Toxic Event's frontman Mikel Jollett after singing the opening lines to "Happiness Is Overrated" ("And speaking of little miss Catherine. I feel swell, oh well...") during last night's performance, the first of a two-night residency at the Metro. Maybe that's what happens when two (plus) years and a mountain of surpassed expectations separates a songwriter from his earliest songs. Maybe the songs begin to feel less like intimate artistic expressions and more like the products of just another performance.

Last night The Airborne Toxic Event played a perfectly executed 18-song set...but unfortunately that's about all they did. It wasn't until the second to last song of the encore performance, the whimsical "Missy" off the band's self-titled debut, that The Airborne Toxic Event chose to incorporate any instrumental elaborations or even decided to appear passionate about the words and sounds pouring through the speakers. For a lyricist known for his tendency to dissect singular moments down to their most intimate qualities, Jollett let songs like the rambunctious "Doesn't Mean A Thing" come and go without as much as a pang of uniquely personal emotion in his voice.

It wasn't until mid-set that I sadly realized what I was watching: a musical performance for an audience with no real musical knowledge or capacity. This was a show for the folks who attend two or three concerts a year and whose idea of a "local show" involves Wilco and the UIC Pavilion. I'm certainly not dismissing the musical talents of The Airborne Toxic Event nor ignoring the undeniable fact that there were surely loads of genuine music enthusiasts present last night, but the majority of the set was executed in a way that catered to the other half of the crowd. Musical breakdowns were drowned out by orchestrated hand claps, solos were prodded and acknowledged instead of organically integrated and the audience was--all too willingly--persuaded to play the senseless "We're-going-to-split-the-venue-down-the-middle-and-see-which-side-screams-louder" game.

It's the same type of forced energy that's present on the band's newest album, All At Once. The album is solid, but gives the listener nothing that wasn't already present on their debut. I mean, am I the only one who refuses to refer to "Half Of Something Else" as anything but, "Sometime Around Midnight, Pt. II"? It feels as though The Airborne Toxic Event has felt the effects of the spotlight during the past two years of the band's growing success and are intent with making a spectacle of themselves, their performance and the music itself so as to remain in its glow.

"Dude, that's such a rockstar move," the once frat-boy in front of me exclaimed as Jollett ascended the speaker tower and proceeded to sing the entirety of "Something New" from atop the Metro's speakers. Well yes, it would have been if it wasn't such a conscious attempt to act like a rockstar.

As a huge fan of The Airborne Toxic Event's first album and a moderate fan of its recent sophomore release, I'm still trying to decide if I truly enjoyed last night's show or not. Again, this was not a bad performance by any means. The songs, new and old, sounded great and Jollett's voice was spot-on all night long. But it seemed that that's all last night was: a performance. The song's appeared to lack any personal connection to the musicians.

Here's to hoping for a little more ingenuity and genuine energy tonight for round two. As for me, I'll skip the live show and stick to the CD.

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rutheford / May 19, 2011 6:57 PM

Wow, pretentious much?

Haley / May 19, 2011 11:48 PM

Hmm... I was at this show as well and although I will admit that I was somewhat worried about the band's enthusiasm during the first part of the show, I don't think that the last half was ingenuine or forced. So what if the crowd liked to dance and scream and see a spectacle? We pay for a performance coupled with emotion. If we weren't, we would just ask Mikel to give us a copy of his diary instead. I wasn't sold on the second album at first, but after last night's performance I'm enjoying it just as much as their self titled. I'm sorry if the copious amount of drunk cougars in the crowd ruined your experience. I just tried to focus on the energy Mikel and Noah were projecting from the stage.

Tina / May 20, 2011 9:31 AM

thank you for a candid review. i saw them at Schubas (climbing the speakers back then) a couple years ago and they seemed energetic and fresh. by the time they played the Metro post Lolla '10, this effect was already taking place. it's why i stayed away from this show. i hope they can reconnect and return to putting on genuine live shows, not just for the masses.

kim / May 20, 2011 10:57 AM

Funny, this review is pretty much an outline of the conversation with my pal after the show. Agreed.

Josh / May 20, 2011 2:06 PM

I don't disagree with what you're saying, really. But I think the problem I had with the show laid more in the hands of the sound system. Normally It's really good, but last nights show sounded muddy as hell. Anyway, if you're interested, check out my full review over at my site

Cyrena / May 22, 2011 1:01 PM

Good God, you're all nuts!

Andy Keil / May 24, 2011 12:25 PM

Can someone explain how this band sold out two nights at the Metro, please? I saw them back when they were playing Schubas, which is the right venue for them:

The CD is good and the live show is TERRIBLE. Plain and simple.

Andy Keil / May 24, 2011 12:26 PM

PS - I left night two after about five songs. It was awful.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Boxx Magazine
Brooklyn Vegan Chicago
Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
Chicago Reader Music
Chicagoist Arts & Events
Chicago Music Guide
Chicago Singles Club
Country Music Chicago
Cream Team
Dark Jive
The Deli Chicago
Jim DeRogatis
Fake Shore Drive
Gowhere Hip Hop
The Hood Internet
Jaded in Chicago
Largehearted Boy
Little White Earbuds
Live Fix Blog
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Loud Loop Press
Oh My Rockness
Pop 'stache
Pop Matters
Resident Advisor
Sound Opinions
Sun-Times Music Blog
Theft Liable to Prosecution
Tribune Music
UR Chicago
Victim Of Time
WFMU's Beware of the Blog
Windy City Rock


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Mayne Stage
The Mutiny
Old Town School of Folk Music
Park West
The Promontory
Red Line Tap
Reggie's Rock Club & Music Joint
The Riviera
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Symphony Center
Tonic Room
Uncommon Ground
The Vic
The Whistler

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  & Shops:

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Groove Distribution
He Who Corrupts
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Numero Group
mP Shows
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Southport & Northport Records
Thick Records
Thrill Jockey Records Touch & Go/Quarterstick Records
Victory Records

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