Written by: Mark Abell
Mikel Jollett, the frontman for The Airborne Toxic came onstage at the band’s recent New York gig wearing a shredded navy blue suit and he began the set with the smoldering “Poor Isaac.” “We’re gonna keep playing songs about God and drugs,” he commented directly afterwards to many laughs and cheers.
He wasn’t kidding.
Touring behind their latest album Dope Machines, the band’s set was electric: the opening for “Half Of Something Else” brought to mind The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps,” the bass visceral and pulsing as I tapped my boots on the vibrating stone floor. “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?” throbbed with a boomy trajectory as purple lights and fog shrouded the performers. Then came “Hell and Back,” which found Mikel letting the crowd sing the “nah nah” chorus, after which he observed “Buffalo can really sing. I would have expected that in New Orleans.”
Though “One Time Thing” took on a more distinctly synth character, “Happiness Is Overrated” resumed their signature guitar-centric sound with three axes (two electric, one bass guitar) and drums going full tilt, punctuated by a minor keyboard part at the end. Jollett then exclaimed, “We’re blessed to be here. Why do I say blessed like one of these (makes hand gesture like a holy roller preacher). We’re ecstatic. We’re fucking stoked to be here. That’s how we [from California] talk.”
Appropriately, the band then kicked into“California.”
Violinist/keyboardist Anna Bulbrook, was wearing a navy blue and white striped blouse and an impossibly short black leather miniskirt with legs to die for–she wore black leather heelless pumps and repeatedly tapped her tambourine against her hips. With her petite frame, dramatic black mascara and bleached blonde hair she’s a performer with equal parts charm and charisma. For “Gasoline” Anna and guitarist Stephen Chen alternated between short solos, then the band went into the similarly named songs “Changing” and “Change And Change And Change.”
It’s flexibility and versatility that defines this band because of their ability to repeatedly switch musical roles–for “Wishing Well“ Mikel took over the keyboard from Anna. “Firelight” departed from the shredding ethos of “Happiness Is Overrated” with a complete saturation of synth which didn’t last long. Their cover of Kid Cudi’s ”Pursuit of Happiness” started out acoustic but escalated into three guitars (acoustic, electric, and bass) simultaneously lending it a heavy sound.
As we neared the end of the performance, they teased us by walking offstage then returned with “Elizabeth” and “All At Once” and told the crowd, “We were all feeling really low energy when we got here. You guys are fucking awesome. You reminded us of why we do what we do.”