Airborne Toxic Event at House of Blues Boston (5/10/13)

Imagine my astonishment and gratitude when as an early birthday present, I received the following:

Tickets to see my favorite band inside a cat birthday card?

Tickets to see my favorite band inside a cat birthday card!?!?

If you’ve never been to the House of Blues Boston, then you’re missing out on one of the best music venues that Boston has to offer. While it’s hardly an exclusive or intimate setting, it’s relatively small considering the quality of bands you get. The number of bars set to serve your double-priced ‘Gansetts is a comforting thing to have as well. We were actually also able to enjoy dinner at the restaurant-bar that’s connected to the House of Blues before heading directly over to the music venue area.



The solo opening act for Airborne Toxic Event was Kodaline who were actually pretty decent. While their music lacks the necessary diversity of sound that would allow them to gain more popularity, I thoroughly enjoyed “Love Like This”:


But let’s face it, I spent every moment listening to Kodaline anxiously awaiting the five-person amazingness that is Airborne Toxic Event. If you’ve never listened to them, then right now is the perfect time to start. Their third album is only a few weeks old and includes some great new additions to an already stellar discography. They are an indie rock group from Los Angeles that intertwines the sentimental sounds of orchestral strings with hearty alt rock guitar and vocals. They tackle heavy topics like lost love, death, and existential frustrations, but there’s always this energetic – frenetic even – hopeful feeling to their work.

Despite “Such Hot Blood” being so fresh, the band took to the stage at quarter past nine with a diverse set list that emphasized their classic songs along with the new, even throwing in a few surprising covers. Here’s a set list for your viewing pleasure:

Set list:

  • 9:15 – Gasoline
  • Happiness Is Overrated
  • Does this Mean You’re Moving On?
  • Something New
  • True Love
  • Changing
  • Bride & Groom
  • Half of Something Else
  • Numb
  • Safe
  • The Storm
  • Wishing Well
  • Timeless
  • Sometime Around Midnight
  • All I Ever Wanted
  • All At Once
  • 10:30 – INTERMISSION
  • 10:35 – Fifth Day
  • Book of Love (cover)
  • Graveyard By the House
  • Missy
  • Ring of Fire (cover)
  • American Girl (cover)
  • Born in the USA (c0ver)
  • Missy reprise
Full stag shot at the House of Blues Boston on 5/10/13

Full stage shot at the House of Blues Boston on 5/10/13

Airborne Toxic Event is one of the best live bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing, mostly because they have one of those lead singers who comes to the stage with a kind of infectious enthusiasm. Mikel Jollet (vocals, guitar, etc.) is constantly smiling ear to ear and when he thanks you, he does so humbly and earnestly. I’ve seen Airborne at least four times and every time, Mikel is amazing, jumping around and cracking jokes and making his audience a real part of the experience. Noah, the classically trained bassist, has a very edgy, badass air about him, and while he plays both electric and upright bass, will sometimes use his bow on the electric bass guitar (how COOL is that!?). I’ve seen him at an outdoor show a few years back where he was right on par with Mikel’a enthusiasm. But at this show he seemed to be going for the surlier look. Even Anna (viola, tambourine, backup vocals) seemed to bring a bit less moxy to the table than usual. Steven Chen (guitar, keyboards) was expressionless and cool as usual. All that being said, the entire band performed extremely well and put on an amazing show, but I’ve honestly seen them work together even better on stage and enjoy themselves a bit more. Maybe there were just fewer smiles all around, but the mojo felt only slightly off to me.

What I’ve always loved about these shows is Mikel’s honest sentimentality and the band’s overall chemistry. Even just the fact that every band member is incredibly talented. Noah and Anna are classically trained. Mikel used to be a writer and takes that eloquence into his lyrics. And is there anything that Steven Chen can’t do? Doubt it. Best of all? These people genuinely like each other. You can see it in the guitar duels, evenly distributed solos, and especially when Mikel gives each band member a shout out and spurs them to perform a solo. He’s big on spreading the love. At this show Anna even hopped on Noah’s back!!

Anna's on Noah's shoulders!!

Anna’s on Noah’s shoulders!!

Mikel even climbed up on some second story lighting. Unfortunately it was almost impossible to get a clear picture, but he seriously treated the place like it was a jungle gym, all the while still singing his songs like it wasn’t any effort at all. Per the usual, Mikel also embarrassed Steven repeatedly. Towards the end of the show he even said the following:

And here we have Stevey, the sartorially clad man that my grandmother once described as the handsomest Asian man she’d ever seen in her whole life!

So there are lots of jokes and goofy stunts, but Mikel also lays on quite a bit of charm when he’s talking to the crowd, harping about life on the road and how reflecting on his travels is what inspired “The Storm”, the song I consider the best from the new album.


Towards the end, when they finally played “Wishing Well” – which might just be their absolute best song – he relates how it was the first song he ever wrote and he would play it over and over in his tiny apartment with neighbors banging on the walls, doors, and ceilings for him to be quiet. But he didn’t stay quiet. He kept playing and playing until he found his way to this show. Then when it came time to play the first single off the new record, “Timeless”, he explained where that one came from:

I used to be so interested in the poeticism of death, you know? I read this book by Don DeLillo called White Noise – that’s where our name comes from. And it’s about The Infinite nothingness to our existence and the meaninglessness of it all, and it was all so interesting to me for awhile. Then I just hit a point in my life where family members starting dying and none of the poetry of it mattered anymore. I just missed seeing their faces, and I just wanted them back. So I wrote a song about it called “Timeless”.


“Timeless”, even more than their typical songs, is about how it’s the connections we make with people – the love – that is the only hope we have of transcending mortality. The song itself isn’t their strongest or best, but the bridge is amazing: “Just help me through this moment; / After everything I told you / how the weight their loss feels like the weight of the sun. / I see their faces near me. / I hear their voices calling. / It’s like their lives were over before they’d begun.”

After more than two hours of playing a fantastic show – through some classic yet unconventional covers and reprising “Missy”, one of their best songs, for the finale, Mikel wrapped it all up with the following:

Now go make some cute Boston babies and name them after Stevie. See you in the real world.