Watching the magnificent Airborne Toxic Event on Thursday, begs the question of why they have remained largely under the radar?
Perhaps it’s the slightly MOR, soft rock sound tinge that permeates their recorded output, or the light but earnest references to religion and drugs, the too-close-to-the-bone dissection of relationships gone wrong. Not always crowd pleasers.
But live, Mikel Jollett’s band push a heavier, edgier sound than might be expected from listening to their particular brand of knowing, literate college rock. The sound, and the corresponding performance, drew an odd crowd to Camden’s Koko, mixing the middle-aged and the achingly hip, with a smattering of boozed up good-timers, but all exhibiting an equal devotion.
And it’s easy to see why. While most bands may struggle to fill a headline slot with only two albums under their belt, TATE manage it with aplomb, every song a tiny masterpiece, and every band member apparently a multi-instrumentalist. From stomping opener All At Once, through songs new and old, they swapped around merrily, alternately engrossed in each others playing or working the crowd like seasoned pros.
Debuted song True Love was apparently performed just to force bassist Noah Harmon into showcasing his mandolin skills, performing with as much aplomb as when bowing his upright bass.
The band manage to combine strings with rock to devastating effect, with the viola of (the beautiful, newly blonde) Anna Bulbrook used to devastating effect, notably on breakthrough hit Sometime Around Midnight, a singalong favourite which was followed by the more jumpalong, clapalong beat of recent single All I Ever Wanted.
Jollett showed himself to be the consummate frontman, pouncing around the stage in sleeveless shirt, climbing the monitors and attempting to scale the balconies. In between he chatted eagerly with the crowd, seeming genuinely stoked to be returning to the scene of his first London performance.
The night was electric, and it seemed all too soon that the final song was announced. But what a finale; starting with Missy, the band segued into Ring of Fire, which morphed in turn into Tom Petty’s American Girl. As if that wasn’t enough classic Americana, Jollett called out for a protest song, launching into an impassioned version of Born in the USA before returning, ten minutes or more after it began, to the original song.
After that climax, the band departed, but the singer stayed to get a little bit closer to his audience. He hung around shaking hands and chatting, apparently at ease, and truly happy to have connected, so powerfully, with so many.