Airborne Toxic Event's frontman, Mikel Jollet is shaking a bottle of Jameson into the crowd like he just won an American professional sports title. Irish whiskey, not at all known for its carbonation, is somewhat dutifully spraying into the audience. The crowd goes wild. Rock concerts have gone stale and this sort of thing rarely or organically happens. Jollet whirls back around to his left and flushes the final slugs from the bottle. He pauses, looks a little dazed and moves on. But this is the thing about excess; your friends are on stage, the venue is packed and people know the words to your songs. You're facing down fame and it's a little overwhelming but you keep going.
Newly signed to Island/Def Jam in the spring, Airborne Toxic Event are officially not sitting at the kid's table anymore. When we first saw the band two Junes ago at Pianos, they were good-naturedly complaining about having to use a printed-out set-list. It was their tour manager they said, not them, who insisted on making their eight songs official. As the band takes the stage at Webster Hall, two screens project loops of found footage. The lights go down and the band comes out one-by-one with Jollet arriving last. Entrance music surges in the background. This isn't a band taking the stage, it is a festival of return; a parade for the band that used to think parades were funny.
Like any band with one record, the front-half of the set is loaded with the deeper cuts. We get the New York-referencing "Does This Mean You're Moving On," the up-tempo "Gasoline" and staple-cover "Goodbye Horses." Portions of the crowd are distracted and you can see Jollet's frustration as a packed Webster Hall chats in between songs and even during a particularly delicate moment between violinist Anna Bulbrook and himself on stage. He glares to his left at a particularly in-attentive section of the audience. This is the problem with popularity: More people know your band but they might not be the people who you originally enjoyed playing concerts for. 16-months ago there wasn't a breath of talk between songs but that was 80 people and this is 2,500. Music industry rule #43: Once your song impacts at radio, you can't exactly control what happens next.
The night is not all the fight between a band and two-halves of their growing fan base. They play an intimate version of "Wishing Well" with upright-piano, cello, and sparse drums. What will become second-album stand-outs, "Right Now" and another song yet-untitled, draw the audience into a movement they don't fully understand yet. They will really like these songs in a years time when the second-album comes out. Of course, "Sometime Around Midnight" is predictably excellent and "Innocence" is the best live song they play. People are moved and that counts for something.
The encore is an explosive and disjointed affair. Featuring, "All The People Who Died," a Jim Carroll Band cover that Jollet dedicates to the now-dead Jim Carroll. Henry Clay People and Red Cortez take the stage and everyone is a mess of tackling, dancing, and alcohol. These people are young and this fun is real. Someone passes Jollet a bottle of Jameson and he sprays it at the audience. How else do you translate what you're doing on stage to a crowd this size? You do your best to share what you're going through, even if you're not the least bit sure the masses will get the right message. After all, if you've become a part of them - they've become a part of you.