"Welcome to this big room," Mikel Jollett offers, marking the beginning and the end of the evening's understatement.
The Airborne Toxic Event lead singer is speaking to the seated crowd at the luminous, $240 million, Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall. His band just finished "Wishing Well," a song Jollett sung from somewhere offstage in, one assumes, a well-intentioned effort to let the music, augmented by the Calder Quartet, shine.
The ploy worked, but now, it's Jollett's show. He runs on stage, briefly takes in the scene, makes his one brief introductory comment, and leads his band into another perfectly overwrought song.
For ATE -- accompanied at various points by a troupe of Mexican dancers, the Guerrero children's choir, and the Belmont High School marching band -- the show marks the end of two years on the road. Back within a gallon of gas of their Los Feliz neighborhood, they are here to celebrate in ornate fashion.
To the band's credit, they don't seem overwhelmed by playing in a setting better suited for Vivaldi "Four seasons" than verse-chorus-verse. Crowd favorites "Something New" and "Gasoline" take on a new significance when fused with the chamber's perfect acoustics. After dedicating a cover of a Magnetic Fields song to his recently deceased grandmother ("Play me a song, but not one of those Airborne ones with all the yelling," she requested as she lay dying.), Jollett does a reasonable impersonation of Stephen Merritt's unique bass voice. During "Sometime Around Midnight," the strings of Anna Bulbrook and the quartet bounce hauntingly around the hall. Indie rock can hold its own.
The night ends, as most of these concerts do, with "Missy." Jollett comes onstage without his bandmates, and perches himself on riser with an acoustic guitar and the children's choir as his only accompaniment. Eventually, the song will build to a celebratory climax with members of the Calder Quartet on piano, the dancers on twirling, and the marching band on, well, marching, but for now, it's just the lead singer and eight students. He sings "Just as long as I'm never alone," and the sweet young voices chime in as backup. Jollett leans back, looks at the kids behind him, smiles, and launches into the third verse.
The Airborne Toxic Event fills this big room quite nicely.