On The List :: Airborne Toxic Event @ The Bowery Ballroom [3.11.09]

There are singular moments in rock music and then there are Singular Moments In Rock Music. Last night, we're filing under capital "T" Truth. Airborne Toxic Event are on the stage at the Bowery, a string quartet to their right, and their drummer vaulted halfway up to the ceiling. It's an impressive spectacle. If you just squint your eyes a little, you'd see the death-hum of four stringed bows moving and churning in perfect sequence. If you listen hard, you hear a band in rare form - lean and sharp from eight consecutive months of touring. If you listen to what you're feeling, it's ebullient. They're playing "Sometime Around Midnight" and it seems like this band is exploding from every angle like a volcanic Pacific island. This is A Singular Moment In Rock Music.

But the trick is on us. "Sometime Around Midnight," is the song most of the crowd came to see (radio is a bear like that) but it's not the most moving moment of the night. Up next, and last for the set, is "Innocence." The string quartet, vicious and moving on "Midnight" have moved up a level into "potentially lethal" and "emotionally propulsive." The comparison to Arcade Fire doesn't make sense on a genre-level, but as far as strings and the last time they moved anyone like this, well, it's approximate. "Innocence" sounds so big it could rip the pavement off Delancey Street. I've used this expression before and I had no idea how little I meant it then compared to now.

If you rewind a little, the band gave us some songs from the next record. They played a set front-loaded with old material, "Wishing Well" and "Gasoline," packed the middle of the set with new songs, and closed with the old favorites. It's not rocket science but it is rock and roll. The new material made people predictably uncomfortable. For the suit, tie, collar, talk-through-songs set, this was a challenge. For everyone else, it was a window into the future. New songs like "Echo Park" and two of the three others make you think that the second record could be better than the first. And once clear of the new material, the band ripped through "This Is Nowhere," flying into the final act.

I could wax philosophical about "Sometime Around Midnight" and "Innocence" but, put simply, this was the best moment of the night. The crowd was genuinely moved because it was genuinely moving. The band came back for a two-song encore, closed with "Missy" as usual and threw tambourines into the crowd. Then they stepped to the edge of the stage and slapped hands. It was the picture of gravitas. Wait. It was a Singular Moment.

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