On The List :: Airborne Toxic Event @ Slim's [San Francisco 4.8.09]

Lead-singer Mikel Jollet runs up the stairs, looks me in the face and says, "Want to play something?" I smile, don't have an answer, and honestly couldn't play more than five chords on anything sitting in my field of vision. It was a rhetorical question, one hopes. Airborne Toxic Event head out on stage at Slim's for their encore to play "Does This Mean You're Moving On." The crowd is going San Francisco's version of crazy. The band is gracious. This is their job and they'd be stupid to turn any part of it over to me.

The crowd is affable and knows this by heart. There is even a kid in the front row, decked in a skinny tie and hard-rimmed glasses, who knows all the words to all the songs. It is a mild feat and, if you scan the audience, he is not alone. The band's self-titled record doesn't speak to people because they have a song at radio. It speaks to people because it means something; something enough to be memorized. And those people are here. The crowd isn't the most mercurial but they are polite and they are engaged. They don't need their lives changed tonight. You sense the record has already done its damage.

The set-list is roughly the same one we caught in New York a few weeks back. They open with "Wishing Well," fill the middle with some new material ("Echo Park," which sounded phenomenal) and they close the main set with "Innocence." During the encore, during "Does It Mean You're Moving On..." Jollet and Anna Bulbrook spill into the audience and flail around in the first few rows. It's one of the moments that makes this band so likeable. There isn't an ounce of pretense, even in their dark jackets and dressing room Grey Goose. Jolett tells us it means a lot that we all came out. Airborne Toxic Event are, in the simplest of ways, not about themselves at all. This is nothing less than impressive.

During the last three measures of "Missy," the night's official closer, the crowd gets their moment of transcendence. Bassist Noah Harmon climbs up two amps, freezes near the top of the room and then lets loose down to the stage. It's the final image of the night and it is a good one. It's just before midnight and this band is killing itself to live. They're from the West Coast and the show is sold out. You'd think they wouldn't have a ton to play for. But that's the great reveal. Believe them when they say this means a lot and see what it's like to go to work at 10:10 on a Wednesday night. This is their job - jumping off speakers, pouring into the crowd, and unleashing narrative and melodies that affect. This is work. And it means everything.

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