For such a sensational band, The Airborne Toxic Event are potentially the most unpretentious bunch of people you could hope to come across. Despite a sold out, bursting-at-the-seams Tuts, there is no grandeur here as the band scuttle around fiddling with their own equipment before their ‘proper’ entrance elicits an excitable roar from the baying crowd. Singer Mikel Jollett (sporting a very fetching black eye) is every bit the gracious and charming frontman, sporadically reiterating how happy he is to be in Glasgow (as opposed to England where they “walk around with sticks up their arses”, apparently). He urges the audience to come and talk to them at the bar afterwards, promising they “wont be assholes about it”. (I can indeed confirm that all band members were more than happy to sign as many autographs and pose for as many pictures as requested, bless them.)
Named after an excerpt in Don DeLillo’s post-modern novel ‘White Noise’, the band have been described as “literary dance rock”. A freelance writer in the middle of his first novel, Jollett somehow ended up writing an album’s worth of songs instead. Which is rather lucky for the myriad of fans who have fallen head over heels in love with The Airborne Toxic Event’s brand of soaring, emotive melodies.
Tonight’s setlist kicks off with ‘Wishing Well’ and illustrates just how well the cacophony of instruments work together. Violinist Anna Bulbrook takes her turn manning (womanning?) the keyboard as Jollett scales and climbs the stage set. Sure, not many of the audience members know the songs well enough to sing along to, (the album hasn’t been released in the UK yet) but singles ‘Gasoline’ and ‘Sometime Around Midnight’ certainly cause the biggest stir. The latter has been attracting mass attention after earning a spot on Radio 1’s playlist as Edith Bowman’s ‘Single of the Week’. A beautiful and emotive song documenting the oh-so-relatable horror of bumping into an ex and their new beau, ‘Sometime Around Midnight’ soars and builds and boils over with intensity and urgency.
Throwing in a sneaky little cover of Q Lazzarus’s ‘Goodbye Horses’ (you know, the one Buffalo Bill prances around to in Silence of the Lambs?), the atmosphere turns… well, rather brooding and sexy! The highlight of the evening though, has to be the three-song strong encore, ending with what is arguably their best tune, ‘Missy’. Bulbrook and bass player Noah Harmon stomp into the crowd to join in the frantic dancing whilst Jollett simultaneously invokes a full-on stage invasion. A perfect and jubilant end to a set bursting with sincerity and dynamism.
(The Airborne Toxic Event play Glasgow’s QMU on March 31st. Their debut album is out now.)