Live Review: The Airborne Toxic Event with Red Cortez and the Henry Clay People at 9:30 Club, Washington DC – 12 October 2009

By on Wednesday, 14th October 2009 at 2:00 pm

Purely by coincidence, the first time I’d seen all these bands was in March – and within 2 days of each other. The Henry Clay People had come to D.C. to support the Airborne Toxic Event at the Black Cat, and Red Cortez was opening for Morrissey at the Warner Theatre. This chilly Columbus Day night, the three bands from East Los Angeles came together for 3 hours of highly enjoyable sonic entertainment at the 9:30 Club.

d-cortez4We’re called Red Cortez. We used to be called the Airborne Toxic Event, but we don’t know what happened…” quipped from Harley Prechtel-Cortez, frontman and lead singer of Red Cortez halfway through their short 8-song set. This was indicative of the humour and fun nature of their band’s music: unpretentious rock delivered with spunk. Songs like ‘Fell on the Floor’ and ‘In the Fall’ are so bursting full of emotion, I’m really not sure why these guys are still unsigned. Ryan Kirkpatrick’s bass lines, drumming from Diego Guerrera, and guitars/keyboards from Calvin J. Love, along with guitar, harmonica, and keyboards by Prechtel-Cortez, all combine for a great rock ‘n’ roll sound.

The Henry Clay People were up next. This band has two singers, brothers Joey and Andy Siara, both of whom also play guitar. I felt really bad for them, because they had all sorts of technical problems: at the beginning, Andy’s mike was working, and later, his amp was acting up for most of the set. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and this explains why Andy decided three songs in that they should play a cover of Jackson Browne‘s j-henryclay5‘Running on Empty’ while his brother tried in vain to fix the sound problems. But the band soldiered on in the face of adversity; ‘This Isn’t a Scene’ and ‘Working Part Time’ are examples of the ‘tude that the band exhibits on stage. Further, they ended their set with Joey Siara launching himself into the crowd while the band did a medley of the Velvet Underground‘s ‘Take a Walk on the Wild Side’, David Bowie‘s ‘Heroes’, and the Who‘s ‘Baby O’Riley’. I looked around disappointedly at the kids had absolutely no clue what songs these were. Oh, I feel old.

A sure sign that an indie band has arrived? They score a headlining gig at the 9:30. Only recently, after talking with several English acts, have I realised that the club is world famous and that everyone wants to p-tate6play there when they are here in D.C. Seriously now, who would have thunk it? The Airborne Toxic Event hasn’t been around all that long, so the band playing there is a major coup. The band has a very loyal following in the UK and has sold out London’s Koko and other venues in England, but I wondered if they would be able to fill the largest club venue in D.C. By 10 o’clock, it was apparent they had, as we were packed in like sardines.

The relatively complicated stage setup included two projections screens (one on stage right behind violist / keyboardist Anna Bulbrook and singer / guitarist Mikel Jollett, and the other stage left behind bassist Noah Harmon and guitarist Steven Chen) and two sets of stairs that led up to drummer Daren Taylor‘s set up, perched high up above the action. The stairs were utilized by all of the band members, who took turns climbing up with their instruments (thanks to long extension cords to their amps); in Harmon’s case, he jumped down rather recklessly with his bass. Rock ‘n’ roll baby.

l-tate2The set couldn’t be beat. ‘Gasoline’ and ‘Sometime Around Midnight’ turned into big singalongs, the multitude of voices singing in time in the cavernous venue echoing off the walls, eliciting huge grins from Jollett. He introduced ‘This is Nowhere’ as “a song about playing rock ‘n’ roll every night” and the crowd got into the act, shaking their bodies to the music, as if copying Bulbrook’s skittish dance moves across the stage that she exhibited all night long, often with her beloved viola in hand. The band slowed things down in the middle of their set with bare, acoustic versions of the oh-so-tender ‘Letter to Georgia’ and the first track off their self-titled album, ‘Wishing Well’ (described by Jollett as “the first song we ever wrote and played together as a band’. Gorgeous. If you ever get the chance to see the Airborne Toxic Event live in your town, go. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

After the cut: photos and set list.


Red Cortez photos:






Henry Clay People photos:






Airborne Toxic Event photos:






Airborne Toxic Event set list

instrumental intro
Does This Mean You’re Moving On
Something New
This Magic Moment (Drifters cover)
Sugarcube (Yo La Tengo cover)
This Losing
This is Nowhere
Letter to Georgia (acoustic)
Wishing Well (acoustic)
Sometime Around Midnight
Goodbye Horses
All I Ever Wanted (new song)
Happiness is Overrated
People Who Died (Jim Carroll Band cover)

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3 Responses

9:16 pm
15th October 2009

anna playsthe violin not the viola
and he said “were called red cortez. we used to be called the airborne toxic event….. something happened.”

12:32 am
16th October 2009

Feel free to ask Anna this the next time you see her…

Oh. Hmmm. Do you have that on tape? Because I’m pretty sure audio taping devices are prohibited at the 9:30.

5:46 pm
19th October 2009

definitely a viola. Mikel once said something (paraphrasing here): ‘no way was she going to bring her expensive violin to a club gig’ (violas are cheaper). good thing, too; it’s already had to be repaired a few times due to ‘incidents’… nice review, Mary – and *sweet* pic of Mikel. 😉

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