Live Review: The Airborne Toxic Event (Acoustic Set with the Calder Quartet) at 6th and I Synagogue, Washington, DC – Tuesday 7th September 2010

By on Thursday, 9th September 2010 at 2:00 pm

The Airborne Toxic Event is a band that means an awful lot to me. They’re the first band I ever covered and wrote about online, having made their appearance in Washington in March 2009. Having seen them wow a massive crowd at the 9:30 Club last autumn, I was feeling quite unsure on how they were going to go over in the hallowed confines of Sixth and I Synagogue, known more for their folk and classical gig nights.

The show was even more unique as it was billed as an acoustic set and would feature the Calder Quartet, who would add classical string backing to the show. This might be unusual for any other rock band but not so for TATE: in addition to keyboards, TATE band member Anna Bulbrook also plays the decidedly ‘not rock star’ viola onstage and interestingly enough, Bulbrook’s brother Andrew plays violin in the quartet. Further, the band played a much-acclaimed gig with the Calder Quartet at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles last December: for those of you who might be interested and have not otherwise heard, the concert film of this date will premiere at London’s Raindance Film Festival on 30 September.

Still, I can understand how there could be some resistance to the new acoustic ‘version’ of TATE. Any of those complaints should be easily quelled by the actual performance. Rather than detract or soften the overall emotional and often riot-inducing effect of TATE’s songs, the Calder Quartet added a warmth and beauty to every number they joined in on. Frontman Mikel Jollett is an incredibly gifted songwriter; he’s able to write intelligent, sensitive couplets to catchy rock melodies. You definitely get the feeling that the sentiment he’s giving you from the stage is genuine. Pair that with four good friends who are excellent musicians in their own right and add in some additional soaring strings from four more friends, and you’ve got a recipe for something truly amazing.

This being the first night on the acoustic tour, I’m sure the band was nervous. But as soon as they began tearing through their set, it was clear from the wide grins on their faces that they were thoroughly enjoying themselves and were extremely happy on how well their ‘new’ sound was being received in Washington. After the monster radio hit ‘Sometime After Midnight’ (on which the Calder Quartet augmented the song brilliantly), a woman shouted from the crowd, “[play that] again!” The crowd laughed in amusement, Jollett chuckling and mock complaining that he was trying to get himself psyched up for a sad song but now he could no longer do it.

His loss was our gain: he decided to gift us with a boisterous version of ‘Gasoline’, the song that I had heard 2 years ago on Steve Lamacq’s 6music programme and fell in love with instantly. But TATE are just as good in more poignant moments: take for example Jollett’s recollection of the passing of his grandmother just a week prior to the Disney Hall show and dedicating a cover of the Magnetic Fields‘s ‘The Book of Love’ to her memory. The band ended the night with the title track of their new album, ‘All I Ever Wanted’, another gorgeous ballad. TATE is not just any rock band. They play music that not only will get you up on your feet and dance but will also tug at your heartstrings. They definitely have my heart. Anyone with a ticket to their sold out acoustic shows in the UK in October: you are in for a treat!

Set List
II: Aseez Vif: Tres Rhythme (by the Calder Quartet)
Wishing Well
This Losing
The Book of Love (The Magnetic Fields cover)
A Letter to Georgia
Something New
Duet (duet by Anna Bulbrook and Mikel Jollett)
Happiness is Overrated
Half of Something Else (new song)
Goodbye Horses
Sometime Around Midnight
All I Ever Wanted (new song)


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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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