After The Airborne Toxic Event’s long absence from the music scene, it was anyone’s guess what would be in store as we waited in line for the first night of the El Rey Residency. When the first night was announced, I knew this would be an incredible night in Airborne’s vast and eventful history. I just knew I had to be a part of it.
Sitting here now on the other end of that experience, I can honestly say I regret absolutely nothing. From the late nights drinking with friends (both old and new) to the constant climax of excitement during the show that carried us long into the night, I knew my love for this band would never be the same. As I boarded the plane a couple nights later to return home, I was already missing my band and desperate to remember any small fragment I could of those beautiful new songs.
It was too much. I couldn’t end it there.
So with the help of Sarah, an amazing friend I made at that first show, we conspired to return to Los Angeles to witness even more Airborne history in the making. While we had already missed show number two, we couldn’t stand the idea of two more shows back to back occurring without our direct supervision. In a burst of longing and insanity that I can’t honestly say I’ve experienced before, we set out in a desperate attempt to escape the rut of our lives and attempt to recapture the magic we felt during the first night of the El Rey Residency. A time and place that marked the beginning of both our friendship and a new era for The Airborne Toxic Event.
Night three, for better or worse, had a completely different vibe from the first night. We leisurely strolled to the venue around 10AM to find that only a few people were in line; a huge difference from the growing mass of diehard fans we encountered bright and early in the morning on the first show. As the day went on, people slowly trickled in, but it was clear that most of the traveling fans had either gotten their fill or their circumstances did not allow them to embark on another TATE adventure so soon (likely the latter). There were few familiar faces, but everyone in line seemed to be loyal fans. Locals perhaps? Anyway, on to the show.
Though we had already seen it pulled back once before, we didn’t really know what to expect behind the big red curtain (we joked about there being more curtains). We excitedly anticipated Pete’s speech about recordings and fan loyalty. While this speech didn’t stir our emotions in the same capacity as the first night, it was easily compensated for by replacing the dramatic music and thunder sounds of weeks past with “Bohemian Rhapsody,” easily one of the greatest rock anthems of our time. As the song went on, it brought the crowd together. By the end of the song, everyone was singing, some with joined arms and beers in hand – only to quickly fall silent when Daren’s drums dominated the airspace and the curtain was pulled back to reveal exactly what we traveled so far to see: The Airborne Toxic Event.
While I was excited to hear “Hollywood Park” again, I was not the slightest bit disappointed that they instead opted to open with “All the Children.” Even as I sit at my desk writing this, I am getting chills thinking about Adrian’s baseline and Mikel’s soothing baritone (use it more man, it suits you). While the new songs were fantastic to hear again, I also noticed the band experimenting a bit with their older songs. “Gasoline” was played faster and in a higher key than I typically hear live. That, or I was simply caught up in the energy. Also worth noting was the absence and/or suppression of stories being told before each song. Mikel simply seemed less talkative. That is, unfortunately, until it was time for “1963.”
Mikel sat down at his beautifully aged piano, as he had for the first show, to tell us about the recent passing of his father and best friend. Before he could get any further, several things were shouted from the crowd. From where we Sarah and I were standing, the loudest cry we heard was one of support. “We love you.” However, Mikel heard a much different cry from somewhere else in the crowd. “Fuck him.”
I cannot personally attest to that having been said, but Mikel respectfully hesitated before allowing himself to react. Asking, “What did you just say? Did you say ‘Fuck him?’” The crowd went silent as Mikel said, “I will fight you right now,” only to quickly become loud and chaotic as the crowd attempted to locate and punish the man.
However, it didn’t last. Mikel proved himself to be the bigger person, assuring us that the man had misunderstood and taking a moment to reset himself. He asked us not to do anything to the heckler and did his best to redirect our attention to the real reason we were at a rock show. The story was told over again from the beginning with a few light jabs at what had just transpired, with Mikel joking about his heritage of “Italians and Mexicans,” and describing the “Jollet Stare” for the benefit of those who had just seen it for the first time.
For those of you that attended the first or second show, the rest of night three essentially went the same: loud music, fantastic playing and a playfulness on stage that we all missed terribly. Gone was the presumed nervousness of being back on stage after a long hiatus. The band was laughing and playing as if there was nowhere they would rather be. Anna even revisited her love of crowd surfing, though it was short lived. After viewing a brief scolding interaction she had with someone from the crowd afterwards, I feared there may have been a good reason the surfing was cut short. Another giggle we got was during “Numb” when Mikel substituted the line “I think I’ve lost something” with “I think I’ve lost my phone.” A brief survey of the crowd told me that either I was the only one who heard it, or I was the only one who found it funny.
While this show was certainly a lot of fun and had its share of surprises (“Poor Issac!”), there was nothing that could capture the magic of the first night. They set the bar so high there was simply no way to come close. That is, until night four began.
As Sarah and I waited for the big red curtain to be pulled back for the last time (sigh), we excitedly chattered about our theories for how this final show would begin. Would it be the dramatic music? “Bohemian Rhapsody?” Something new? We didn’t have to wait long to find out. After Pete stepped away from the spotlight following his heartfelt speech, the dramatic music began once again and “Hollywood Park” made a triumphant return for the final residency opening.
This night had an incredible energy. The music was great, with no noticeable mistakes, and the band looked happier than either of the other nights. I’d have to say my favorite proof of this was towards the end of the set when Mikel danced in circles around Anna, wrapping her up in his guitar cable. The band’s energy and excitement reflected on the crowd as well. We witnessed way more jumping and dancing during this final show than we saw at either of the other two shows. It perfectly captured that “rock n’ roll in a sweaty room” that Mikel has been romanticizing for years.
While I still say nothing will ever top the first night of the residency, the band sure tried their hardest on night four. It was one hell of a show, and one hell of a way to send us off wanting more, but feeling satisfied all at once.
On a personal level, this particular show meant a lot to me. Part of the reason Sarah and I ran away to these shows was because of timing in our personal lives. We had each hit our own snags and Airborne seemed like the perfect way to break free. Listening to the same three songs I identified with helped, but it just wasn’t the same. I needed a show. What I never expected was that they would play those exact three songs for me live. “Bride and Groom,” “Elizabeth” and “All I Ever Wanted.” Sarah joked that she had personally told Mikel to do that for me. Honestly, I would not have been surprised.
For me, this set of shows was absolutely perfect. Seeing old friends, seeing my band, and hearing songs that were near and dear to me (as well as some new ones that are already tugging at my heart strings) was better than any trip I could have imagined. 10/10 I would abandon my life and do it all over again. Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long to hear these songs again. This album is going to be fantastic. To the band I say: Come On Out With It.
And thank you.