Show Review: Air with AM at The Fox Oakland, 3/26/2010

by Jonathan Pirro on March 27, 2010

Air performs "La Femme d'Argent"

Air performs "La Femme d'Argent"

Electronic acts far and wide have begun to embrace the digital world as a new means of performance, production, and musical composition. Despite the ease and shimmer that is brought to songs of  digital birth, there is really nothing quite like the humming, warm drones of analog circuits, whether they be in new-school oscillators or old-school synthesizers — or possibly both. Tonight’s performance at the Fox Theater welcomed two acts — Air from France, and AM from Los Angeles — who brought the gentle charm of analog and the sweeping beauty of ambient electronics to a theater which often plays host to some of the loudest and most bombastic rock acts of today.

AM took the stage just after 8:00pm, and looked to be an interesting trio: singer AM, who also played acoustic/electric guitar, and ukelele, was joined by Chris Lovejoy on percussion and Jesse Nason on keyboards. While AM sang and plucked or strummed his instrument of choice (he liked to emphasize the percussive properties of them), Nason’s analog synthesizers supplied the bass and melody for each of the many-varied pieces, accentuated by the somewhat-random assortment of drums that made up Lovejoy’s percussion setup (congas, toms, and even a spiral cymbal for an extra-shimmery finish). Each song was like a small journey through the world that AM (singer, now) was wishing to pull the audience into; each piece evolved from the basic beats, jumping to a new sound when the keys arrived, and taking yet another turn when AM began to sing and play. The set moved from misty psychedelia to lounge-y Brazilian rock and then back through a swath of analog-dipped rock, ending on an energetic number that got the crowd clapping along and pushed the onstage light show up a few notches. With the rest of the evening ready for a chillout feel, it was nice to have a new act get the crowd up and moving about, and the pairing of congos and analog synthesizer was a force to be reckoned with.

Of course, the perception of a chillout evening only lasted until the beginning of Air’s set. Despite the gentle glow of the massive screen behind them and the tender hum of the synthesizers coming to life, the audience roared with delight as Air — bassist Nicolas Godin and synth player Jean-Benoît Dunckel — walked onstage, dressed immaculately in white and looking somewhat surprised to find themselves in such a place. Desiring to keep the sudden excitement going, the duo, joined by drummer Alex Thomas, tore into a performance of “Do The Joy”, from their new album Love 2, knocked the flood and strobe lights into overdrive, washing the trio in color and patterns and adding deeply to the energy of the music. The message, at this point, was clear: Anyone who had expected a slow, relaxing show ought to wake up, because you’re here to dance, too.

Like most electronic acts, the point of emphasis for Air’s show was their visuals; thirty lights covering their ceiling, and the aforementioned screen behind the band, onto which was projected large, surrealist landscapes; bright swatches of color, fields of stars, and (more often than anything else) the band’s name, which pulsed, blinked, or flashed in time to the throbbing synthesizers. The theater seemed built to provide the perfect acoustics for the show; each sweep across a few octaves of analog could be felt as they echoed through the great performance hall. The band often transitioned from one song to another this way, but took a few opportunities to thank the crowd — either in French, or into Godin’s vocoder, which usually hinted what song was next in their set.

This show was special to me — being a somewhat longtime fan of Air, but never having seen them before — because it helped me to see how many of their classic pieces were performed. Rather than use samples of female vocals for their songs, Godin and Dunckel sang in falsetto (often heavily drenched in effects). Most of the extra drums were played, as samples, by Godin, when he wasn’t tearing away on his bass; while Dunckel seemed to create nearly all of the melody. The most exciting moment of the night was the final song of their regular set — “Kelly Watch The Stars” — as they kicked the song into a newer, higher tempo, with a sudden burst of thunderous drumming and erratic synth snarling placed right in the middle of the piece. Following a set of deep bows to an absolutely ecstatic crowd, Air returned to the stage for three more pieces: “Heaven’s Light”, “Sexy Boy”, and the classic “La Femme d’Argent”, which also catapulted into a sea of blistering lights and swirling sound. When the last few notes of the keyboards had died out, Godin and Dunckel brought Thomas away from his drumkit to bow profusely to the cheering masses.

Despite my many years of listening to Air — first with the soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides, then catching up on their back catalog and following them up to their new record, the previously mentioned Love 2 — this was my first time seeing one of their live performances. Being so very used to the laid-back, friendly-grooving Air, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself moving and swaying to a show that I had believed would be a calm and primarily-visually-stimulating evening. The live sound of Air truly captures all of the musical elements that they bring to each of their pieces, without burying their instruments’ tones underneath a haze of electronics and digital gloss. Of all of the electronic acts that I have seen up to this point in my life, Air was definitely the most surprising, and I hope to be further surprised by them in years to come.

Air's setlist

Air's setlist

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

gromit March 27, 2010 at 1:36 am

nice review, pal. sounds like I missed a great show.

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Big Boog March 29, 2010 at 7:01 pm

cool review, it was a fun show there. Great way to spend a Friday, thank you visa signature for all the free booze.

AM was pretty forgettable, too sparse.

Air was pretty cool. I loved how pretentious Jean-Beniot was, looking at the crowd with his blank snobbish frog stare. Classic.
His assistant with the white gloves fit in with that nonsense perfectly, pushing a few more buttons for the “overtaxed” frenchie between songs.
I really liked the music, it had a great flow all night. La Femme to close the show was incredible, great visuals. I liked how they played most of Moon Patrol to end the show. Crowd was fun with lots of cute French chicks.
The only bummer was the limited light show, I expected a lot, lot more visuals from such a well known band. This show would have been epic with a wild light show.
I guess the Euro is down these days in France…

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