They’re veterans, AIR. They’ve been doing the album-tour-album-tour format for almost a decade now, squeezing in the occasional festival gig just to show the world that they’ve got a massive fan base . The band has been touring for its latest release, Pocket Symphony (Astralwerks), which is a slower album that doesn’t pack the same complex punch that Talkie Walkie does.
Opening for the French duo was the Björkinspired Kate Havnevik. The Norwegian songwriter is touring for her debut album Melankton (Republic), and has arrived after playing a long North American tour with AIR. Kate came out in a big purple dress and with a haircut that looked exactly like a frizzy map of the southern United States. Her only other band members were an afroed trumpet player and a wriggling bassist. Kate’s sound was humungous, her voice spectacular. But as gorgeous as some of her songs were, and as clean and professional the production of her live set was, it still wasn’t classy. Havnevik’s set felt more like glorified 3-man karaoke than a live music show. It seemed like an empty magic trick of huge invisible orchestras and electronic beats with a small woman trying to time up with the electronic wizardry. At times the microphone even creaked, and the hugeness of her set was thrown greatly off balance.
When AIR came on it was relieving to see actual instruments on the stage, and this is AIR we’re talking about, so there was a ton of unbelievably rare analogue keyboards. The tech nerds swooned. AIR played a few songs from Pocket Symphony, and a few songs from Talkie Walkie. The consistency of their chilled-out set made me wish I had grabbed seating, but it also made me wish they were playing some of their more moving songs. To be honest, I was a little disappointed that they didn’t play Surfin’ on a Rocket, because it’s one of my all time favourites. Song-wise, AIR did justice to Pocket Symphony’s Once upon a time and took things to another level with the buzzing synthesiser solo on Venus.
Now, it’s difficult to talk about this show without mentioning the work of the sound guy. I suspect that the once-lively audience was thrown off by AIR’s slower set, but something was clearly taking the edge off of their generally sharp sound. Though the keyboards soared and the drums punched, the vocals sounded like they were coming out of your neighbour’s cheap P.A system. It was strange that while the opener’s vocals were impressive, the soundboard didn’t do much for AIR.
After the set ended, the audience did its little encore dance for AIR, and the band came out to play Talkie Walkie’s Alone in Kyoto and Moon Safari’s Sexy Boy. Then they left again. At this point, many weary fans headed out for the theatre’s doors.
But lo and behold, Air came on for a third encore song and finally indulged in some outerspaceyness, eventually cramming La Femme d’Argent into a thousand knots of looping keyboards as they left a blinking, starry backdrop.