Concert Review: The Airborne Toxic Event at House of Blues

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House of Blues has a policy against stagediving. But apparently no one bothered to tell the Airborne Toxic Event frontman Mikel Jollett, who was so animated at the start of last night’s 100-minute concert that he jumped off the stage and into the pit to slap high fives with audience members and let the crowd sing-a-long with him. Though it wasn’t nearly as epic, the show still had a Springsteen-like quality, especially when the band delivered a roots rock tune like “Changing.” When the band wasn’t channeling Springsteen, it evoked U2 on the rousing “Half of Something Else” and the set-closing “All at Once.”

Jollett is a good, old-fashioned front man who gave off a bit of a classic rock vibe as he switched instruments and regularly engaged the crowd. While there’s also something pretentious about his lyrics, which generally include references to life and death and the meaning of it all, he didn’t come off as a stiff on stage. He joked that everyone in one section of the crowd appeared to be quite drunk and he introduced “Storm” by saying that a heavy touring schedule inspired the song, which was about missing friends and family back home.

Varying the instrumentation helped the songs stand out from one another. Anna Bulbrook regularly switched from violin to keyboards and bassist Noah Harmon played upright bass on a couple of tracks. The four-song encore started out with a rousing rendition of “Timeless,” the first single from the band’s latest album Such Hot Blood. The studio version of the tune is rather contemplative but Jollett’s sneering vocals gave it more of an edge. The encore’s finale — a rendition of the ballad “Missy” — deteriorated a bit as the band inserted a medley of covers (Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” Tom Petty’s “An American Girl” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.,” which Jollett introduced as a “fucking protest song”) in the middle of “Missy.” “I just want to take everybody home and hang out,” Jollett said as he stepped out into the pit once more to mingle with the masses. And given his passionate performance, we tend to believe him.

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