Airborne Toxic Event – The Fillmore – October 18, 2011

This one will run out of order since I started most of it while at the show via my phone and since it’s nearly done I’ll post it before the Fountains of Wayne review that is still to be cleaned up and finished before I can post it…so many shows…so little time…

Anyway…

A business trip to San Francisco and a check of pollstar….and suddenly I’m at a historic venue that I’d always wanted to see. The historic Fillmore West at Geary & Fillmore Streets in San Francisco.

I ran the gauntlet of panhandlers and grabbed a quick cab ride from my hotel to the Fillmore.  The Fillmore is one of those temples of rock music that I really wanted to check off my list of venues.  I grabbed my ticket at will call and climbed the steps up to the main lobby where I was greeted by the traditional greeting of “Welcome to the Fillmore”  I was offered an apple from the huge tub which had Bill Graham’s original “Dance Hall Permit Application” framed and displayed.  (It’s dated March 15, 1966).  The lobby os filled with large photos of acts who have played (mostly recently, but some of Clapton and Big Brother & the Holding Company also jumped out at me.)

I was invited to go upstairs to the bar and look at the amazing poster collection….it was really too much to even take in.  You could spend a full day trying to read each one.  There were some awesome photos up there too….the Clash backstage at a “Day on the Green” show with the Who.  The Sex Pistols…The Who.  Hard Rock may have the displays of stuff….but this place had the actual history in place.  You could feel the room resonate with the ghosts of so many bands.

I was actually thinking about how many people had played there…and not just the huge acts that we all know.  (The Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Santana, The Who, Elton John, The Allman Brothers, Cream, Pink Floyd and even Miles Davis).  Can you imagine the Who or Cream in that tiny room with the faux elegant chandeliers, a crazy light show and piles upon piles of speakers roaring out “Young Man Blues” or “Sunshine of Your Love”?

But, I was also thinking about the unsung acts too, the guys maybe just above garage band level who fit into a slot way down the bill, but who trod that same stage with the same passion and emotion of the headliners that we still all talk about.  I figured that a conservative number would be thousands of musicians have played that room and I wondered if playing the Fillmore was maybe a highlight of a short career that ended with them back working in a retail store or having a “normal” non-musical life.  Something about the room just allowed your imagination to run away….maybe that’s why it’s so legendary?

I have to also call out the staff of the place as some of the nicest folks at a venue that I’ve ever dealt with.  From the first greeting, you felt like you were hanging out with friends at a place where music was played.  It was just a vibe that the staff there really love, appreciate and respect the place too.  Honestly, after one show it became one of my favorite places to see a concert.

And speaking of the concert….all praise aside for the room, I guess I should mention a couple bands played.

First up was the Drowning Men, a San Diego band with an “indie” sound and not much more that really caught my attention.  They played well enough…they threw in a Theremin solo (as with an accordion solo, a Theremin solo is always a plus in any rock show)….they seemed ernest and nice and appreciated the crowd.  But, nothing ever really set them apart to my ears where I would want to go buy their stuff.  It just didn’t resonate much with me.

After a short break Airborne Toxic Event took the stage.  There was a huge jump in the energy of the room and a tighter sound than the opener.  “All at Once” followed by “Something New” leading into a more rarely played “A Letter to Georgia”.  BY the time they had reached the fourth song “All for a Woman” things had really clicked into place for me.  They were tight, had a great mix and the band really played off each other well.

It was at this point I caught a faint whiff of someone smoking pot, which just totally completed the picture for the show and the venue.  I also realized just how “arena ready” their material was.  They write in a very big and anthemic way.  I’d be surprised if their career path doesn’t keep pushing them to larger and larger venues.  I some ways I thought of the Killers as a good reference point.  Not really the same sound, but the same aspirations and reach in they way they write.

They covered pretty much all of both CD’s they’ve done: “Numb” and “Changing” led to a really fun sort of group drum solo that was a fresh and fun way to mix a percussion break into the show.  “Missy” and “Gasoline” were latter set highlights, but the best of all was “Welcome to Your Wedding Day” which was not only their most political song, but performed razor sharp.

The set closed with “All I Ever Wanted” and even more pot smoke wafting around me…it was exactly the vision you’d have of a concert in San Francisco.  Perfect ending of an excellent show.

Encore time….They started with a nice solo version of “The Graveyard by the House” that built to a full band and then led to an excellent cover of “The Book of Love”….Peter Gabriel may give them a run for their money on that song, but it was quite good and I really was happy they added it in (They did a version of it on their live CD as well).

The last encore payed homage to some of my favorites….Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire”, “I Fought the Law” and then a great punk-ish take on “Folsom Prison Blues”…I even appreciated the play out music…”California Stars” by Woody Guthrie.

I hung around as the crowd cleared and just soaked in the room and the vibe.  I’m not sure if the venue made the concert special, or if the band did…I guess I’ll find out when I see them at the Gibson Amphitheater on Sunday, I wonder if the more familiar venue will change my focus to the music and if I’ll like it as much?  At the same time…it will be a huge homecoming show for the band, so I wonder if the setlist will change?  It’ll be fun to see.

But, for now I’d say they are very much worth seeing…a band with ambition and a big sound on their way up and still hungry is a powerful sight to see…

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