When my friend Jennifer asked me what to expect from the Air concert on Thursday night, I told her “two French guys on a synthesizer.” I wasn’t kidding.
Though Air has been hailed as one of the most remarkable and innovative bands in recent years, their reputation for live performance is less than stellar. But then the lights began to pulse and The Rave filled with the ethereal noises of a Sofia Coppola film. The hipsters soon began to sway and shuffle in their legwarmers and trucker hats. It was hard for us not to be swept up in the crowd’s ambivalent enthusiasm.
Air played primarily from the current EP, Talkie Walkie , with interspersed tracks from their four previous albums. I thought many songs felt rushed or at least shorter than I would have anticipated–especially for a group that is branded both as ambient and electronic. However, the audience seemed to prefer this brand of efficient indie rock to what could have easily been a secret electronic jam band. (Of course, even the worst jam bands have excellent reputations for live performance.) I tend to describe Air’s recorded music as what you would hear when you imagine a movie from the ’60s that looks into a future populated by egg-shaped furniture, lava lamps and robot servants–something along the lines of Futureland and Woody Allen’s Sleeper by way of Stanley Kubrick. Or simply, “it makes good background noise.”
In concert, however, Air is much more reminiscent of New Wave pop bands like the Thompson Twins or Pet Shop Boys. They utilize many of the same tricks, including my personal favorite–the key-tar (keyboard + guitar = awesome). And though Air had a great light show that rivaled Pink Floyd night at the planetarium, what I enjoyed most was the unapologetic use of one of the most misunderstood instruments in musical history. In fact, I would like to end this review by personally thanking Nicolas Godin and JB Dunckel for bringing the key-tar back to Milwaukee, even if only for one glorious night.
(Originally published April 29, 2004)