Saturday, March 13, 2010
Better Than: Hair of the dog.
They're rare, but there are some live music moments so absolutely perfect, that they're as weirdly sad as they are sublime, because you know they have to end. One of these came for me on Saturday night when Air launched into "Venus," the title track off the band's 2004 album, Talkie Walkie. The combination of J.B. Dunckel's bank of synthesizers, Nico Godin's electric-acoustic guitar, and the gently psychedelic stage lighting was suddenly enough to induce goosebumps and dampen my eyes. Well, perhaps that was, instead, because of my unrelated epic hangover of shame -- but by the end of the show, it was gone. If only Air's impressive curative powers could be bottled.
Still, the show was magical regardless of your physical state. It was the French duo's first-ever show in Florida, and clearly, much of the soigné crowd had been waiting since the band's late-'90s debut to see it live. I was lucky enough to see the band in Paris in 2004, and while that show was musically top-notch, the Miami show was better. Dunckel and Jodin say very little live, in Paris just repeating "Merci beaucoup" every few songs; but here, they seemed genuinely thrilled to play to a virgin audience. Dunckel even offered a tentative mass compliment: "You look very sexy tonight," he said, to dutiful whoops.
The band is, at its core, the duo of Dunckel and Godin, and on Saturday night, appeared as just a trio, augmented by a drummer. But the group's founders are multi-instrumentalists. Godin switched mostly between that electric-acoustic guitar and a Fender Mustang bass, while Dunckel, dressed all in white, manned a bank of synths and keyboards that covered the holy trinity of Korg, Moog, and Rhodes. All together, they created a flawless, powerful sound that hovered in the ether between elevator music, downtempo lounge, and even kosmiche Krautrock turf. Much of the music is nominally electronic, but it still sounds warm -- and Dunckel's outer-space keyboard jams can rival those of the prog gods.
Luckily, though, those jams never came unmoored, always looping back into the band's signature romantic pop melodies. Obliging longtime fans, Air augmented songs from its latest studio album, last year's Love 2, with generous dips into its back catalog. From 2001's 10 000 Hz there were "People in the City" and "How Does It Make You Feel," to name a couple, and from Talkie Walkie, there was also "Cherry Blossom Girl" and the whistled "Alpha Beta Gaga," which Godin wryly introduced as a singalong.
It was the songs from 1998's breakthrough Moon Safari that got the loudest cheers, though, perhaps because the audience had been waiting so long to hear them performed. "Remember" came early in the set," but it was no surprise that Dunckel and Godin saved the big guns for the end. When the latter started intoning "Thank you very much" into his vocoder, it eventually turned into the melody of "Kelly Watch the Stars." This is when the until-now staid crowd rushed the front of the stage, dancing as energetically as one possibly can to "Sexy Boy" and an epically jammed-out version of Moon Safari's opener, "La Femme d'Argent." The energy was palpable, and the band members looked ecstatic in that slightly bashful French way. Perhaps now they'll return before another seven albums go by.
Personal Bias: I've been mildly obsessed with Air since Moon Safari came out. I dubbed it onto cassette and wore out the cassette (largely by playing it in my mom's minivan on the way to school!). I own a few of the records on vinyl, and bought the band's 1999 documentary, AIR: Eating, Sleeping, Waiting, and Playing, on VHS when it came out. Plus, anything involving an analog vocoder is an instant win in my book.
Random Detail: J.B. Dunckel just gets more and more handsome with time. (Insert witty "aging like a fine French wine" comment here.)
By the Way: Opening act AM, on this tour a trio, was equally soothing to frayed nerves. With a sort of global percussion made up of everything from congas to jingle bells, at its most uptempo, the band achieved a sort of slinky, 60s-spy-movie vibe. It's sexy guitar soul for the coffee-shop set.