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A Breath of Fresh Air

March 22nd, 2010

Air – Terminal 5 – March 19, 2010

Air - Terminal 5 - March 19, 2010
“How are you tonight?” intoned Air’s Nicolas Godin through a vocoder, his voice booming over the heads of the sold-out Terminal 5 crowd like a friendly sounding robot. After hearing our obvious enthusiasm, Godin was pleased: “Cool. I feel good, too.” Air, the French psychedelic-electronica act composed of Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel, makes music that tends to feel a bit enigmatic at times, with layer upon layer of instrumentation and computerized vocals melding into a rich, trippy blend. Though in performing as a trio (along with drummer Alex Thomas) on Friday, Air seemed determined to cut through some of their music’s density. With just the key instruments (and that essential vocoder), the band stripped down the songs to their core, rendering them more approachable, yet just as effective.

Air played a series of songs from their recent album, Love 2, beginning with “Do the Joy,” featuring alarm-like synths that gave way to a mellow, groovy bass line. That laid-back bass also formed the foundation for “Love,” a bright and shimmery bossa nova meets Belle and Sebastian pop number. This simplified formula especially shined on numbers like Talkie Walkie’s “Venus.” With the vocal harmonies at the forefront and the melody driven by a simple acoustic guitar, the end result was warmer and more organic than the album version. On the flip side, the funkier songs in Air’s repertoire did not suffer from lack of bells and whistles in the band’s current incarnation either—crowd-pleasers “Sexy Boy” and “People in the City” were sufficiently textured and wacky.

But perhaps one of the most rewarding and unexpected moments of the night was during Love 2’s “Be a Bee,” an upbeat number driven by fast-paced drumming. Air’s bounce and energy made the song a bit sloppier and less restrained than the recorded version, and the song took on a Devo-esque New Wave (almost punk) edge. Air’s jam during the song only further reinforced that the group does not need to hide behind all those fancy electronic layers to feel at home. —Alena Kastin

Photos courtesy of Greg Notch | photography.notch.org/music