There are certain bands that just “get” Chicago. As evidenced by their sold-out performance at Metro, The Airborne Toxic Event is one of those bands. There was no we-just-got-on-stage fanfare. The veil of darkness covering the stage was lifted in time with the glass in Mikel Jollett’s (frontman/lyricist/guitar/keys/vocals/everything-but-drums) hand and one more excuse to drink was all the hello anyone in Chicago needed.
The show starts with Jollett standing front and center, flanked on either side by a viola (Anna Bulbrook), bass (Noah Harmon) and guitar (Steven Chen). Each of the members of the band is slowly illuminated in front of the oceanic blue background to the sound of Daren Taylor’s clanking drum sticks, Anna’s viola and an ensemble of guitar and bass. The backdrop and lighting take a turn for the awesome during “All I Ever Wanted” as if the object of desire Jollett was singing about is a technicolor rainbow.
The sound switches between a band from the early 2000s that cites The Cure as inspiration (Franz Ferdinand, Modest Mouse, et al.) and The Cure itself (albeit more orchestrally) because there were times when you could close your eyes and hear Robert Smith on stage. Even when Jollett got vocally agitated during some of the more raucous songs the sound was still oddly soothing. He’s got one of those voices that’s so pervasively melodic you’d listen to him read you books on tape. In this case, I’m going to go so far as to say I would listen even if it were the phonebook.
In a flurry of movement, Jollett trades his guitar for Bulbrooks’s keyboard. The forcibly relocated Bulbrook produces a viola from nowhere. Harmon switches out his electric bass for a standing one. Chen takes a turn at a second keyboard, while still playing guitar. They dance around the stage amidst stereotypical rock n’ roll back-to-back battles between guitar and bass and viola and more guitar. The frenzy is actually quite similar to the way the people packed like sardines into the first level are dancing around with no sense of dignity due to a lack of tolerance and/or ridiculously high consumption levels – and I mean that in the best way possible.
Even though every song was an encore worthy performance in one way or another, the true encore didn’t happen until Jollett decided he wanted to serenade people in the balcony. Taking the stairs would have taken far too long, so he just scaled the scaffolding into the rafters on his own personal stairway to heaven. When he finished with the personal meet-and-greet performance, he slid fireman pole style back into the audience on the first floor. Just like that, The Airborne Toxic Event was over almost as quickly as it started, but everyone will remember where they were when it happened.