What a triumph for local and semi-local Indie Rock bands took place at The Fonda on Thursday, February 12, 2009. The Airborne Toxic Event are beginning their second national tour and their second stop was Los Angeles. On this tour they're joined by local heroes, The Henry Clay People, and local/Fresno favorites, Rademacher. It felt great to be part of the local crowd gathered to wish them all well on their way out of town.
Let me begin by saying that, for the last three years, The Fonda has been my favorite medium-to-large size venue for seeing national bands. It's tall and cavernous, leading one to expect muddy, echoey sound, but, on the contrary, I usually find the sound well balanced and immediate. This has been the case for everyone from Rogue Wave or The Polyphonic Spree to The Black Heart Procession or Amanda Palmer.
Also, with that high ceiling, it allows the place to become incredibly packed, but never airless and claustrophobic the way the El Rey or The Wiltern are when over crowded. The difference on Thursday was that, as opposed to being surrounded by strangers, it was as if a Spaceland audience had been multiplied tenfold. Everywhere one turned were familiar faces, a great juxtaposition of one of my favorite music spots and some of my favorite people. So packed, in fact, I never even saw Ben of Classical Geek Theatre or Travis of Web in Front, who rumor had it, were way down front.
Rademacher began almost as soon as I arrived. Much to my discredit, I'd never seen them before, but this set was all it took to make me a fan. They play amiable, shambling indie rock with the genre's characteristic smart, incisive lyrics wrapped around sharp melodies that grab you with their deceptive simplicity. They have a natural, unforced stage presence and a sound big enough to translate to a concert hall setting.
I knew enough about the band to know that they lost a guitar player a few months ago, leaving Rademacher a band of three. They sounded complete as they are. Admittedly, during the first two songs they sounded like they were playing to the proportions of a Spaceland, but by the third song the sound got big as they appeared to relax into the space and ramped up their performance to fill the entire space.
It was really remarkable and gratifying to see these bands, two of whom I've seen over and over in small east side clubs, blow their sound up to fit a capacity Fonda crowd, yet lose nothing in the translation. In fact, as in the case of The Airborne Toxic Event, even gaining from it.
At The Fonda, if I can't be down front, I like to position myself near the center of the floor, where the sound is at it's absolute best. Taking advantage of the break between sets, I could circulate a bit and speak to members of so many bands in the audience, I lost count.
I worked my way back to the center as the curtain rose on The Henry Clay People. They began their first number by singing and playing large and a little self-consciously, but soon found their comfort zone and the resulting revelatory performance easily brought down the house.
Like Rademacher, they quickly adapted their delivery to the demands of the theatre. Joey Siara's easy rapport with an audience is a tangible thing, and he instantly won over the crowd and soon had the whole place bouncing to the music.
During their set they were joined by assorted guests and former band members making it seem like just another night at Spaceland, blown up to epic proportions. They played a broad selection of material including early songs and highlights from the For Cheap or For Free CD including great renditions of "Something in the Water" and "Andy Sings!". But the high point of the entire evening for me was watching the whole place rock out to "This Ain't a Scene".
The Henry Clay People were obviously feeling sentimental about this break out concert tour and leaving their friends in Silverlake for a while (frankly, I'm going to miss bumping into them every few nights out at a club for the next few weeks). Joey and Andy also had a few acres of family out in the audience.
They acknowledged many friends in the audience and gave a particularly sweet shout out to The Monolators, who were easy to spot as Eli Chartkoff stands out like a lighthouse in the ocean.
I have seen The Airborne Toxic Event a bunch of times at Spaceland and The Echo, and, frankly, had various impressions of them, so I only intended to stay for a couple of songs. That was not to be, as they completely bowled me over with the power and largeness of their sound. They enthralled me from their first song on, and I couldn't tear myself away.
I think they're made for a larger space as the songs build and build to shattering beauty, with the string section vigorously sawing away, Mikel Jollett's strong, deep voice and the music lifting you up. Your brain is engaged by the literate poetry of the lyrics, reminiscent of The National, but with their own distinct sound.
It looks to me like this band had grown very strong over the last year, and I will be paying a lot closer attention to them in the future. The Airborne Toxic Event are a band that shine a very positive light on the local music scene and it was impossible not to feel overwhelming pride in them as they commanded the stage and the audience on Thursday night.