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The Airborne Toxic Event goes acoustic at ... Push Ultra Lounge?


(This is the 12th entry in Soundcheck's summer concert series, The 50-50 Club. For previous entries, click here.)

In theory, this should be awesome.

You have the hottest restaurant in downtown St. Petersburg, Red Mesa Cantina. Upstairs you have Push Ultra Lounge, the hottest nightclub. And, lo and behold, Push has begun staging live concerts on certain nights – Julian Marley a few weeks ago, then Chris McCarty, and, on Friday, suddenly hot Los Angeles indie rockers the Airborne Toxic Event.

This sounds like the recipe for a perfect night on the town: Great Mexican, a posh nightclub and a tidy little live music stage, all in one of downtown St. Petersburg’s most picturesque buildings. This should totally work.

Now, let me tell you why it doesn’t. At least not yet.

First, I’ve got no beef with Red Mesa Cantina. I ate there before Friday’s concert, and my grilled pork steak with plantains was fantabulous. And Push is a pretty swanky joint, too – it’s sort of Ybor City lite; a tad cramped, but with a way-cool rooftop patio bar.

What I would say is that it’s a weird, weird venue for a rock concert. You have your regulars, your single, popped-collar bros and camera-toting bachelorettes there to get crunk to a steady diet of Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga. How many indie rock bands can you name that could easily slide right into a mix like that?

I can tell you this: You’d probably name a lot of bands before you got to the Airborne Toxic Event. And yet there they were at Push on Friday night, performing their first-ever show in Florida, an acoustic set, on the eve of the 97X Memorial Day Backyard BBQ, which they’re co-headlining Saturday at Vinoy Park.

Here is the equation for the Airborne Toxic Event:

Airborne.toxic.event.equation1This is a combination that very much appeals to me, as I am a 29-year-old white male with glasses and access to the Internet. But you certainly don’t expect to see a band that specializes in pulsing, literate, dramatic, string-laden anthems playing inside what is essentially a South Beach party lounge. To be sure, none of the folks I saw there looked like indie rock fans. Now that I think about it, I believe I saw only one beard!

What I’m saying is, Push/Red Mesa would be a phenomenal venue for a private event, like maybe a Super Bowl party. But if they’re going to make their live music nights work, they need to find the right mix. They need to book acts that will draw affluent fans who aren't afraid to buy a few mojitos and sweat through their Zara. Or, to look at it another way, they should be unafraid to welcome in a crowd that may not want to ditch their Doc Martens at the door.

Can I make a suggestion? Why doesn't Push consider booking hip, under-the-radar, blog-friendly dance and hip-hop acts, like Kid Sister, Santogold, Lykke Li or Charles Hamilton? I know, I’m totally dreaming here. But come on – you’re telling me those shows wouldn’t kill?

Whatever ends up happening with Push’s concert series, man, I hope the concept works. The club definitely has a cool setup with lots of potential. At about 8 p.m., there we were, dining on the brick- and bamboo-lined patio, when a couple of cats who looked a little too cool for school came by and sat on the (nonworking) fountain about 20 feet away.

It was the Airborne Toxic Event, just cold chillin’. I can't be sure, but I think one of them might have been gently mocking the bar singer*.

I don’t think the band is quite big enough yet for an encounter like this to be considered a big deal. But the group has real potential, and some well-known fans (Morrissey, U2’s Adam Clayton). And during Friday’s acoustic set, they played with two string instruments – a violin and an upright bass – which proves that the Airborne Toxic Event is not only a Serious Band, they are a Talented Band to boot.

Honestly? I like the Airborne Toxic Event, but I confess I’m a little surprised by how popular they've gotten. Their current hit, Sometime Around Midnight, is a passionate and emotional enough tune, but it doesn’t exactly sound like a radio smash**.

And yet at the concert, a good chunk of the non-indie-looking crowd managed to sing along to all the words. They treated the band like the crossover stars they may one day become.

The whole time, I kept thinking of the concert in terms of an indie band playing to a pop crowd. But maybe the hidden truth is that the Airborne Toxic Event aren’t an indie band at all. Maybe they clicked with the pop crowd because they’re secretly a pop band***.

In all, it was a pretty good concert – at only 30 minutes, a bit short for my tastes, but I suppose that was the point, since the band had to give the crowd a reason to buy tickets to Saturday’s plugged-in concert at Vinoy Park. The closer, the rousing anthem Innocence, was pretty fun.

Maybe the next time the band comes back through Tampa Bay, at Jannus Landing or the Ritz Ybor or wherever, it’ll feel more like a real rock concert.

“I saw them back when they played at Push Ultra Lounge,” I’ll no doubt brag to friends.

To which my friends will reply: “They have concerts at Push? Why?”

Next up in The 50-50 Club: Ramones Tribute Concert, May 23, Dunedin Brewery.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

* Who totally deserved it, by the way. The guy was definitely not background.

** The band seems to know it, too: At one point, singer Mikel Jollett thanked 97X for putting Sometime Around Midnight into rotation. “They actually have to put their jobs on the line for s--- like that, because we’re just a little indie rock band,” he said.

*** Here, take this towel, because I just BLEW YOUR FREAKING MIND.

[Last modified: Saturday, May 23, 2009 2:11am]


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