Airborne Toxic Event’s story would make for a cracking novel — and who better to write it than frontman, Mikel Jollett? A former Los Angeles Times reporter and editor, Jollett was writing his first book when two events altered his life. He was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, a potentially fatal immunity disorder (now in remission). Then, he broke up with his long-term girlfriend.
With the glittering future he had imagined in ruins, he turned down an opportunity to attend the storied Yaddo artist retreat, in upstate New York, and, instead, embraced the wilder discipline of rock’n’roll. Seven years later, he remains wedded to that life and, as his band took to the stage of a near-sold-out Academy, his commitment to loud, angry music is palpable.
Jollett stalks back and forth, plunges into the crowd at every opportunity, and appears incapable of playing his guitar without jumping fervently on the spot, Kurt Cobain-style.
An intense young man with sad eyes and bulging neck muscles, Jollett knows about heartache. Indeed, the pain of romantic separation was the inspiration for Airborne Toxic Event’s remarkable, eponymous 2009 debut.
Over 13 tracks Jollett poked, prodded and torturously deconstructed the angst of a suddenly derailed relationship. Since then, he has advanced his songwriting, but, like the woebegone characters who inhabit his work, has discovered that moving on isn’t so easy.
A new LP, Such Hot Blood, is on the way, but the five-piece were reluctant to force untested material on the audience. Instead, the emphasis was on their first record, with a sprinkling of favourites from the 2011 follow-up, All At Once (the U2-esque ‘Numb’ is a standout). A blast of feedback introduces the swooning ‘Gasoline’; Jollett joins the drummer and thwacks a set of cymbals on ‘Does This Mean You’re Moving On?’ The restless room erupted as the group reached for their biggest hit and finest song. Chronicling a drunken run-in with his ex (and her new boyfriend), ‘Sometime Around Midnight’ combines the epic sweep of Arcade Fire and the flagellating wit of The Smiths. It’s not original and, yet, such is the intensity and sheer emotional dazzle, it hardly seems to matter.