When a band is called something as excessive (or pretentious) as the Airborne Toxic Event, it has something extra to live up to.
Friday night, the five-piece group from Los Angeles that gets that name from a Don DeLillo novel showed a crowd of about 1,000 at the Beaumont Club why it has a growing reputation as a live band that turns excess and bombast into virtues.
ATE is led by lead singer/songwriter Mikel Jollett, who invokes the styles and presence of several earnest and emotive frontmen, from Bono and Brandon Flowers (the Killers) to Chris Martin (Coldplay) and Gary Lightbody (Snow Patrol). His band, in turn, helps him deliver the kind of big, orchestral sound that can ignite a show into a rally or a revival.
They opened with “All at Once,” a gaudy anthem about absorbing life’s ebbs and flows and keeping it all spiritual, on some level, then “Half of Something Else,” an overwrought but transcendent love ballad: “Now I tell you I would die / If it’s what you’d rather see.”
Like many ATE songs, that one was embroidered nicely by viola lines and harmonies from Anna Bulbrook, who provided nice orchestral accents and flourishes throughout — one of the traits that sets this band apart. The mood returned to earth now and then, as during the Killer-like “Changing,” their latest single, and “Gasoline,” their first single, two buoyant pop tunes soaked in melody and riven with grooves. And during the pub-rock number “Welcome to Your Wedding Day,” a track that evokes the sound of Mumford & Sons.
They would play the song that put them onto the radar of those who listen to what’s called alternative radio (96.5 FM, the Buzz, sponsored this show): “Sometime Around Midnight,” a anthem about jealousy and heartache that starts off at a smolder, then erupts into an infernal fit of pain and internal age. Despite the shortcomings of the Beaumont — limited sightlines and average sound at best — most of the big crowd was along for the big ride. The mood was familiar, like the vibe that erupts at shows by the Killers or Mumford & Sons or Coldplay but, at times, even more excessive. During “All I Ever Wanted,” the room felt Springsteen and his band were roiling through “Thunder Road.”
Friday’s show lasted about 100 minutes, and that mood didn’t flag once, no matter what the song was about and no matter the arrangements, whether electric or acoustic. Noah Hamon’s upright bass on songs like “The Graveyard Near Our House,” was a nice touch all night. It’s tempting to expect this band to graduate to larger venues and theaters, even arenas, like some of the other bands mentioned here. It sure has the sound and the hooks and melodies for bigger things. Then again, a band that writes jaunty and anthemic confessionals like “Happiness Is Overrated” might be more comfortable setting aflame smaller crowds in more intimate rooms, where excess has no place to hide or get lost.