Air, New Buffalo @ The Tivoli, Brisbane (31/03/2008)


Amour, Imagination, Reve: to love, to imagine, to dream. These are the three words keyboardist Jean-Benoit Dunckel once used to describe Air. Surveying the mesmerised faces softly lit –  “neath the Tivoli’s luscious timbers, it becomes abundantly clear that, while these three come close, words can’t possibly do justice to the emotions a live performance by this band evoke in every person fortunate enough to be in the room.

Having paid thousands of dollars last year to spend five days in the US primarily to see this band twice (Hard Rock in Vegas & Coachella), muddying it up at V Fest and owning all of their releases, I can safely say I am a dedicated fan. On the occasion of one of my favourite bands playing in my favourite venue, excuse me as I veer from the third person aspect of a normal review to convey the experienced one-to-one.

It was really surprising to find that there were still many tickets to be had on the door when we arrived at about 8.15pm. It seemed unreal for a band of this calibre to not be sold out. However, considering the range of bands on tour at the moment, it was probably a difficult decision for many as to which band to lay a cool $80-100 or so down for in sideshow alley. Regardless, there was a line up along Martin Street that ensured a full house once the French masters of wielding the “love chord” made their way onto the stage.

But first we were treated to the velvety delights of New Buffalo’s tinkling melodies and angelic harmonies. To a vantage point upstairs of stage left, and barely above the hubbub of the conversational din, the sweet sounds made by two angels – Sally Seltmann on keyboard and vocals and friend helping out on DAT – wafted as the crowd below continued to grow. All quietened near the end of their set with recognition of signature track Cheer Me Up Thankyou. Interesting was overhearing the commentary from nearby punters that “they sound like Feist”; Seltmann being the songwriter for massive international hit 1234.

The interval timing was incredibly short considering the logistics required to move Air’s vast array of retro/vintage keyboards, drums, percussion suite and other sound devices. The stage configuration was as customary with Jean-Benoit Dunckel set up behind a control-room-like bank of keyboards on stage right, Nicholas Godin on guitar and bass on stage left and touring band members behind. It was encouraging to see the same drummer as previous gigs was behind the kit, he was fantastic – tight, exact and highly skilled.

Hearts threatened to leap through throats as the house lights dimmed and were replaced with a lavender glow. Opening with Electronic Performers, the set-list is an extended version of V Fest’s and somewhat different to the international shows that came before. Godin speaks to the crowd through the vox effect mic, noting how nice it was to be in Australia and playing for us all. Sliding oh-so-smoothly into Cherry Blossom Girl, Venus, Remember and Run, it’s not until People in the City that they unleashed the grittily hip-grinding noise that Air aren’t so well known for but do so, so well. The room is ripped apart as electronic distortion takes over and the lights mimic every beat, note and cascade of chords.

Throughout the set, blue and turquoise fingers of light swirl trails across the ceiling, ebbing and flowing like moonlight on water. Mer Du Japon shines the bluest of blues, the funked-up –  “70s vibe getting people moving and calling out their appreciation. As the tempo of the set increases further with Kelly Watch the Stars, pin lights create a flashing starscape across the backdrop, choreographed perfectly to keep in time with specific drum crashes and riff progressions.

Our dynamic duo wave us adieu as they take a break, leaving stage as though this is the end an hour in. There are a few disbelieving gasps from the audience until the lights dim again and the ghostly calls of Radian softly echo through the misted lavender haze. Fears quashed and tears quickly wiped from many cheeks, the crowd becomes even more vocal as another hour of near perfect sounds were offered up for our collective enjoyment. There was certainly a lot of love in the room.

It could be argued that some of Air’s most powerful music is that which has no words. After an amazing set filled with all of their singles, (yes, Sexy Boy was in there too) a lovely rendition of Highschool Lover (the sole piano version of Playground Love) and a large number of tracks from 10 000 Hz Legend, the crescendo was truly something to behold.

Whistles, stomps, “whoo hoos!” and “yeeeaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhs!” increase as closing track, Lady D’Argent, Moon Safari’s opener, gets the full treatment, jammed out for at least ten minutes. Midway through, Godin, still playing, wanders up to Dunckel for a quiet word...Dunckel’s fingers slowly and surely twist a knob to his left and the tempo quickens, the song changes, all musicians keep pace, it grows, the crowd pulsates. It’s almost as though recent visitors Daft Punk have meshed with Air to produce a dance track beyond compare! We all dance like crazy. It’s getting cold outside, but it’s hot in here. From all of the swollen eyes in grinning faces milling outside after the show, all indications were it was a perfect end to a perfect gig...

Merci beaucoup! Tres, tres bien! Amour, Imagination, Reve. Viva L’ Air!