Air, New Buffalo @ Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide (03/04/08)
The night after what was largely considered a desperately disappointing show by the Smashing Pumpkins, many of the patrons who shuffled in to Thebarton Theatre did so with a somewhat bitter taste in their mouths. It was truly fortunate then, that Air’s wonderfully French meld of lounge, electronica, and pure cheese, provided some of the sweeter sounds to be heard in Adelaide in recent times.
Touring Australia for the first time, the duo of Nicolas Godin (guitars, vocals) and Jean-BenoíƒÆ’í‚Â®t Dunckel (keyboards, vocals) brought with them three other sidemen for a show that was remarkable for its ability to recreate a decidedly sequenced sound in a band structure that never leaned too heavily on pre-recorded beats and pops. Often the most obviously “electronic” sound to be heard was the vocoder Godin often used to process his delicate, fey vocals. If there was any complaint to be had about the way the sound was replicated it was that the lack of a female vocalist meant the likes of All I Need were left off the setlist, though Godin could probably have sung that too if he’d felt so inclined.
Since the considerable success of their first full length album Moon Safari in 1997-98, Godin and Dunckel have traversed numerous points of the pop compass without ever quite replicating the instantly classic – and oft imitated – blend of past, present and future found on their debut. However in a live setting the mix of old and new is ideal, as Air’s more recent work is given greater backbone by the band and better context by the presence of the Moon Safari material.
As performers, Godin and Dunckel are not exactly born entertainers, but they offered a warm presence and charming manner that was very much in keeping with a sound that could never be considered anything less than smooth. Among the main set’s better renderings was that of Cherry Blossom Girl from Talkie Walkie, its lightness of touch epitomised by Godin’s acoustic guitar strumming underneath the pleasantly poppy chorus.
The Thebarton show was, like the Pumpkins’ appearance at the Entertainment Centre, a side show to the eastern states V Festival. As such the night felt a little compressed, as Air’s initial time on stage spanned little more than an hour, meaning the usual applause for an encore were given some extra edge by the fact there was still plenty of time, and desire, for more. A main set punctuated by the group’s later works and leaning heavily on Talkie Walkie and Pocket Symphony meant the encore had to showcase Moon Safari, and so it was to prove. Singles successes Kelly Watch the Stars and Sexy Boy were rounded off with a suitably epic version of La Femme D’Argent, which took the group closest to providing typical dancefloor filler than at any time previously during the night. Masters of texture, Godin and Dunckel are also evidently wise to the ebb and flow of a gig, and by closing as they did left an afterglow that lasted well into the evening.