About a week and a half ago, I introduced an idea I’ve been meaning to bring up to speed. It involves digging into my virtual crate of live concert footage, all pre-dating this blog’s inception, and giving it a platform to shine and be remembered. The first round of these flashbacks featured former Talking Heads’ frontman and musician extraordinaire David Byrne. I intended to get a second one up the following week. But as fate would have it, my time was sidelined and I’ve had to postpone until today.
So without further delay, here’s my sophomore outing to the past, journeying back to the summer of ’17, when a little French band by the name of Air celebrated their twenty year anniversary at the Greek Theatre in Griffith Park. For those in the know, this technically would’ve been their twenty-first year, since the previous summer’s phenomenal one-off FYF performance marked their twentieth. But it’s close enough. And their Greek show marks their first proper tour in seven years, with the added benefit of running twice as long as a festival set, making it totally worth the extra year.
Anyway, let’s talk about Air. This French duo of Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel are a little tricky to describe, if you’ve never heard them before. They’re kind of downtempo, very chilled and mellow, yet organic and lush with vibrant instrumentation, acoustic and electric. There’s also an underlying flirtation with electronica, which really factors into their live performances, moreso than I ever would’ve considered. But again, it’s all of the natural analog order, crafted with Moog synthesizers, a Wurlitzer organ, and the robotic voice-inducing Vocoder.
If you’re not sure you recognize Air, you might recall their radio-friendly debut single “Sexy Boy,” from the remarkable 1998 ambient groove LP “Moon Safari.” Or there’s their retro-delic score for Sofia Coppola’s dreamy feature debut “The Virgin Suicides,” sporting the standout single “Playground Love,” which featured vocals from fellow Frenchman and Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars, under the pseudonym Gordon Tracks.
If none of that rings a bell, then prepare to be chilled in the warmest of ways. Air doesn’t really feel or sound like anything resembling this side of ambient … even after all these years. Every time I give them a proper listen, I envision the world through a technicolor glare of gauze-y rays and sunburst flares, kaleidoscopically tuned to relaxed rhythms and dreamlike vibes, all vintage in ambition, or lack there of, drifting effortlessly in a lazy groove of spaced serenity.
Air in the live forum is another level entirely. As I mentioned, the electronica gains a bit of prominence in the mix. It’s always been there. But I think it’s the first time I really heard it. There’s such a homegrown fluidity to their down-to-earth melodies that I never really noticed the more technological tinkerings layered beneath. And it sounds amazing, adding just the right dash of intensity, enough to push these laidback tracks to peaking perfection.
I’ve included a broad selection of material, featured from Air’s Greek performance. I have a number of favorites. But I think “Cherry Blossom Girl” or “Don’t Be Light” would be right at the top. Both those tracks blew my mind at FYF, and continued to do so at the Greek. The former features an exotic floaty flute and finger-plucked acoustic guitar, while the latter qualifies as one their more ominous, faster numbers, if either of those traits could apply to Air. There’s also the aforementioned “Sexy Boy” and “Playground Love,” as well as the Beck and friends attended rendition of “How Does It Make You Feel?”
So with respect to that last mention, feel free to peruse the on-stage offerings of Air. These recordings are fairly solid, mostly stable and focused, and about as up-close and up-front as I could be. Also, check out their crazy drummer, who’s off to screen right. A few of these videos feature some of his more unusual antics. I don’t know his name. But he’s the one hyperactive dude on stage. Chill and enjoy!
Air perform “Venus” @ the Greek Theatre on 06.25.17.
Air perform “Don’t Be Light” @ the Greek Theatre on 06.25.17.
Air perform “Cherry Blossom Girl” @ the Greek Theatre on 06.25.17.
Air perform “Playground Love” @ the Greek Theatre on 06.25.17.
Air perform “Radian” @ the Greek Theatre on 06.25.17.
I love the whistling melody of “Alpha Beta Gaga.” Plus, it features a shamisen, which is a Japanese three-string instrument that looks like a banjo. You’ll know it when you see it.
Air perform “Alpha Beta Gaga” @ the Greek Theatre on 06.25.17.
Air perform “Talisman” @ the Greek Theatre on 06.25.17.
I completely forgot about “Alone in Kyoto.” It appeared in Sofia Coppola’s second feature “Lost in Translation.”
Air perform “Alone in Kyoto” @ the Greek Theatre on 06.25.17.
That short dude, second on the left, is Beck, lending vocals to “How Does It Make You Feel?” There’s also a bunch of other guys on stage, who they introduced and I can’t remember, and they’re all friends of Air.
Air perform “How Does It Make You Feel?” @ the Greek Theatre on 06.25.17.
Air perform “Sexy Boy” @ the Greek Theatre on 06.25.17.
Although Air performed this one at the Greek, I’ve included the FYF performance of “Le Femme d’Argent,” mainly because I neglected to film it this time around. Sometimes, I’d rather just enjoy the whole affair. And this one’s such a classic, I couldn’t overlook it. Fortunately, I had this earlier recording in my back pocket. Plus, this prior performance marked the true twentieth anniversary.
Air perform “Le Femme d’Argent” @ FYF on 08.24.16.