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The Airborne Toxic Event lights up The Fillmore Detroit

The Airborne Toxic Event @ The Fillmore Theatre Detroit 2/14/2014-slide0
Photo by Chris Balow

Prior to Friday’s show, I had never seen The Airborne Toxic Event live. I had heard about them from several people and was told that I should definitely check out their performance. I then had to do my research. I learned that the band began when novelist turned singer Mikel Jollett experienced the worst week of his life. His mom was diagnosed with cancer, he was dealing with break up with a girlfriend, and he was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and then came down with Pneumonia. He says that something in him snapped after all this and he did not care about anything but music. This really piqued my curiosity because as we all know, some of the best music comes from life’s trials and tribulations. What I really find quite interesting with this band is its ability to blend rock music with orchestral elements, most noticeably a violinist and have performed with the Calder Quartet, the Louisville Orchestra, and the Colorado Symphony. They are named from a section in Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise in which the main character is exposed to an enormous chemical explosion dubbed by the media in Orwellian double speak –the Airborne Toxic Event. During their first year as a band, the band played over 200 shows, which is unheard of considering they self released their album and had yet to sign with a major label. When that record did come out, it reached the Top 40 in the UK and in the US, their single “Sometime Around Midnight” cracked the top five, eventually named the number-one Alternative song of the year on iTunes. In 2010, they released a song and video titled "Neda," in recognition of the one-year anniversary of the Death of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young Iranian woman who was killed during the protests of the disputed 2009 presidential election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. In conjunction with Amnesty International, the band also launched a website,, to raise awareness about Agha-Soltan’s death and the human rights struggle in Iran.

After finding out all this on a band, I had never seen live, I was very excited to experience the show at The Fillmore being that its one of my favorite venues in Detroit. I figured it would be the perfect venue to cut my teeth with this band. You could see the anticipation on people’s faces as they entered the venue. Everyone seemed so excited to be there.

The opener “The Kongos”, a band originating in South Africa started the show on an upbeat note and got the crowd moving. Their sound was something unlike I had ever heard and prompted me to get as close as I could to watch the show. It was then that I realized that this whole night was going to be unlike any show I had ever attended. They put a fun, energetic mix on The Beatles “Come Together” and added a hip-hop element which made everyone in the venue dance. Then it was time for the main event!

As soon as there was even a whisper of the band walking on stage, it was bedlam inside the theatre. People clapped incessantly and sang along from the opening notes of “Wishing Well” to the final song of the night. As I looked around, there was not one person whose eyes were not glued to the stage. I loved the passion that these people played with. Another thing that I really enjoy is seeing musicians able to play more than one instrument and whether they were playing a soulful ballad or an up-tempo song that inspired you to dance; they played with so much energy and love that it was impossible not to enjoy yourself. As the night went on, they commonly switched from one-person playing guitar to playing keys and from only playing to singing lead. That to me shows pure talent and love for music.

As the show wound down, the excitement did not. The crowd seemed to have as much if not more energy as the show went on.

To all of my friends who encouraged me to experience this band and see what they were talking about, I thank you because it is something I will never forget.

For tour information and other facts about the band, please visit

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