The Bournemouth, U.K band made waves in merry ol’ England last year with Fractured Life, and have kept it up here in the States after its release in February (QRO review). The band – and the fans – are still pretty young, but they’ve got energy to spare, and burned the candle at both ends for the final American show at The Knitting Factory in New York on Saturday, May 24th.
The four-piece opened on a high note, with the one-two of first singles “Never Even Told Me Her Name” and “Just Abuse Me”. The driving pop of “Her Name” and piano-rollick of “Abuse” really started things out right, kicking the show into high gear from the get-go. Also in service was an absolutely wonderful light show at the Knitting Factory’s Main Space, reminiscent of their first New York show, an opening gig for Spoon at Blender Theater at Gramercy for ‘Blender Late Night Sessions’ during CMJ last year (QRO recap). For its size and otherwise relatively shabby décor, the Knitting Factory (QRO venue review) really punches above its weight in lights (at least in the Main Space).
Things went down a notch when Air Traffic slowed up a bit thanks to “An End To All Our Problems”. Partly, this was because it was not just a slower song, but also a U.K. b-side that few in the crowd knew. However, the situation wasn’t helped by some young, drunk, frat-college boys to the front house-right (just between the stage and the bar…), who were constantly shouting “Chris!” and demanding singer/pianist Chris Wall play the band’s first U.K. hit single, “Charlotte”. Also, there seemed to be some technical difficulties early on, as Wall and others were constantly motioning to the just off-stage roadie for levels to go up, down, this way, and that.
Whatever it was, things were worked out by the time of “I Like That”, whose dance hall progression built into the good time it somewhat lacked on record. The piano stayed front-and-center with new song “Can’t Go Back”, a driving and grand piece, and the build-and-crash of “Times Go By”. Air Traffic slowed up yet again with “I Can’t Understand”, and while this piece was better received than “Problems”, the “Chris!” shouts removed some of the song’s wistful nature.
Air Traffic playing “Can’t Go Back” live at Knitting Factory, NY:
To his credit, Wall really never batted an eye or even acknowledged the incessant yells (as that would only either spurred them on for more, or, if he’d acted perturbed, cast a pall over the whole rest of the evening). Still, maybe some of his feelings came out in the self-declared “angry song”, “Come On”. This epic track, the bonus opener on the U.S. release of Fractured Life, was somewhat sped-up live, making it even more anthemistic. Wall moved from piano (which he plays while sitting on an upright instrument case, a nice DIY touch) to guitar for the catchy & scratchy “Get In Line”, but was back on keys for “Take Your Hands Off Me”. This new number was the best non-Fractured item of the night, thanks to its darkish, kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll.
Air Traffic playing “Come On” live at Knitting Factory, NY:
Wall flipped back to guitar again, and finally answered the unceasing calls for “Charlotte”. Luckily, this piece lost some of its slightly emo sheen from the record, getting pop-punk in all the ways you know you like it, with just enough of an Anglo accent to make it all classy. Air Traffic turned things around entirely as they went into their encore break with latest single, “No More Running Away”, as bassist Tom Pritchard and guitarist Jim Maddock removed their axes to rock a bass drum each (with Wall back on piano, and drummer David Ryan Jordan seemingly taking a break). The marching drums really came out well, taking the whole thing up into an anthem-esque level.
Air Traffic playing “Charlotte” live at Knitting Factory, NY:
The short encore break was ended when Wall took the stage solo, to play piano ballad “Empty Space”; the piece, something of an oddity on Fractured Life, really got more force live – even the drunken “Chris!” shouts that accompanied his return died down in the face of its power. The rest of the band returned for the final number, “Shooting Star”, Air Traffic’s biggest U.K. hit. The evocative song really closed out the night right, with strength and emotion.
Air Traffic playing “Empty Space” live at Knitting Factory, NY:
Like Air Traffic, the crowd was on the younger side at the all-ages Knitting Factory, not just drunken college boys but young kids up front to ‘taking a step up from emo’ teenagers, though there were a few hipsters and some middle-aged folks (oh wait – those are the dads of the young boys up front…). There was a nice moment during the encore break, when the roadie (who looked like he could have been as old as the entire band, put together) handed one of the kids up front one of Maddock’s drum sticks, very clearly snubbing the loutish lads right next to them. It wasn’t the first time the roadie sided with the youngest – a few songs earlier, he’d handed one of them a set list, only to see it immediately ripped out of the kid’s hands by one of the college boys, who was demanding to know when they’d play “Charlotte”. The bearded, Patrick Swayze-looking (well, Don Swayze-looking…) roadie took a step towards the lip of the stage and only had to eyeball the oaf for a second before he returned the set list to its rightful new owner. More importantly, the kids definitely had a great time (and their dads never looked worried), practically giddy afterwards. Air Traffic set out from here to tour northern Europe, but wherever the play, they can expect more giddy glows from the crowd.