Air: Dome, Brighton

A TRIP TO the sea air, to see Air. And Air, like air itself, are great to have around you, but nothing much to look at. It’s a peculiar concept, this. A genteel audience in a genteel town coming out in their droves to hear the ultimate staying-in music, sitting in rapt attention as background music seizes the foreground.

Make no mistake, the latest Air album, Talkie-Walkie, is a wonderful thing. No other band has Air’s knack of blending Floyd/ELP prog with Abba/10cc pop (and I simply don’t buy the theory of peaks-and-troughs, or “returns to form”, because they’ve always been this good).

But the more Air’s music — complex, sophisticated washes of sound — comes to resemble that of Pink Floyd, the more their visual impact needs to strive for the Floyd’s standards. You won’t get holographic reconstructions of the Pompeii volcano here. A few swirling vortices of green light, a very few words from Nicolas Godin, the Richard Madeley lookalike who is Air’s main singer/guitarist (“Zeess eess ‘Surfing On A Rock-ettt’…”), and that’s your lot. For a band with so many completely instrumental tracks in their canon, it just won’t do.

Air’s other main member, Jean Benoit Dunckel, sports one of those white synths you sling around your neck, like Howard Jones used to, but otherwise their visual image, also extended to the new, afro-headed bassist and the longhaired keyboardist in the shadows, is strictly black shirt, black tie, as serious as anything.

Utter seriousness, of course, is the trick to whistling onstage, which is handy, because on at least one Air track, Madeley-bloke is required to give it the full Roger Whitaker (go on, try whistling and smiling at the same time). A straight face also helps when you’re delivering lyrics of lust towards a cow, which go “You know how to do it/ Wonder milky bitch...” Air are not completely oblivious to the rules showbiz, saving the hits to the end: a faster, more insistent ‘Kelly Watch the Stars’, and a blinding ‘Sexy Boy’, which defied the prevailing fashions of 1998 by propelling Kraftwerkian synth-rock and Olympian homoeroticism into the Top 10: “Ou sont tes héros aux corps d’athlètes/ Ou sont tes idoles mal rasées, bien habillées...” But next time, I think I’ll stay at home, in the carbon monoxide air of London, with my CD.

© Simon PriceThe Independent, 15 February 2004

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